Don't take this sitting down.
August 26, 2016 9:29 PM   Subscribe

A brief history of chairs by architect and professor Witold Rybczynski covers the fascinating (really) history of chairs, the subject of his new book Now I Sit Me Down. He has also written about the lack of thoughtful design in airline seats and how architects have struggled to create the perfect chair (researching this article apparently inspired the book). Don't miss the photographs of the 7 chairs that changed the world.
posted by blahblahblah (24 comments total) 56 users marked this as a favorite
posted by Fizz at 9:30 PM on August 26, 2016 [3 favorites]

Hmmm, this sounds really borin... wow, this is fascinating.

Who else now wants to have dinner lying down?
posted by milkb0at at 11:46 PM on August 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

Chairs are for fools!
posted by h00py at 1:34 AM on August 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

I went to the "lack of thoughtful design in airline seats" link hoping for some advice to airlines on how they could reduce the torture they currently inflict on coach passengers, but Rybczynski blew that off with a shrug and went right to business class. A discussion of seats that I am never going to get to sit in left me annoyed.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 2:41 AM on August 27, 2016 [12 favorites]

Fascinating, thank you.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 3:59 AM on August 27, 2016

My current favorite chair design is the Helinox Ground Chair - - 520 grams, folds up into a tiny belt pouch, no pointy legs to dig into the ground, and yet is extremely comfortable for concerts, the beach, etc.
posted by fairmettle at 4:09 AM on August 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

Don't forget the scene from Passion of the Christ where Jesus humorously tries to sell his mom on a modern dining room set shortly before being horribly tortured to death.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 4:21 AM on August 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

This has made me intensely desire a set of Thonet no.14 chairs for the dining room, but this "cheap" chair is running about $200 apiece*, some of the knockoffs for even more, so it will have to remain a dream for a while.
*(Not a bad price for a good quality chair made in Europe and therefore, presumably, by people paid living wages, offered proper health care, etc., but i still can't casually buy a set of them.)
posted by ardgedee at 5:13 AM on August 27, 2016

Oh god, this hits so many of my weird niche interests! Chair cultures vs. floor cultures! Architecture Without Architects! Changing designs of chairs throughout history!

I have asked the library to buy a copy of Now I Sit Me Down, and now I am going to go read all these articles and have some sort of Excited Design Freakout.
posted by Adridne at 5:42 AM on August 27, 2016 [6 favorites]

OOOOOOOOH, thank you!
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:44 AM on August 27, 2016

Oh, yes, sitting. The great leveler. From the mightiest Pharaoh to the lowliest peasant, who doesn't enjoy a good sit?
posted by blue_beetle at 5:46 AM on August 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

After living in East Asia for the past decade and a half or so, I recently realized that I spent all my time sitting on the floor in front of the sofa, rather than on the sofa itself. I'm not sure how it happened, or how germane it is to this thread, but yeah, I guess I'm no longer a chair guy.
posted by Literaryhero at 5:59 AM on August 27, 2016 [3 favorites]

Ugh. That pic of the British Airways Business Class seating gives me the willies. I'm someone who can get very nauseous facing backward in a moving conveyance (like an airplane.) I'd be in big trouble sitting in whichever of those seats is the backward-facing option.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:31 AM on August 27, 2016

Our dining room chairs are coming to the end of their lives (which is ok, they have been in daily use for more than 30 years, which isn't bad for cheap knockoff copies), and it has been dispiriting looking at the available options. Places like the very ironically named Design Within Reach have beautiful chairs for sale, but at stratospheric prices, while the cheaper options I have looked at have tended to seem ugly, uncomfortable, and/or flimsy.

I did splurge on a gloriously comfortable Scandanavian recliner a while back. It was expensive to buy, but the per-hour cost is low, because it is the ideal seat for reading and using a laptop. And the expensive couch we bought used has now outlasted several cheaper pieces; the economics of furniture are hard to predict.

I was surprised that the last link described that early Greek chair as "one of the most graceful chairs ever conceived." To my eyes, the legs look awkwardly splayed rather than graceful, but obviously it is an enduring design that people must like.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:09 AM on August 27, 2016

But cause and effect does not explain why folding stools originated in ancient Egypt, a region with a warm, dry climate

They didn't like the sand getting everywhere maybe?

I have never figured out what was comfortable about reclining on your side/arm and arm falls asleep when I stay in that position for long. Maybe Roman lounges were built to prevent that, though.
posted by emjaybee at 9:27 AM on August 27, 2016

How about the Therm-a-rest backpack chair? Converts your sleeping pad into a seat with a backrest. Weighs just a few ounces. Don't leave the trailhead without it.
posted by JackFlash at 12:34 PM on August 27, 2016

needs more Christina Hendricks
posted by Rhomboid at 1:35 PM on August 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

The history of chairs, previously (not a double).
posted by filthy light thief at 1:41 PM on August 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

Thanks fff! I hadn't seen it, and it was a typically excellent post.
posted by blahblahblah at 2:07 PM on August 27, 2016

I can't let a chair post pass without noting Greg Fleishman of Culver City, LA/CA. His cut-from-a-single-sheet-of-plywood chairs are amazing and sooo comfortable--the zig-zags turn unyielding plywood into perfect springy springs.

If only they were cheap.

Note: I discovered them in the Tsiolkovsky (or was it cat's cradle) section of the Museum of Jurassic Technology (also Culver City), which is ... just right.
posted by hexatron at 2:17 PM on August 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

Put me down for a floor sitter. A couple years ago we got a really nice heavy square coffee table that we throw a blanket over in the winter and call a Kotatsu. When I do use chairs I prefer large, very solid ones that I can squirm all around in.

I'm interested in the deep squat. I've tried it before but I reckon I'm not gifted with the genetics, or the lifetime of practice, that makes it comfortable. And since starting to ride a bike more, my leg muscles tend to get in the way of that.

I learned an interesting anecdote at my office-furniture-manufacturing job. 20 years ago, the industry was super excited because everyone was designing task chairs (aka office desk chairs) that would hold your body in the perfect, ergonomically correct position so you could work on your desktop computer all day without injury.

People got injured. A Lot. Nerves got pinched - over time. Blood clots formed in legs - over time. Muscles atrophied - over time.

People need to move. Movement keeps us healthy. The response to this was two fold: First, you see a lot of chairs that make you move, like exercise balls. Secondly, the rise of height-adjustable desks and walk stations.

But we still have chairs-as-chairs. However (and this is what I think is really clever and incredible) some chairs are designed specifically to be comfortable for a short while (an hour meeting etc) but then to become uncomfortable after that. And this is a really unique concept because "become uncomfortable after a while" doesn't really seem to go hand-in-hand with "super comfortable for a while".

I'll give an example. Hope no one minds, but I'm sure all the companies have chairs like these, this one is just one I know about. The Qivi chair has a pivot where the back connects to the arms so you can lean back, which is kind of obvious. But, cleverly, the seat bed also slides forward ever so slightly so that leaning back delivers a smooth experience where no friction occurs between your body and the seat. This is super great because it allows you to move and reposition and fidget in the short term. However, in the long term, the hard bottom makes your butt tired, and the lack of upper back support makes your core tired, so you got to get up and stretch to re-energize.
posted by rebent at 4:13 PM on August 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

the Helinox Ground Chair - - 520 grams, folds up into a tiny belt pouch, no pointy legs to dig into the ground...

Costs US$112 and if you're over a certain age you can't get out of it. (I have the made in US prequel: $24 on sale. Works great until I try to get up.)
posted by sneebler at 7:11 PM on August 27, 2016

However, some chairs are designed specifically to be comfortable for a short while but then to become uncomfortable after that.
posted by rebent

You don't say.
posted by sneebler at 7:16 PM on August 27, 2016

So we don't end on a snark, I will add to the opinion that the Helinox chairs are excellent. I have the Helinox One, not the Ground Chair, and it is actively comfortable, and not just "comfortable considering it was the size of a shoe 2 minutes ago".
posted by milkb0at at 2:14 PM on August 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

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