Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Hanger Principle

With hindsight, the last couple of years of my chair designing seems pretty linear. It's been a search for a geometry that would work for multiple designs. I've come to think of it like a coat hanger. A coat hanger relates to the human form, and once properly formed can support any fashion, from formal wear to my grubby shop flannels. The notion of universal truths in chairs is a tough one. Not only are there different body sizes and shapes, but the understanding of the body at rest is not an exact science and opinions differ wildly as to the best shapes or even desired results of a chair.

My explorations of curves in my latest designs have proven to be a challenge. When making classic windsors such as a continuous arm, where the spindles are straight and the curves of the chair are connected to the seat by straight lines (spindles), I've stuck to some pretty simple numbers. I find 12 degrees on the center spindle serves nicely for the average chair, or slightly more upright if the chair is specifically for dining. Once the center spindle angle is set, the arm is simply mounted on the armposts to intersect the spindle correctly. This process serves nearly all of the classic forms that I make.

When I started bending the posts, spindles and crest, the simplicity of the 12 degree chair fell away. I've spent countless hours experimenting with different spindle curves, as well as the relationship between the back to the seat and the seat to the floor. Early in the process, I realized that I needed a new set of reference points (and angles) that would ensure consistency and control over the final piece.

The photo above shows three chairs that are very close cousins. In putting them together, I followed the same basic reference points, curves and angles. I'll post soon on the exact points that I've been referencing.

Below is another photo of the birdcage rocker. I've always been drawn to the birdcage yet my attempts to make a rocker version over the years generally ended with disappointment. The past year of playing with curves finally brought the design into focus and I got the results I had always wanted.

If you've been following the blog for the past year or so, I'm sure that you'll also notice the evolution of the arms, spindle and seat shapes. My goal was to create similarities in these components to balance the the distinctive shapes in the turnings. The paint is black/green over brown. At first I set out to paint the chair a light color (like my curved settee), but soon realized that the silhouette would be better served by a darker color. The black/green has the look of iron, I like it a lot. I mixed 1:1 of the Old Fashioned Milk paint company's Black and Lexington Green. It reads as nearly black, until you see it next to a true black, and then the green comes out.


jericho farmer said...

Pete - that is a gorgeous rocker! Even with the distractive steamer and misc. showing in the background.

You have a great eye for design.


Peter Galbert said...

Thanks Mark!

Andrew Jack said...

in the "family portrait" above, the cousin on the left is without a center stretcher. does the chair suffer from any noticable instability? or is it going to grow into a rocker? or am i crazy? hope to see you soon.

Peter Galbert said...

It is a rocker! The rockers act as the side stretchers. I have made one with oak legs and a butternut seat that omitted the front stretcher. It allows the sitter to put their legs under the seat. I'm not sure how it will hold up, but it seems like its fine!