In search of a new book as the summer season winds down? Witold Rybcynski’s “Now I Sit Me Down,” might be the perfect last summer read. Amanda Kolson Hurley from our sister site Architect Magazine, writes on a new book that dives into the historical and cultural significance of chair design. A chair might be just a chair, but a basic three-legged stool is much different than an average rolling desk chair for comfort, feel, and design as Rybcynski makes clear.
As Hurley writes,
“Now I Sit Me Down” isn’t a coffee-table compendium or an academic tome on furniture. Instead, it’s a sprightly narrative history of how people have approached the art of sitting, from ancient Greece, birthplace of the enduring Klismos, to the present-day United States, where millions of backyards are outfitted with the same, generic, one-piece plastic chairs. “Chairs are fascinating because they address both physiology and fashion,” Rybczynski writes. “They represent an effort to balance multiple concerns: artistry, status, gravity, construction, and—not least—comfort…”
For Rybczynski, the golden age of the chair was the 18th century. Woodworking in France and England had reached a level of high refinement, materials (like mahogany) were of the best quality, and upholstery, invented only a century before, improved the sitter’s comfort. As social customs changed and became less formal, master joiners created a new chair for every occasion, like the fauteuil à coiffer, a low-backed armchair for the brushing of a lady’s hair, and the voyeuse, a chair meant to be turned around and straddled while playing cards. (The top rail was padded for resting the arms.) The downside: these chairs were very expensive, costing about 30 times the daily wages of an ordinary worker.