Editor’s note: Andy Glenn reports that he is working on the final edit of “Backwoods Chairs” before passing it along. It’ll be in our hands in Junewhen we’ll start the editing and layout process. “I’m excited, and more than a little relieved, for this to join the stable of upcoming LAP books,” he says. All the images in this post are from Andy’s visit to Randy Ogle’s The Chair Shop in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Randy’s a third-generation chairmaker, with a chair shop and gallery just off the Craft Loop road. Randy’s also one of the few makers Andy visited with a storefront and open hours, and Andy highly recommends a visit if you get a chance.
Chris and I first discussed this book a few years back – a book on the backwoods chairmaking tradition, one found deep in the hills and mountain communities of central Appalachia. It excited me – to search for and travel to working makers still engaged in the longstanding tradition of rural chairmaking. I had no idea who I’d find still at it. There are no networks or directories for this sort of thing.
I searched and traveled for makers over a couple-year stretch. Covid complicated things immensely at the beginning. I was already an outsider requesting visits and traveling from away. Now I was visiting their shops with the uncertainty of the virus swirling about. So things paused for half a year or so before traveling started in earnest.
One aspect that made this project such an enjoyable riddle was that I had no idea who I’d find during the search. But I came across plenty of chairmakers (which took me to splendid rural chair shops in Kentucky, West Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina) during this time to the point I needed to end the search and put the book together, or risk this thing never coming together in print.
I found that I needed to write immediately after a visit or my initial impressions would dull away. Details would muddle, smells would fade and I’d forget the punchline to the jokes told by the makers. No matter how thorough my note-taking, writings from a recalled visit didn’t share the same spark as a fresh experience. So I wrote immediately after traveling, sometimes through the night if I was visiting different makers on successive days.
The issue: I had no idea how the book fit together until after the search or how each visit would relate to the others.
The early writings weren’t chapters but more essay-like. In the best case, they were the primordial chapters. When I revisited an essay, sometimes a year after the visit, the vitality of the day would rush back. Later on, once completely finished with the search, the story arch became apparent and I could see how the independent puzzle pieces of essays fit together. That’s when the book began to take shape.
In the earliest days, I also wrote when considering an issue. The following was cut during the latest edit. Like many of the early essays, this doesn’t fit properly into the book. A few early writings were mercifully deleted (there’s nothing quite like the embarrassment that comes from reading your own bad writing), while plenty of others were adapted and absorbed into the final version.
I don’t remember what prompted the entry below, though I imagine it was in response to friends’ and acquaintances’ perplexed responses to hearing about this book. Most people responded with excitement. A few were so overwhelmingly baffled that they offered no follow-up. Just silence (I actually enjoy these responses very much). But, at times, there was a hint of dismissiveness about these chairs and the value of this book. The essay was likely written with that attitude in mind.
This survived the initial fiery purge of the “delete” button, and it doesn’t cause stomach pain or my face to turn bright red, so I thought it’d be fun to share here.
I love the work of authors Wendell Berry and E. B. White. It is my hope that I subconsciously replicated their style and cadence. It is wholly doubtful I will achieve it, but still a resounding desire.
Their writing styles welcome the reader to share in their experiences through the combination of humor, neighborliness and the strength of their convictions. A running theme in their writings, though maybe more of an undercurrent than a theme really, is the respect each shows toward rural America*. Respect towards its people, their communities and the environment. Seldom explicit (though Berry does speak strongly in defense of rural America against the subjugated qualities of the big, market-based economy and the destructive policies of those in positions of power), the worth of each community member is inherently implied.
To mount a defense for the rural against the urban, either aloud or in writing, immediately puts the defender in the weaker position, and should only be done so when absolutely necessary. As it relates to chairmaking; beyond this, I do not intend to spend any time arguing the value and worth of backwoods chairs when compared to “sophisticated” work or dominant design trends. The worth of the backwoods is inherent, as much as any other place, people and creative work. Rural is only devalued if we choose to devalue it, and, unfortunately, why Mr. Berry must speak to its defense.
Within “Backwoods Chairs,” I follow the chairmaking tradition, rich as it is in the hills and mountains of central Appalachia, out of the rural communities and into larger cities, and even toward different regions when the story points elsewhere. Yet these chairs are most often found in rural areas for a reason; Appalachia has abundant timber for post-and-rung chairs, remote communities in need of seating, along with the low investment and overhead, all of which created an ideal environment for green wood chairmaking.
The beauty of the chair is found in its simple form, the local materials, and the maker’s skill. It’s a subtle chair, one that’s easy to overlook because of our familiarity with the form. But it’s a chair that supported generations of makers, attracts both artists and craftspeople towards its form, and is ripe for contemporary interpretations as the tradition pushes forward.
It’s a chair worth celebrating, along with the resiliency of the makers who continue on this path.
– Andy Glenn
*During their careers, both authors left their homes and opportunities within the city (both lived in New York City at one point) for a rural life. Berry moved toward a familial farmstead along the banks of the Kentucky River while White went northwards to a saltwater farm in coastal Maine.
Editor’s note: We hired local historian Heather Churchman of Covington Uncovered to research the Anthe family, whose company, Anthe Machine Works, occupied 407 Madison Ave. for decades. You can read more about the history of the building here. And if you would like to help fund the Anthe Building restoration project, there are more details here.
The Anthe family created a legacy in Covington that lasted from 1897, when Frank D. Anthe founded Anthe Machine Works, until 2019, when Frank’s great-grandchildren closed the company. Anthe was Covington’s second-oldest business when it closed.
Frank Anthe built the Anthe headquarters at 407 Madison Ave.— the building just acquired by Lost Art Press, which plans to establish its own multi-generational legacy there.
Frank was born in 1868. His parents, Joseph Anthe (1826-1890) and Maria Susanna Brandner Anthe (1826-1899), were born in Hallenberg, in the Hochsauerland district, in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. Joseph’s occupation in 1870 was listed in the Covington City Directory as stove molder; in 1880, it was grocer.
Two years after Frank established his company, on Sept. 14, 1898, he married Clara Cecilia Greifenkamp (born in 1874). Flora was their first child, born in 1899, and Frank Joseph Anthe, the oldest son, was born in 1901. Frank and Clara’s three other boys—Elmer, Ralph and Arnold—died as young children.
Frank D. was one of the founders of the White Villa Church and Country Club in Northern Kentucky, about 18 miles south of Cincinnati. Along with his community-oriented lifestyle, Frank instilled a great work ethic and sense of entrepreneurship into his oldest son.
Frank died in 1919, leaving his oldest son to take over Anthe Machine Works at 15 years old. Clara had died in 1914. In some ways, the two elder Franks managed the easier days of the business.
Frank Joseph would go on to marry Grace Hale. They had two sons, Frank Joseph, Jr. and Donald, and a daughter, Kathleen.
Like his father before him, Frank Sr. was well known in the community: he was a founding member of Crestview Hills, Ky., and the city’s first mayor. The family lived in Fort Mitchell, in a Tudor-style home that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
After Frank Sr. died in 1963, Donald (Don) was the next Anthe in line to take over the business. He was 34 when he took over.
Don was used to going to the Anthe shop when he was a teenager, as he told The Cincinnati Enquirer in 1983: “It was a real treat…I think [dad took us there] to get us out of my mother’s hair… but my father made us come down here every Saturday. He would take us out for lunch. We got to go to a pool hall for a sandwich and a Coke.”
Everyone called Don “The Captain.” His brother Frank Jr. was known as “Sonny.”
Frank “Sonny” graduated from Beechwood High School and he was a member of the school’s first football team in 1945. He attended Villa Madonna College.
Don also graduated from Beechwood High School in 1948. He served in the U.S. Marine Corp during the Korean War from 1949-1953. Before his father died, Don was working as a traveling salesman for Bauer and Black, an elastic supports company.
After he became President of Anthe Machine Works in 1964, Don designed the company’s woodcutting tools by hand. The tools were sold all over the world. Times were really, really good, until, as that 1983 interview mentions, recession hit.
Don said, “[In the early ’80s, when the home building industry suffered], the furniture business just plain stopped.”
Manufacturers stopped buying Anthe’s tools.
“I can tell you right now our business is off by 75 percent from what it was before the recession,” Don said in the interview.
At the time, they had a staff of five, down from 10, including Don’s brother Frank.
Owning the building their grandfather had built provided the brothers with peace of mind: “[The company has managed to avoid losses], but that’s because we own the building. When I don’t feel like paying myself rent—when there’s no way I can afford it—I don’t. If we had a big loan to make payments on, we’d have been out of business a long time ago.”
At the time of the 1983 interview, the Anthe Building still had a stairway covered in turquoise paint that Don and Frank had “slapped around as children.” There was even a partially full bottle of whiskey that their father Frank Joseph Sr. had left in a drawer.
After Don and Frank retired, Don’s sons Mark and Doug took over the business for its last years.
Frank Jr., aka Sonny, died in 2013. Don, the Captain, was with us until November 4, 2020. Don’s obituary said that, “when [Don] was at home he enjoyed working in his yard and then taking naps with his beloved dog Willie.”
Their legacy will and still lives on.
Heather Churchman is a communications manager by day and an architecture-obsessed local historian by night. A passionate and curious spirit, she can often be found whispering sweet nothings to the buildings of Covington, Kentucky. Born in Oxford, Ohio, educated at Ohio University, and now a proud resident of #LoveTheCov, Heather is living proof that you can take the girl out of Ohio, but you can’t take Ohio out of the girl. Follow Heather’s explorations of local history and all the weird and wonderful things she uncovers along the way at Covington Uncovered on Instagram.
A few weeks ago, Chris asked me to research The Anthe Building. To help, he put me in contact with Heather Churchman, who runs one of our favorite Instagram accounts, Covington Uncovered. Heather was instrumental in the development of this piece for her research, knowledge of Covington history and where to find necessary information. In this post and a couple more to come, Heather and I will share information with you about the Anthe building, company and family, and why the history of this building is so fitting for the future of Lost Art Press. We also met with Jason French, curator at Behringer-Crawford Museum, who shared with us some historical items from Anthe Machine Works (check out his Curator’s Chat video on Anthe Machine Works here) and is helping to coordinate an interview and oral history project with members of the Anthe family soon.
p.s. If you would like to help fund the Anthe Building restoration project, we are selling some limited-edition items here.
In 1890, 1895 and 1897, Frank D. Anthe is listed in the Williams & Co. city directories as “Anthe Frank, mach. H. 648 Philadelphia.” This indicates his occupation was machinist and the address, we presume, was his home address. Anthe Machine Works has long advertised that it was established in 1897, and this change is noted, in part, in the 1898-1899 city directory, with two addresses and the structure of his name: “Anthe Frank D. machinery, n.e.c. Stewart and Russell Av. H. 648 Philadelphia.”
Looking at historical Sanborn maps, Heather noted that in 1886, the area around 407 Madison had dwellings that were near a huge industrial block with Fred J. Meyers Architectural Iron Works occupying most of the space.
“Probably the first Cincinnatian to invest mind, brawn, and money in the business of manufacturing machine tools was John Steptoe, a foundry man who hustled about his shop on Clay Street. About 1850 Steptoe fashioned a wood planer, a machine used extensively in local woodworking plants. Marketing his product proved so profitable that Steptoe in 1855 took in as a partner Thomas McFarlan, carpenter, who not only believed that woodworkers needed machines to increase production, but also that he could give them exactly what they wished. The firm of Steptoe & McFarlan was therefore soon putting out mortising and ennoning [stet] machines which were revolutionary in trade practices.”
John Boh notes in the July 2006 Bulletin of the Kenton County Historical Society that Cincinnati and Covington began to see more and more machine tool manufacturers around this time, in part, thanks to the introduction of the steam engine.
Continuing in “They Built a City,” pages are spent on the history of the machine tool industry along with dozens of listings of large machine tools producers during this time, noting that a number of companies rebuilt and repaired machine tools for resale.
“…Because a great many improved, as well as newly designed machines are being made here, some companies specialize in this type of research and engineering: Anthe Machine Works, 407 Madison Avenue, Covington. …These plants have made Cincinnati the recognized world center for machine tool production. More than 35 of the 150 plants in America are situated here. They build practically every tool used in industry….”
Back to the Sanborn maps. By 1894, the entire space around 407 Madison was barren after a fire destroyed Fred Meyers, which Heather says, explains why the buildings at both 407 and 409 Madison are considered “newer” for the neighborhood.
In 1902, Anthe must have been renting space at Phoenix Manufacturing Company due to this article in the May 12, 1902 edition of The Cincinnati Enquirer: “Not since the fire at the F. J. Meyer Wire Works, on March 4, 1892, the day of the inauguration of President Grover Cleveland, have the firemen been compelled to cope with such a large fire as that of Saturday night, which at one time threatened the entire neighborhood at Third and Russell Streets.”
The fire gutted Phoenix, a four-story building. Anthe is mentioned near the end of the article: “The loss to the Anthe Machine Works east of the scroll works was about $10,000 and is not fully insured. Several of the firemen were injured by falling glass and cut and bruised about the hands and face.”
The listing in the 1904-1905 city directory: “Machine Works, Frank D Anthe propr. n.e.c. Stewart and Russell Av.”
On August 29, 1905, a building permit was issued by Auditor Gould to F. D. Anthe. The permit was for a “three-story brick factory building to cost $3000.”
Building 407 Madison Ave.
We get some details on the 1897 construction of the Anthe building from an application written in 1983 for the Covington Downtown Commercial Historic District to be named to the National Register of Historic Places. It states:
“The Anthe Machine Works, a similar business, however, has been located in a factory and offices with a fine Neo-Classical front at 407-409 Madison built (or rebuilt) for the same family firm at the turn of the century. This is the kind of small shop of highly-skilled workers (many of them probably of German background), making very specialized products, that characterized the Covington economy, and to some extent, the downtown area, throughout the later 19th and early 20th century, although sometimes on a large scale, like the Stewart Iron Works that have remained at Madison and 17th Street for almost a century.”
“Schofield, of Schofield & Walker, used a similar manner in orange brick for the Anthe Buildings, constructed or refaced shortly afterward nearby at 407 and 409 Madison (Photo 5, distance).”
“The Weber Brothers, Schofield, Walker, and William Rabe who worked first for [Daniel] Seger and then with Schofield from 1898 and 1904, may also have designed the many similar buildings throughout Covington.”
When walking through the Anthe Building you get the sense that things have stayed beautifully stagnate, at least structurally and architecturally, over time. This sense also rings true in an article written by Mike Pulfer, who featured the Anthe company in The Cincinnati Enquirer in 1983. He interviewed Don Anthe, who took over the company after their father died (Frank J. Anthe) in 1963. (An interesting aside: According to the article, Frank J. Anthe took over the company from his father, Frank D. Anthe, when he was only 15 years old.)
In the article, Don remembers spending Saturdays cleaning up the basement, whitewashing the walls and running errands for his father. At the time this article was written, because of the recession, business was down 75 percent. Where Anthe used to employ 10 employees, they were down to five. Part of their saving grace, Don states, is that the family owned 407 Madison.
“The structure, a row building put together in 1897 as the Anthe Building, is the epitome of low overhead,” Pulfer writes. “It looks much the same as it [stet] in its infancy, with its original wainscotting and wood floors. The stairway that leads to the third and uppermost level remains decorated in the same turquoise paint Don and Frank Anthe had slapped around as children.
“Steel powder and shavings litter the floors on the first and second levels, where more than a dozen machines are scattered. The third floor is used for storage and utilities.
“The office, with a display window fronting Madison Avenue, is basic and functional. The antique photographs of the business and the partially consumed bottle of whiskey Frank Joseph Anthe left behind remain tucked away in the bottom of a desk drawer.
“‘We’re largely known in the woodworking industry as custom tool builders,’ Anthe said. ‘If somebody wants a special router bit, we’ll agree to make him one or two, or a half dozen or a dozen.
‘The larger manufacturers won’t handle anything less than 100.’
“…A couple of decades back, ‘People were telling us plastics were coming in and they were going to take over the furniture industry,’ Anthe said. ‘They said we’re going to be out of business …Well, plastics came in, and plastics went out. People like wood.’”
Fast-forward to an article written in October 16, 2003 in The Cincinnati Enquirer that states that the building was designed with reinforced beams to support the Anthe machines’ weights. And in the 1970s, many of the firm’s belt-driven machines had to be replaced with electric ones to meet new workplace regulations.
By January 30, 1906, there were two ads in The Kentucky Post:
“MACHINIST—Good man with general experience in toolroom. F.D. Anthe. 407 Madison Ave. Covington.”
“CABINET MAKERS—Two, good at once. 407 Madison Ave.”
The 1908-1909 city directory listing: “Frank D prop Anthe Machine Works 407 Madison Ave h 646 Philadelphia.” And looking at a 1909 Sanborn map, 407 Madison is identified as “Machine Shop, Woodworking.” 409 Madison Ave. does not yet exist.
Other Businesses at 407 Madison Ave.
Anthe posted ads for factory space for rent in local newspapers as space became available.
1924: “FACTORY SPACE for rent: 3rd floor; plenty of light; reasonable rent; elevator furnished.”
One of the first businesses to rent space in the newly built Anthe building was Kelley-Koett X-Ray Manufacturing Company (which employed Herman Anthe, Frank J. Anthe’s brother), in 1905. They rented the second floor, per an article written by John Boh in the January/February 2020 issues of the Bulletin of the Kenton County Historical Society.
We can tell the types of other businesses that rented space, in part thanks to newspaper job ads.
1914: INNER SOLE CUTTER—On block. No. 407 Madison av. Covington, Ky.
1917: GIRLS—Exper. On power sewing machines to make skirts, middles and dresses; good pay; steady work. 407 Madison, Cov.”
1919: JOB-PRINTING pressfeeder: experienced. PICTORIAL SOAP CO. 407 Madison av. Covington, Ky.
1921: WE REGRIND CYLINDERS: Drop in and see the only cylinder grinder in Northern Kentucky. General Machine Work a Specialty. Dixie Regrinding Co. 407 Madison Ave.”
1926: Solicitors Wanted: Crew managers and helpers, men and women, to sell our new kitchen utensil, “EJECTOR FORK.” Write or call at office. THE CHRISMAN MFG. CO., 407 Madison Av.”
1926: Unusual Values: in Lamp Shades, Bases and Uncovered Wire Frames: The Chrisman Mfg. Co. 407 Madison Ave., Second Floor.”
Anthe posted job openings from time to time as well.
1942: LATHE HAND: Experienced Men Only: If engaged in war work do not apply. ANTHE MACHINE WORKS. 407 Madison Ave.”
1946: “MACHINISTS—For lathe or milling machine, only experience men need apply, 407 Madison Ave., Covington, Ky.”
1951: “SUBCONTRACTS WANTED: Machine Shop equipped with 6 engine lathes, 4 milling machines, cutter, grinder and heat-treating equipment is looking for work.”
Historical newspapers are a treasure trove of personal information. In them we learned that Frank Anthe defeated Rev. James H. Lions, pastor of the Shinkle M. E. Church, in a 1928 handball tournament involving 20 businessmen at the local YMCA. Frank Anthe’s $50 overcoat was stolen from his office in 1932. And in 1921, yeggs went to the trouble of breaking into his safe, only to walk away with $50 in war savings bonds.
A Building that Was Meant to be
One of the reasons Chris fell in love with the Anthe building is because of its tie to local woodworking history. Then, we made another discovery:
A printing company (!) occupied the entire second floor from 1931 to 1976.
“Gottleib Frederick Adolf (“Fred”) Schramm fled from the German Kaiser from Tubingen, Germany, passed through Port Huron, Mich., and eventually settled in Florence, Boone County, Kentucky about 1896,” writes John Boh in an article in the January 1991 Kenton County Historical Society Review.
Schram dropped the second “m” in his name, began printing for Hopeful Lutheran Church and did other contract printing for a decade before establishing a print shop with a partner on Pike Street in Covington. Their first big contract was to print stationery and whisky labels for Crigler and Crigler distillery. Schram bought his partner out and in 1931 moved to the second floor of the Anthe building. The business, which eventually was passed to Schram’s son, John, remained in operation until John’s retirement in 1976.
You can see the printing presses and letter trays that were used on the second floor of the Anthe building at the Schram Print Shop at Heritage Village Museum in Sharonville, Ohio. Schram Printing Company donated these items in 2004, and Heritage Village built a structure, Schram Print Shop, in their living history museum, to house them.
The Anthe Building is impressive when you walk through it. But what I kept seeing were the people. Present in the lone wooden hanger.
Buzz, Al, Terry and Lonnie.
And while reading the obituary I found for Victor J. Schraivogel, who died at age 69, a retired machinist who worked at Anthe Machine Works for 44 years.
In 2003, Jenny Callison interviewed Doug and Mark Anthe for an article titled “Long-standing businesses survive on service” in The Cincinnati Enquirer.
“Doug and Mark Anthe operate the cutting tool plant started by their great-grandfather in 1897,” Callison writes. “There are other elements of continuity; Anthe Machine Works occupies the same structure where it began more than a century ago. It continues to make cutting tools for the furniture industry.
“‘We stick to the plan for the people before us,’ Doug Anthe said. ‘We produce a good product and back it up. But we have the ability to shift.’”
Core77 recently featured furniture designer’s Hemmo Honkonen’s series of audible cabinets. Honkonen writes on his website, “The cabinets are a study in mechanically produced sound, movement and interaction. Each cabinet has its own sound that is triggered by opening and closing the doors.”
You can see photos, watch – and listen – to the doors being opened, here. Sounds include a triad, bass triad, cymbal (which is actually fantastic if you want to shock unsuspecting snoopers) and scale. (Oh, and there are audible chairs, too!)
A fun party trick when people visit perhaps, but while reading (and listening) to all of this I was reminded of something my grandma once said. For years she would grow weary of the sound of her screen door being slammed, open and shut, all day long, especially with six kids during the summer months. And then? Once all the kids had moved out, she missed that wooden racket.
There’s an antique dresser in my childhood bedroom, now a guest bedroom. A couple years ago my mom asked me to get something out of it and as soon as I pulled the drawer out, and heard that familiar swish, and felt that familiar hitch in that one spot that requires you to lift up just a bit, I felt like a teen again, looking for one of my T-shirts.
Steve Shanesy turned a large maple bowl for my husband and me as a wedding gift and anytime anyone in our family hears the familiar thump it makes when it hits our dining room table they know we’re having a salad, one of the hundreds that bowl has held (if not more).
Every dog and child knows the sound of a front door opening when a parent is returning home and most kids know someone is hiding under the cellar door when they hear that particular bang during hide-and-seek.
I know the sound that the fallboard makes when someone is about to play the piano, and when it’s late at night and I hear that familiar kitchen floorboard creak, I know that someone is hungry (or sneaking a treat). I know someone is cold and looking for the wool blanket when I hear a struggle with the latches on our antique bedroom trunk, and I know someone needs a pen or a pencil when I hear the lid on the old wooden pencil box slam shut. I know someone is dragging our stool instead of lifting it when I hear a particular rasp across our pine floor and I know someone is starting up the mantle clock again when I hear the delicate open and close of that small, sweet wooden door.
When I came to “A Vampire Chair,” while copy editing Issue No. 1 of The Stick Chair Journal, I side-eyed my own stick chair in my house. Without even reading the first sentence, I thought, There’s more than one?
Turns out the story in The Stick Chair Journal is about a fabled chair in Tennessee that was broken apart to murder its owner and, once repaired, begins acting odd. Although my chair was never broken apart to murder anyone, my entire family insists it’s hell-bent on trying. And I’m to blame.
In late 2004, I was an editor at Popular Woodworking Magazine, and in between copy editing, they’d throw me into woodworking classes. Given that this was almost 20 years ago, the details are a bit fuzzy, but I do remember I got married in October 2004, and soon after I returned from my honeymoon I was building a Welsh stick chair with Don Weber and several other editors at the magazine in a week-long class. I remember Chris being particularly excited about this opportunity, and I knew it was a big deal.
So I tried to soak in everything Don said. And not just about building chairs. I was going to start doing yoga every morning on a beautiful rug in a stream of sunlight! I was going to start making my own lemon curd! I even considered wearing vests.
I was also a nervous wreck. I was 25 years old, had majored in magazine journalism, and was finally getting used to rabbets being spelled with an “e.” But everyone was more than kind; I had a lot of help, and I built a stick chair.
I’m pretty sure I was behind everyone else in the class because I think Chris was done and helping me finish my chair when he told me I might want to break my edges a bit.
“No,” I said.
Why? I don’t know. I was a stupid stubborn 25-year-old. Or maybe it was because he had presented it as a choice instead of an order. Still, Chris was my boss, and to break up the awkwardness, I think I said something along the lines of, “I want it to look crisp,” as if I knew what that even meant/how Welsh stick chair edges were supposed to look/what I was even talking about.
Chris just let me be, which he always graciously does.
So I brought the chair home, which, looking at, y’all will probably criticize, but I was (quietly) proud of this chair. Crafting letters into sentences came naturally to me. Crafting wood into something sturdy and useful did not. And as young, broke newlyweds, this chair was, by far, one of the nicest, and most useful, pieces of furniture we owned. Even if it looked a little wonky.
My husband, Andy, and I painted the chair. (If you ever want to test a marriage early on, take two very different personality types, add a can of milk paint and paint a stick chair together. We are still married. I’ll leave it at that.)
Beforepainting, Andy asked if I wanted to break the edges a bit.
“Why does everyone keep asking me that?” I asked/yelled. “They look so good sharp! I want them crisp!”
I’m pretty sure I let out an exasperated sigh, as one does in your mid-20s, thinking no one understood me or my good taste.
My chair listened to my mulishness and responded in kind. It had no mercy.
It cut everyone it encountered.
Friends would come over and, looking at it, a bit perplexed, Andy would say, “Kara made that!” which was very kind and loving. And I swear the chair, in response, would magically beckon them over because the next thing I know, they would be touching it/sitting in it and then there would be blood and then I would be apologizing and getting them a Band-Aid.
But I was stubborn.
“You could still break the edges,” Andy said.
“Everyone is just sitting in it wrong,” I said.
Then we had kids.
First Sophie. Then two years later, twins, James and Owen. Once they were old enough to walk and talk, they didn’t call it The Vampire Chair. They called it The Evil Chair. Anytime they bumped into (or, as they claimed, the chair reached out and bit them), they carried on about how this chair was trying to kill them.
For a while, the Vampire/Evil Chair lived in our attic.
There are benefits to accidentally building a Vampire Chair:
1) If you ever find yourself parenting a 4-year-old and two 2-year-olds in a small home, and you are tired, and they are (always) not tired, you will eventually learn the only way you can keep them from (literally) swinging from the dining room chandelier is to put all the dining room chairs up on the dining room table when not in use. We did this for over a year. Because our kids refused to engage with my Vampire Chair, if all our dining room chairs had been Vampire Chairs, we wouldn’t have had to go to this trouble.
2) We like to have people over and especially when you’re young and broke, seating is limited. We’d bring out everything we had – the random rusty folding chair in the garage, plastic outdoor chairs, pillows on the floor for cushions. Sometimes my Vampire Chair, which had gotten a bad rap, would sit empty. This would annoy me to no end and I’d usually sit in it to gently prove a point. (No garlic, I simply had a whole move down I made so I could sit without drawing any blood.) But every once in a while a friend or family member would visit and despite a still very-present scar on their skin they would, unafraid, make way for the Vampire Chair and settle in. Respect.
3) If no one is sitting in a Vampire Chair, you always have a place to put things – your coat, your bag, the mail etc.
If I’ve learned anything since accidentally building a Vampire Chair 20-plus years ago it’s that if something you love keeps biting, it’s easy to place blame. “The edges are fine – everyone just needs to be more careful. What were you thinking, wearing shorts?” But love doesn’t have to (nor should it mean) perfection. You can love something you created and admit you made (sometimes many) mistakes.
Also, does this mean I think you should always listen to what others tell you should do?
But I do believe we’re all stupid stubborn 20-somethings and stupid stubborn 70-somethings. Real growth happens when we learn when to ignore advice and when to listen. Now in my 40s, I think that’s a lifelong thing.
(For what it’s worth, our Vampire Chair is no longer in the attic and it has stopped biting! Or, the edges have been broken finally. On flesh.)