Monday, February 16, 2009

Worth a Look

These days in the shop are long and a bit scattered. Pieces waiting to be finished, shipped, designed or cataloged seem to be everywhere. Beyond all the physical work going on, I am fascinated, as usual, by the geometry and physics involved in chairs and sitting. The more that I explore the possibilities for chair design, the more that I realize it is still an open question.

After spending time with Galen Cranz, I have had a nagging need to get more out of my chairs. She challenged my notions of comfort and the way that we use chairs. (thanks to her I'm sitting on a perch as I type this) To her, the notions of aesthetics, materials and durability take a back seat to the simple idea that chairs must fit a body in motion to be healthy, not just a body at rest. Much observations has shown me that any seated position must afford the sitter the ability to shift their weight and balance easily to be comfortable for any considerable length of time.

Recently I've been spending a lot of time at the web site of Peter Opsvik. Simpy put, it's amazing. You may know Opsvik as the designer of the kneeling chair. His web site has an astounding amount of works, ideas and information on it. Unlike me, who is largely driven by the materials and techniques that I enjoy working, Opsvik is a free floating thinker willing the employ whatever it takes to engage the human body in motion and rest.

While I am still bound by my joy in woodworking, Opsviks work challenges me to ask for more from my efforts, and lucky for me, his ideas are out there to help.

6 comments:

Lyndon said...

Thanks for the link to Peter Opsvik's site, very refreshing. Thanks also for the work put into your own blog. I really to enjoy dropping by.

regards

Lyndon
(Belgium)

Anonymous said...

I'm a computer programmer. I got a kneeling chair (not by Opsvik) and tried it out for a few weeks. It was very hard on my lower back. I returned to a traditional chair and just focused on better posture.

Peter Galbert said...

Thanks Lyndon!

As far as the kneeling chair I can't say that I've use one for extended periods. In her book "The Chair", Galen Cranz addresses the chair and some of its shortcomings. As I recall, her main criticism comes from the lack of feedback from the feet. When I sit on my perch, I have long fulcrums (legs) with which to balance my torso, while on the kneeling chair, you only have to the end of the knee, thereby cutting the leverage down. One of the main points of Galen's book is that the entire workspace needs to be addressed. Just like dining tables arbitrarily set chair height, so do desks. You may find her analysis interesting.

The other problem seems to come from the fact that we've all become so adept at using poor seating situations and postures, that the muscles and positions that may be better for us feel awkward and even difficult to maintain. I know that it took me a while to get used to my perch, but now as I work, my body makes subtle adjustments to keep me comfortable for long periods. Thanks for the input!

Lyndon said...

My youngest son (still at university) has used a kneeling chair at his desk for years because of lower back problems when he was younger. He has adapted to it well and likes it allot.

regards
Lyndon

greg said...

You always push me to think out of the box. I make Windsor chairs because I love the process and am attracted by the aesthetics. I don't really care that much for modern Windsor variants such as Tim Clark's or Thomas Moser's.

That said, because of a bad back I used a kneeling chair at the office for years, until the padding wore out. I just haven't made the connection between making Windsor chairs and making chairs that you can sit in for long periods of time.

greg

Peter Galbert said...

Thanks Greg,
I know that it seems odd to promote wood chairs for their long term comfort. I sit in one every night, either reading or watching a movie and am quite comfortable. One of the keys to the success of the old designs seems to be the ability to shift positions easily. Nowadays, many chairs are designed with the influence of our sedentary behaviors, like driving or flying etc...But the truth seems to be that any single position held for too long is not a good idea. I strive to make my chairs like a sounding board for the body, if you need to fully relax and slump, it should be there to support you and if you want to be upright and animated, it's there as well. I know it's a tall order, but at least it keeps me guessing!