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Are you sitting comfortably? -
The History of the Chair

Report of the Lecture by Janusz Karczewski-Slowikowski MSc BEd on 22 April 2009

From a wide-ranging, detailed and well-illustrated talk by Janusz on the history of the chair from ancient times to the 19th century, the key points which remain in my mind are probably most easily presented by a series of bullet points:

  • What a lot of different sorts of chairs were mentioned: the iconic chair of Tutankhamun, the gossip chair, the punishment chair, the Derbyshire chair with "ears", the bacon chair for curing your ham in a cupboard in the back, curvy Queen Anne chairs, an ergonomically perfect Chinese chair dating amazingly from 1550, the back stool (a chair without arms) and the Victorian balloon-backed chair.

  • What came before chairs? Most people sat on the floor or on a chest or, if wealthy enough, on a stool or bench. These were all made by joiners using joints to construct them - hence Shakespearean references to "joint stools".

  • Wood turners later gave the jointed chair an aesthetic lift, although it was a long time before they worked collaboratively with the joiners. A double-binding barley sugar decoration was particularly striking and technically complex.

  • The silks and brocades used for the upholstery were often as much as ten times the cost of the wooden frame and the gold decoration on the Coronation chair was far, far more than the 100 shillings it actually cost to make.

  • The destruction of existing furniture in the Great Fire of London resulted in a flowering of French-influenced design and unusual materials coming from newly founded colonies: walnut from France, cane from the West Indies and mahogany from the East Indies. The latter was easy to carve and was widely used especially as it carried no import duty. Sheraton, Hepplewhite, Robert Adam and Chippendale all exploited the versatility and beauty of mahogany. Chippendale turned this into an art form producing a trade catalogue with over 3,000 different designs.

Janusz told us that on average we shift our sitting position at least four times in an hour. How often did you move as you read this?

John Baker

Anticipation of a good talk

One to one with the expert

Your Chairman gives his personal thanks to Janusz