Monday, March 5, 2007
Chair Design, You're Sitting in It
Designing a chair is a pandora's box of problems and ideas. The main problems we face, besides building a wood platform 18 inches off of the floor, is to come to understand the requirements of the human body at rest. We are all different and no single chair can be perfect for everyone, so we are already lowering our standards from ideal to servicable. The good news is, we have been sitting in an imperfect and ergonomically incorrect chair our whole lives. My friend Galen Cranz, author of "The Chair" states the one truth that I count on, "the best position is the next position". One of the best qualities of a windsor chair is that it allows the sitter to shift into many different positions maintaining comfort and avoiding fatigue. I try to judge each chair that I make by the ability to be comfortable for long periods, not just the initial impression. Over time, it becomes apparent whether a chair is comfortable. Pay attention the next time you are in a restaurant, is the chair that you're in comfortable? Watch your dining companions, are they slouching to attain balance or fidgeting to be comfortable? This is a great testing ground. I love to watch my dinner guests sit for hours in my chairs as they take on different postures. A chair that holds you in one position soon becomes a torture device, think of airplane and car seats.
Probably the best place to start in design is to find a chair that you like and work from the basic measurements to create a drawing or mock-up in the style that you desire. Quick and dirty is a good rule of thumb, I use 1/2 inch flexible copper pipe to try new bends for spindles and dummy legs that can jam into any seat. Once you have the mock-up together, live with it. Put it at the table or in the living room and use it, not when you're thinking about chair design but when you're thinking about eating, reading or watching a movie. I'll be designing a rocker in the rodback style over the next couple of weeks and will show the process and address the issues as I come across them. So sit back and relax.