It wasn’t my idea.
Although I’m grateful to spend time with my beautiful wife and three kids – the latter known as The Backseat Mafia™ – cramming everyone into our 14-year-old Volkswagen and driving the 620 miles to our family cabin seemed like Armageddon On Wheels to me. So, I had to be lured in. And boy did Marie know what bait to use: I was promised that we could stop the car whenever along the route to do chair-spotting.
I also wonder where the true Norwegian stick chairs are. We’ve been woodworking for over 1,000 years. We built our country and tradition on wood. I’m sure we’ve got birch sap running in our veins. Thus, there are of course stick chairs being made here, too. Some of them, like the Windsor-inspired Budal Chair, are even considered classics. The problem is that none of them are genuinely Norwegian in either form and origin. So I thought I’d start looking for them, and this trip seemed a good way to kick it off. Here are some of the chairs I encountered:
128 miles from home: Dalen, Telemark
In the traditional region of Telemark lies the small village called Dalen. We stopped here to visit the museum for Norwegian sculptor Anne Grimdalen. Part of the permanent exhibition was a display of her personal belongings. And among them was this staked Brettstuhl. Although the ornamental style of painting is almost quintessentially Norwegian, this is the first time I’ve encountered a chair like this in Norway.
This type of chair is more common in Germany and some surrounding countries. I don’t know much about them, so I got in touch with my buddy and fellow Chair Chatter™, Rudy Everts, who knows more:
Rudy: This is an odd one…. The interesting thing about this chair is that it looks like a Brettstuhl but the construction is different. The first thing I noticed was the stretchers, these are very uncommon for a Brettstuhl to have. In fact it might be the first one I have ever seen with stretchers!
When you look closer, you see the seat is thicker than a normal Brettstuhl and it lacks the cross battens that are so typical for these chairs. So the maker constructed it like a normal stick chair. And added stretchers.
The design definitely draws its inspiration from the Germanic Brettstuhl, but with its own twist. The shapes are more straight and the ornamentation more “Nordic.” A Brettstuhl often has round details in the backrest, flower motifs and so on. And there is usually a hole in the back rest to pick up the chair when not in use. Therefore I would say the chair was made there locally and not imported from the Germanic countries and painted afterward.
454 miles from home: Alvdal, Hedmark
Back on the road again. Next stop: The village of Alvdal, which is another very historical place. The oldest pair of skis known to man was found here, dated back to the year 600. We came here to visit a museum. And while my family went to see the main exhibitions, I scoured the building for chairs. The first one I stumbled across was this one. A freak of nature, begging for attention.
I’m really not sure what to think of it. Except that it looks like a giant insect. The low seat and short back could indicate it being a children’s chair. But that’s hard to say. Although this doesn’t look like the typical fireside chair, history is full of low chairs made for different uses
Each of the four legs are placed at the very edge of the seat. Combined with only a minor splay, this makes the stance of the chair clumsy to me. This combination is however not uncommon. English West Country chairs often look like this. Although it looks more balanced in a full size chair. Here it just looks a a bit wrong to me eyes. Kinda cute, but definitely more weird than wonderful.
So, I went to the café and got myself an overpriced cup of lukewarm motor oil labeled as coffee. Feeling robbed and unwell I looked for a place to sit, when lo and behold, this three-legged charmer made its appearance. Hand planed surfaces, octagonal legs and nicely worn original paint – what’s not to like? The large bevel around the half moon shaped seat also adds elegance. Though I would normally place such a bevel on the underside to make the seat appear lighter and thinner. Then again, it’s exactly these variations and improvisations that make the stick chair form so exciting to me. There’s often an element of surprise. Sometimes it works, sometimes it don’t.
The rest of the construction was also unusual. Instead of mortising the legs through the seat, they were mortised into three separate battens that were screwed onto the underside. That at least tells me the stool wasn’t hastily put together by a farmer who needed a seat.
Two hours and three ice creams later we all cramped up in the car again and went to find a place to put up our tents. We found a pretty decent spot and called it an early night.
The next morning we rose early. After coffee, bread and brown cheese we hit the road again. I encountered even more vernacular chairs during the following days and miles on the road. Some of them were even not weird at all, just plain beautiful, with some interesting stories to them also.
I’ll share them with you in part two. For all of these and future chair encounters, I’ve set up an Instagram account for you to follow. As always, please share your thoughts and comments on these chairs or chairs you’ve encountered yourself!