Chairs are like sculpture. Robert Wilson
I have three chairs in my house. One for Solitude, Two for Friendship, Three for Society. Thoreau
Sitting is not the only use of a chair. Remember putting two chairs back to back then throwing a blanket over them to make a tent? As a child, I sat backwards on a chair, added some rope, and suddenly I had an imaginary ride on my horse named Silver. A dancer I knew choreographed an entire performance using a chair as her partner. We get up on a chair to reach something or to get the attention of a noisy crowd. We also use the word chair as a metaphor to speak of the ‘chair of the department’ and ‘first chair’ in the orchestra. Oh, the life of a chair! They hold a lifetime of stories. They give us a vantage point from which to see the world as we snuggle in them to read a book or newspaper, to share in a conversation, or play out a creative thought. They sit in readiness in the rooms of our homes as willing partners in the sculpting of our everyday lives. A chair isn’t just a chair.
Let me introduce you to the chair stories and sculptures of Simplicity where each one has a distinctive and artful character. The most dominant of our collection is an independent and strong overstuffed chair with matching ottoman. She is referred to as the Katharine Hepburn chair because she was specifically purchased for an earlier home, my quaint 1930’s bungalow that I lovingly refer to as Katharine Hepburn. This house and this chair were all about independence and in expressing myself in my new role as a single woman. Moved from house to house, the Kate chair always maintains a strong presence in any room. The neutral tweed fabric allows her to be easily partnered with most furniture. She is larger than any other chair in the house so care is always taken as to where she will be positioned in a room. This is my pondering chair. She provides enough room for me to tuck my feet underneath and wiggle my body into just the right place. If I want to have a long think with myself, this is where I am likely to be found. Sitting in this chair brings comfort and a sense that my world is just as it should be.
This is what the Kate chair has to say. “ I hold thoughts and emotions well. With plenty of space to snuggle in, I offer room to think. The comfort I provide the body invites a long lengthy read of a book or time to journal complete with pauses. No hurry to get up. Just be.”
A stately wooden Windsor style chair is one that belonged to Aunt Dorothy. I loved seeing it in her well appointed home and delighted in receiving it when she moved. It makes me think of her and her beautiful spaces that were proper, interesting, and harmonious. Its tall back allows the head to relax and the arm rests are supportive as they wrap around the body. A few years ago I decided to paint this chair a cranberry red. It felt like a bold move as I heard the antique lovers in my head give warning and lay on the guilt. I have not regretted that decision. It has more spunk now and stands out in a pleasant way, rather than quietly retreating into the woodwork as it once did. To invite a more comfortable sit, a pinstriped cushion was added. I had to giggle that this antique chair was now a very trendy cranberry color and sporting a cushion from IKEA. Talk about a personality change! This is what the Windsor chair had to say.
“I am the extra. I sit waiting for people to use me. Most of the time I am vacant and in waiting. In Aunt Dorothy’s home, I sat in the front vestibule. My role was to offer hospitality when someone came in the door. Rarely did anyone sit except to take off boots in the snowy weather. What is rather interesting is that if someone does sit on me, they will find that I am amazingly comfortable. Still, they prefer the upholstered chairs to me. I sit as an extra and wait.”
A curved captain’s chair is another that holds a story. It is the only remaining chair from the dining set that was my great grandmother’s and then eventually my parents’. The individual straight chairs that were part of this set were oddly uncomfortable. No matter what size of body sat in them, it felt as if you were slipping off. It was easy to let these go, but the captain’s chair was special. My father sat in this chair at the head of the family table. Seeing it, I feel his energy and love of life. Sitting in it, I am transported back to Park Drive and our home overlooking the Cedar River. This is a chair that remembers well.
“Jim and I were good buddies. He was a grand and glorious storyteller and many of his tales were shared when he sat with me. His sense of humor brought joy and laughter from his audience around the dining table. Sometimes he would do a magic trick. Once he offered me to a friend of Susan’s who had just learned to parachute. Jim pulled his captain’s chair into the middle of the room and said, show me, and indeed he did.”
Two matching upholstered brown tufted chairs were purchased after we moved into Simplicity. Originally, Don and I purchased them for our library. Since their arrival, they have moved to other places in the house where we desire a more intimate atmosphere. Currently they reside in our living room across from the Katharine Hepburn chair and our leather sofa. Usually they are angled to allow effortless connection for the people who sit in them. We have never separated the pair. They seem to work best as a team. A small lamp table sits between to offer a place for a cup of coffee, a book, or anything that lets a conversation be hands free. Inviting comfort and hospitality, I call these the friendship chairs.
“We have heard the deepest sorrow and greatest joy by those who sit with us. They sit for quite some time as they unpack life and its ups and downs. Many times there is silence. Sometimes there are tears. Frequently we witness the smiles and twinkling eyes of friends who trust and support each other.”
One of my favorite stories about chairs comes from touring Eleanor Roosevelt’s home, Val-Kil. The docent was asked why the chairs in Mrs. Roosevelt’s living room were numerous and so random in style. She responded, “Mrs. Roosevelt was heard to say that her friends and guests are different shapes and sizes. Therefore, it was important to have chairs to accommodate and fit their diversity.”
The chairs in Simplicity are different sizes and shapes. A chair is chosen to suit not only mood and emotions, but comfort of the body. One cannot help but think of Goldilocks and her pursuit of a comfortable chair. May the chairs of Simplicity offer all guests at least one that is ‘just right’.