Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Was the Perfect Desk Chair Made by the Shakers in 1860?

Tuesday, July 19, 2016
Isabella reporting,

Because so many of us writers spend so much of our time sitting at computers, finding the perfect office chair is often a popular topic of authorial conversations, and function always beats form in the pursuit of the most ergonomically perfect desk chair.

But apparently this quest is not new. The elegantly simple revolving armchair shown here, left, was designed and made by Shaker craftsmen c1860, and is now in the collection of Winterthur Museum. Here's the information from the placard:

The United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing, also known as the Shakers, made seating furniture for sale to "outsiders" as well as a variety of forms for their own use. The purpose of this revolving armchair, one of only two known to survive, is unclear....A forerunner of the modern office chair, revolving armchairs such as this one may have been developed by a chairmaker at the Mount Lebanon Shaker community for commercial sale but was never put into production.

As innovators keenly interested in technological developments outside of their communities, the Shakers responded to patent rocking, tilting, and turning chairs that industrial designers were introducing for home and office use in the mid-19th century. The maker of this chair adapted Shaker practices to create a product that satisfied an aesthetic imperative for functional, mindful design; simplicity of form; and visual disclosure, rather than concealment, of structural elements. 

Although it's nearly 150 years old, this chair with its swivel base and refined woodwork of maple and cherry looks surprisingly modern: "functional, mindful design," indeed. I'm betting that the seat made of woven tapes was probably pretty comfortable, too - though perhaps not comfortable enough for hours at the keyboard.

Of course, I have to bow out of the perfect desk chair discussion entirely, since I don't even have a desk. I write on a laptop on the bed. However, if someone offered me a Shaker chair....

Revolving armchair, probably made in Mount Lebanon, NY, c1860, Winterthur Museum. 
Photograph ©2016 by Susan Holloway Scott.


Regencyresearcher said...

A chair with more rounded lines and bungee cord seat was for sale at Rooms to Go. Another chair had a tape seat and one a seat of plastic bands. The Shaker chair would have fit right in and not even have been noticeable for the form of the seat. The beauty of the chair would have been noted, I think.

Skylar said...

Indeed. That office chair needs some padding. At least the pink seat looks nice. Or is it just faded red.

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