I have been thinking about why I like chairs so much and why I have chosen them as a medium of expression. I can get excited about a sofa; but a chair is another thing altogether. Sitting is tricky anatomically for a human so a chair than supports and cossets, and is comfortable is a rare and precious thing. We have an intimate bodily relationship with a chair, much more so than with tables, wardrobes or even beds perhaps. Sitting in the perfect chair can feel like being held in the palm of a very large, very safe hand.
And, unlike any other piece of furniture, a chair can embody a personality. It can be sturdy, serious and upright; or it can be light and whimsical; or relaxed and slouchy; or glamorous and distant; or a best friend. It can be political, confer status, or be the battleground of one-upmanship between you and the Cat. That chairs have a personhood means that we think about them differently from the other objects we surround ourselves with in our everyday lives, as author Nicholson Baker memorably asked, “Haven’t you felt a peculiar sort of worry about the chair in your living room that no one sits in?” A brooding, unhappy chair is to be avoided.
And so a chair, and the fabric we choose to upholster it in, can say much about our tastes, our values and our views. Or indeed it’s taste, values and views. Is it a nice, well mannered feminine chair or thrustingly aggressive, a rebel, a punk, or a streamlined, black glasses wearing, architectural stool? What name does it subtly whisper in your ear? You see, chairs are clever. For once they have inveigled you to name them, free will in the choice of fabric is just an illusion. After all, what’s the point in being a statement chair, if it doesn’t make you sit up and take notice?
I am delighted to find that I am not alone in my conviction that chairs have personalities. Serious people have written on this subject. As an informative and engaging read on the natural history of the chair, I loved Now I Sit Me Down by Witold Rybczynski, architect and award-winning writer.
And yes, the chairs all have names.