My wife loves to go to the family cabin in the summers.
Never mind it doesn’t have drinking water. And never mind that the stove is from 1957 and takes 120 minutes to boil an egg. And who cares that the property is surrounded by a particularly aggressive breed of cows and their particularly stinky manure? Not us! That’s after all just part of the off-grid charm that we urban Norwegians dream about.
What I did worry about was driving there and back again – 620 miles with our three kids in the back seat seemed like an evil experiment. So, I had to be convinced. And, as I explained in Part 1 of this series, that was elegantly done by my wife by promising that we could stop anywhere along the route to let me look for interesting chairs in the wild. And here are some of the ones I encountered:
546 Miles from Home: The Village of Hovin, Horg Museum of Cultural History
The first chair that caught my eye here was this freak of nature. In all its primitiveness, the construction is actually quite strong and clever. It’s also a prime example of so-called furniture of necessity.
Primitive commonplace furniture like this was often made by the farmer himself, a local wheelwright or the village carpenter. The chair was destined to fill a very specific need: Someone needed a place to sit. Tools and materials at hand dictated everything.
Thus, primitive chairs have real life carved into them. Common needs created honest and functional furniture. And while a modern and more engineered chair can be beautiful and impressive, I find it much easier to connect both intellectually and emotionally with the primitive ones.
As with many primitive stick chairs, a naturally bent branch or root is often used as the armbow or back. In this case however, a natural crook is used as a base for the seat. I haven’t seen this very often in chairs, but for Norwegian farm stools it’s a quite common technique. Even though the chair may look crude, the method of construction is well-thought through and the wood used is carefully selected.
620 Miles: Ytterøy Island.
After more driving and a 30-minute ferry ride we reached our destination, an island about halfway into the Trondheim fjord. My first site for chairspotting was at the beautiful farm of Erling and Gunhild, who kindly let me rummage around their barn loft.
Barn Find 1: Rush-seated Ladderback chair
The first chair I pulled out of the barn was this outstanding ladderback chair. There is a long tradition of making ladderbacks chairs in Norway, but mainly in the southern parts of the country. Which means that this particular one probably has traveled a bit to end up on this island in mid-Norway.
The similarity to a Shaker ladderback chair is of course striking. Ladderback chairs like this one have been produced commercially in Norway since 1850, mainly in two villages. No one really knows where this style of chairs came to Norway. However, considering that more than 800,000 half-starved Norwegians migrated to America between 1830 to and 1920, there’s a reasonable chance that some chairs also made trans-Atlantic travels one way or the other.
The rush seating is typical for these chairs. While hickory bark is common in American traditions, Norwegian chairmakers mostly used seaweed. Overall the construction here is typical for the genre. Notice the slight shape irregularities of the rungs, indicating that this chair is handmade and not a factory product. Painted and stained furniture is very common in Norway. Here, only the edges of each back slat are painted red, which is a nice detail.
Barn Find 2: The Åkerblom Chair
In a dim-lighted part of the barn loft, stowed away behind a large chest of drawers, another stick chair was begging for fresh air. Say hello to a Swedish classic – the Åkerblom Chair.
The Åkerblom Chair was produced about 1950 by the Swedish chair factory Nässjö Stolfabrik. This chair factory produced stick chairs from 1870 and all the way up to 1992! The Åkerblom Chair is considered a classic and was the result of two bright minds. These were the hospital surgeon Bengt Åkerblom and his friend Gunnar Eklöf, an architect and furniture designer. Their ingenious approach to designing a chair is a story worth telling on its own. Which I will hopefully do later. Short version: Medical science met chairmaking and they had a baby.
The chair is made from solid Swedish birch, with a lacquer finish. The back sticks are all steam-bent over the same form, each of them pivoted in their mortises toward each side. This is a key feature of this design. The bend provides a little push into the lumbar region of the sitter, while still letting the shoulders fall a bit back. In combination this increases comfort drastically compared to a straight back.
The rest of the construction is quite typical, but the so-called captured arms are worth noticing. This method of joining the arms to the back is commonly seen in Irish stick chairs. But not that often in Scandinavian chairs. Traditionally the arm mortise is wedged onto the tapered back stick. This is done by carefully shaving and adjusting. Obviously not a time-and-money-saving procedure for a factory. Instead, they invented their own little thingy that holds the arm in place.
Life on the road ain’t that bad after all. If you would like to see more of chair encounters, follow me on my Instagram @stick_chair_encounters. I’m also a chairmaker and you can see my personal chairs at @klaus_skrudland