I love a good chair. I really do and nothing makes my little heart beat faster than when a client wants me to design one for a scheme.
The truth is that they’re one of the most complex pieces of furniture to design. Obviously more so than a table, bookcase or desk (though my cabinet makers might disagree with some of the designs I’ve given them!) They are the holy grail of design, needing to be comfortable, original, and usable with style and proportion. I love the challenge. It’s no surprise that many architects design chairs. It’s the ultimate in 3 dimensional interior and furniture design.
Chairs have played an important part in social history. While peasants and lesser orders sat on roughly hewn stumps and benches, the elite enjoyed chairs as a mark of stature. I can remember my grandfather having his own particular chair that no else dared to sit in! It’s no coincidence that around the world dynasties have taken the names Peacock Throne (Persia) Dragon Throne (China) Lion Throne (Burma).
Here in the UK I was fortunate enough to recently visit Knole in Kent which houses one of the finest collections of early chairs in the country. Imagine a chair that has rested Charles 1, James 1 and also the original Knole sofa, with its wide seat and foldable arms used by monarchs to receive VIP’s. It is delicious, as are the others with their original fabric and trimmings.
The National Trust are undertaking a restoration programme which has meant these amazing ghostly x-ray images being taken showing the working beneath the glamour.
Of all the chairs I have designed in the past few years, I do have a couple of favourites. My first chair was for the Marquess of Bath to literally sit alongside a dining table to seat 50, which I also designed. It was a huge privilege to be adding to such a superlative collection as that at Longleat. It occurred to me that the furniture at Longleat, as in all the great houses reflected the times in which they were created or purchased. Thus the Indian furniture and Chinese wallpaper reflecting the riches of Empire.
I wanted to make my furniture designs for Longleat relevant to the house in the 20th Century, to my client, as well as comfortable, practical and stylish.
Looking at the history of Longleat House in the 20th century it is perhaps best known for having the first safari park. I drew long tapering antelope legs and felt they would make elegant legs for the banquet table and chairs. For the seat I thought about Lord Bath and his famous wifelets, so the seat and base of the back has soft feminine curves that denote the fairer sex. The banquet hall can be configured in numerous ways, but I was concerned about acoustics so I made the backs tall and elegant giving the guest a sense of importance while allowing conversation to easily flow up and down the table in these “sound corridors”. Finally we had the subject of storage so I curved the backs over in the manner of shaker furniture so they could hang easily on padded rails in the store room.
More recently I designed both dining and armchairs for a harbour side project in Sydney. The space was fabulous and I opened the entire front of the building with bi-fold glass doors out onto and elegant terrace with views of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge beyond. These arm chairs needed to face inward around the coffee table for social chats, but I felt that if I lived there I’d want to be chatting on the phone and swing around to view the fabulous harbour.
So I designed two swivel chairs, heavily padded in the manner of an armchair but with a handsome patinated copper base, scooped up to reflect the Opera House, with panels on the front and back to reflect the same with rich burr veneer panels to answer my clients wish for “sumptuous.” They are big and handsome and swing elegantly around. Just love it when a plan comes together!
More of my chair designs will be posted on www.clairerendall.com.