When I grew up, we had a red Lada 1200. It was a 1982 model, a compact four-door sedan, produced in the The Soviet Union. It was a primitive and humble car. Nothing fancy anywhere. No bling or stylish features. But it was affordable, reliable and easy to repair. And most importantly it was built for driving across Russia’s vast and frosty tundras. So it came with a hand crank. That way the car could be started if you were stranded with a flat battery in deep Siberia and the wolves were coming. Or in a modern Norwegian suburb.
The car fit us well. It was, of course, frowned upon by those who could afford the arrogance. We didn’t care. It had four wheels and could take a beating. My parents were working class. They had to get their priorities right. Meaning whenever there was anything left after paying the bills, they weren’t going to spend it on flashy stuff.
And just like the Lada, everything we owned soon lived up to the same principle. Whether it was our house, our furniture or our clothes – it was made to be used, repaired and then used again. This mindset seeped into everything, and I soon grew up appreciating modest and honest designs. I learned that beauty lies in simplicity, both in principle and form. And patina wasn’t even a word. It was just a consequence.
And while this might be a stretch: The first time I laid eyes on a Welsh stick chair, I instantly fell in love. Something very familiar pulled me in. Just like our Soviet car, the chair was honest and uncomplicated. No user manual needed. No fancy turnings or flamboyant design features. It was rugged, yet simple and elegant. It was the most beautiful and honest chair I had ever seen. Huge personality. No secrets. I trusted it.
I realised that these commonplace chairs reflect life. Like people, each and every one of them were unique. Made to meet a need, without plans, from materials available at hand, they were all direct manifestations of their makers and owners. They were postcards from the past. Like an old woman’s wrinkled face or a working man’s crooked back, they told stories I could believe in.
They were imperfectly perfect. Repairs, scars and bruises just blended into their personality. There was nothing to hide. If I ever found an old stick chair with a hand crank under the seat, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be very surprised.