Bed

In Homer’s Odyssey there is a description of how Odysseus made his own bed: the trunk of an olive tree was cut to the exact shape and planed smooth; after holes had been drilled in the framework, oxhide thongs, dyed crimson, were threaded back and forth to make a pliant web; finally, the wood was embellished with inlay work in gold, silver, and ivory.

As a furniture form, the bed is as old as the chair. In principle the construction of the bed is extraordinarily simple: it consists merely of a rectangular platform raised in some way or other slightly above floor level. A considerable number of bed forms cannot be classed as furniture at all. Alcoves and bunks in ships, railway carriages, and airplanes belong more to the sphere of building trade joinery than to cabinetmaking.

That a number of beautiful and original bed forms of fine artistic execution have been created since antiquity is attributable to the fact that the bed gives the furniture designer rich possibilities in terms of framing and presentation, particularly in conjunction with textiles. Apart from the actual bedclothes, which historically are of greater importance than the actual platform and the surrounding framework, imaginative experiments combining the practical and the impressive—in four-poster beds and tent like canopies, for example—have been made for centuries.

An Egyptian bier dating from the 1st dynasty (c. 3100–2890 BCE) shows the original form of the bed: a rectangular framework of staves, round in section and mortised into one another so as to leave the ends free lengthwise, supported on four small legs carved to represent stylized lions’ feet. These paws face in the same direction—as if they were walking with the dead person. This is characteristic of all Egyptian beds. Made of cedarwood, the light framework is higher at the head than at the foot; and whereas the foot is always terminated by a footboard, there is no board at the head. The beds were so constructed because the Egyptians when sleeping or resting used a stool-like support for the head. Essential to the Egyptian bed, countless examples of this piece of equipment—made usually of wood but sometimes of ivory and faience—have been found in Egyptian tombs. The actual framework of the bed was often covered with plaited leather thongs.

In China, a bed in the form of a complete little house, with an anteroom in the form of a veranda, was placed in the middle of the room.

Before central heating and a knowledge of hygiene became common, the closed bed was the generally accepted form in cold climates. The simplest way to avoid drafts was to place the bed in an alcove—as was the practice in farmhouses right up to the 19th century and most notably at Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s masterpiece. The most frequently encountered form of bed in European civilization, however, was the four-poster. Throughout the Middle Ages and later, the four-poster was developed in a variety of forms. Already during the Middle Ages, beds were designed for clearly ceremonial effect. The four posts supported an expanse of cloth that extended from the head like a canopy, just as the most distinguished row of choir stalls in a church was crowned by a baldachin (an ornamental structure resembling a canopy). Miniatures in illuminated manuscripts of the same period show tent like beds entirely closed by drapery and curtains.

In the time of the absolute monarchies in the 17th and 18th centuries, pompous four-posters were developed in which the surrounding textile drapery completely concealed the wooden construction of the bed, thereby achieving a synthesis of practical and ceremonial considerations. Every palace or mansion had a chamber of state among its official reception rooms. Contemporary memoirs describe the complicated ceremony that took place at Louis XIV’s daily awakening. Where his royal highness spent the night was his own concern, but his awakening was an act of state, in the conduct of which princes of the blood, dukes, and distinguished courtiers all had their respective duties: one would draw aside the bed-curtain, another would have the royal dressing gown ready, another the royal slippers. It was the first audience of the day, the king’s levee. A large number of 17th- and 18th-century four-poster beds are still preserved in palaces, country houses, and museums; and most of them have a clearly dramatic, almost theatrical effect. The four-poster beds of the Baroque and Rococo periods, moreover, reflect great artistic refinement, especially in the rare instances in which they can still be seen in their original interiors complete with their entire textile adornment. Such beds of state are typical of continental Europe. In England and America, particularly toward the end of the 18th century, greater interest was taken in showing off the bedposts and the upper framework connecting them. Many English four-posters have slender, finely carved mahogany posts, whereas on the Continent the corresponding parts may be entirely covered with the same silken material as that used for the curtains, canopy, and bedspread.

Reproduction of early 18th-century chintz bedspread and hangings from India; in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

During the Empire period in France an entirely new form of bed was developed and won favour throughout most of Europe. The design was inspired by the Roman couch as known from reliefs and from excavations in Pompeii and Herculaneum. The frame was very high, and the bed ends consisted of volutes (spiral or scroll-shaped forms) of equal height. The bed was crowned by a tent like superstructure, and the martial aspect was further emphasized by the use of spears to support the draperies and curtains; the whole bedroom, in fact, might well be draped like a tent. In these surroundings, the army commanders of Napoleon’s time could feel like the Caesars and consuls of ancient Rome. During a campaign, however, collapsible iron camp beds were more practical. Napoleon owned several and died in one on St. Helena in 1821. As a furniture form, the iron bed was a neutral framework built to support bedclothes and equipped with stanchions (upright supports) for curtains; it was light, transportable, and spartan.

Among plantation owners in the West Indies and the southern United States, a type of four-poster popular at the beginning of the 19th century was dominated by wood, rather than textile hangings. The posts supported very light, roughly made wooden frames, to which thin, white mosquito netting was fastened to protect the sleeper. The monumental and dignified effect was obtained by the quality of the woodwork. Of thick dimensions, the wood is solid mahogany polished to a high gloss. The four bedposts are not necessarily identical at the head and foot of the bed, but all have bulbous and turned sections, exaggerated almost to the point of crudeness. The headboards and footboards are imaginatively designed with voluted gables (triangular decoration) and galleries (ornamental railings) supported on pillars. Besides the practical function of these West Indian beds, they also served to indicate the importance of their owner; like the royal four-poster of the days of absolute monarchy, they clearly showed the difference between master and slave.

By the 20th century the bed belonged exclusively to one’s private life and, compared with those of the past, was simple. Four-posters are still “modern,” possibly because they appeal to something primitive, namely the sensation of sleeping in a tent. In general, development has been concentrated on improving the quality of bedclothes and increasing the amount of comfort by attention to box springs, mattresses, eiderdowns, and pillows. The actual woodwork of the bed is usually restricted to joined veneered sections of laminated board, cane work sometimes being used for the headboards and footboards.

Table

Fixed and mechanical tables

In general, tables can be divided into fixed and mechanical types. The fixed table, consisting of a square or round top supported by one or more legs, is the least complicated from the viewpoint of craftsmanship. It is a form that requires wood of thick dimensions in order to make the joints by which the top is fastened to the legs strong enough to resist lateral pressure. Old Spanish or Italian tables are often constructed with sloping stretchers to counteract this pressure. The simplest way to make a table steady without exaggerating the dimensions of the individual parts is to fasten the legs to an underframe. Fixed table tops can also make do with a single leg; for example, the so-called pedestal table, terminating in a tripod or quadripod. Pedestal tables topple over easily, however, unless both top and pedestal are particularly heavy. Three-legged tables with a fixed top provide a more reliable support than a single-legged type but are unstable when subjected to uneven pressure from above.

The term mechanical refers to all tables whose tops can be enlarged or reduced according to need. Such tables may require pivotable or collapsible legs to augment the strength of the top. A familiar solution to the extension of a tabletop is the so-called Dutch system, known since the 17th century from Dutch engravings and paintings, in which the extension leaves, when pulled, slide out on sloping runners. When the leaves have been fully extended, the top is lifted and then dropped into place. The table height remains the same. The construction demands great accuracy and skill on the part of the craftsman. There are also more complicated forms of extension tables with runners enabling the legs as well as the leaves to be drawn out; extra leaves can then be inserted.

Tables with flaps also are constructed to take up less space when folded away and can be variously made, either with flaps that are supported by brackets that swing out on hinges or on so-called gate legs. During the 18th century, England was a leader in the design of ingenious folding tables, especially card tables. In the gateleg card table, the top can be folded so as to occupy half the space, and when opened is supported by a leg that swings out like a gate. In another system, the square underframe can be extended to form a rectangular top, the two sides being divided by hinges. On modern card tables, all four legs can be folded up within the frame surrounding the top; when not in use, the tables can therefore be stored easily.

Historical forms and styles

Round stone tables on low pedestal legs are known in Egypt from the time of the pyramids (c. 2700 BCE). Egyptian limestone reliefs also show tables of normal height. Dating from the later dynasties, crude wooden tables with architectonic moulding have been preserved. No tables have survived from ancient Greece. From the Roman ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum, however, there are examples of monumental table supports or side members made of marble decorated with relief work and metal tables, many of them of the folding type. All wooden furniture has been lost, however.

Several wooden-topped communion tables dating from the early Middle Ages still stand in churches, hidden by altar cloths or built into boxes. Usually, such tables rest either on solid masonry or on a stone socle (a projecting member beneath the base of a superstructure), but they are sometimes elegantly supported by several columns. Generally, communion tables are made of stone, and since one stands before them, they are higher than the usual table. Examples of wooden tables preserved from the late Middle Ages are, as a rule, long narrow tops fastened to side members.

Tables of the Renaissance and Baroque periods are notable for their constructive and aesthetic design. Their thick and heavy tops rest on an underframe; the legs are baluster-shaped or turned, with deeply carved bulbous decoration. In the 17th century and later, table forms were widely differentiated and made for a great variety of purposes—i.e., dining tables, library tables, drawing-room tables, card tables, tea tables, small candlestick tables, sideboards, and console tables.

From the Ming dynasty and the 18th century, several interesting Chinese fixed-top table forms have been preserved, in which the constructive elements are in some cases emphasized and in others deliberately disguised. Like other Chinese furniture forms, the tables create a stylized effect, with a naïve, calculated character. Chinese tables may be completely covered with lacquer and gilt ornamentation, but sometimes the wood is left in its natural colour.

A Great Clamping Idea

I saw this advertisement on Facebook and thought it was a good concept. The cost of holdfasts and tools in general has risen dramatically. As more people take up the craft, the cost of tools has risen above the typical person’s means. I’m not sure how much clamping power this will provide, but it’s worth creating one just to see. It doesn’t actually need a lot of clamping force as long as it keeps the work from moving on you. Don’t buy it, make it!. We are in this day and age where we need to make our own tools. Invest the time in learning to make your own tools.

RENAISSANCE WAX POLISH

The wax protects your tools. The wax hasn’t been buffed off.

I typically don’t promote other people’s products, but it would be unjust not to promote this wax. I’ve used minwax paste wax, Ubeaut traditional wax, and a few others, and they’re all good, but not quite as good as renaissance wax. None of them even come close to matching it. This wax is perfect for brass, metal, wood, and leather. It dries instantly, so there’s no need to wait an hour or overnight, and it buffs off easily. It’s better to start with a shoe brush and then finish with a rag. Nothing else on the market compares to the brilliance of this product. It leaves a nice finish without the greasy finger prints that other waxes leave. It doesn’t have the same plastic-like appearance as other waxes. Take a look at what this wax is, what it’s made of, and where it can be used from the creators’ perspective, and decide for yourself whether you agree with me. I was planning on making my own traditional wax, but why bother when I already have one that I enjoy?

Here is the link to where you can buy it. I found this website to be the cheapest in Australia. https://www.artisansupplies.com.au/product/renaissance-wax-200ml/

Renaissance wax is much more than a paste wax which would typically be used in woodworking as the final process in applying a finish to cabinetry, a carving or turned piece.

This wax has numerous uses as a protective barrier between the hazards that an article might encounter such as from moisture, grime, finger marks, food and drink spills and airborne environmental pollutants. You will see from the notes from the manufacturers below it is used for protecting marble, metal, leather, rubber, plastics and even paper and cardboard products.

Its origins lie in research into the preservation of priceless museum artifacts which are subject to further ageing.  The brief in part requires that it be removable and neutral on the pH scale – the scale which determines the relative acidity and alkalinity of a product.

Manufacturer’s Data Sheet

We, the makers of RENAISSANCE WAX POLISH, hold a Royal Warrant for the supply of this product which was formulated in the British Museum research laboratories in the early 1950’s in response to a discussion amongst museum technicians at an international conference on fine-art conservation.

In accelerated ageing tests, the British Museum scientist found that all current commercial waxes based on the usual natural waxes (beeswax and carnauba wax) contained acids which, in time, could spoil original finishes on national historic collections of furniture. He rejected them all and investigated the new so-called ‘fossil’ or micro- crystalline waxes being refined out of crude oil. With their distinct characteristics depending on their geographical origins, the new ‘man-made’ waxes could be accurately blended to meet the needs of many industries, from cosmetics and pharmaceuticals to heavy engineering. Thus, the waxes combined Nature’s best qualities with the advantages of modern technology. The blend which emerged from that research was ‘designed’ for long-term protection of all classes of museum exhibits. At last, museum technicians and others caring for important collections could use wax polish that neither caused future conservation problems nor detracted from the intrinsic values of their treasures.

Commercial production and distribution of the polish was ultimately undertaken in 1968 under its trade name ‘Renaissance’. The product was quickly accepted in the international museum world and has become a universally respected standard conservation material – probably the most widely specified because of its almost unlimited uses. What makes Renaissance wax so different? It has a crystalline structure much finer than totally natural waxes, a property that confers a highly efficient moisture resistance. Countless statues and monuments in city streets are now protected by Renaissance wax from weathering corrosion. Arms and armour, steel and kitchen equipment of brass and copper in historic house museums, are kept bright and corrosion-free. When thinly applied and rubbed out to full lustre, the wax film is (and remains) glass-clear, with no discoloration either of the wax or the underlying surface.

Renaissance wax is free from acids (pH neutral) and will not damage even sensitive materials. For example, photographs for exhibition or of historic value are waxed to protect the image from the natural acidity of hand or environmental pollutants. The wax does not stain or darken even white paper. On furniture or wood carvings the wax delicately enhances grain or ‘flame’ patterns. It protects existing finishes such as French polish and it can be applied directly to sanded, unfinished hardwoods without need of sealers.

Waxing is the last process in handmade furniture and in the creation of wood, stone or metal sculptures. But it is the first aspect to be appreciated by hand and eye. The clarity and lustre of Renaissance wax makes an instant visual appeal. The silk-smooth touch of the matured wax film gives added pleasure, compared to the ‘drag’ of fingers leaving trails across the softer beeswax polishes. No matter how often the wax is used there is no loss of clarity, so that fine surface detail is never obscured. Repeated use of the wax deepens the lustre, reflecting more light from surfaces and making them more ‘lively’.

The manufacturer receives hundreds of enquiries from around the world asking if Renaissance wax is suitable for a specific surface or project. Invariably the answer is ‘yes’. Its unique qualities make it ideal for protecting all surfaces from environmental attack or handling. The wax is, for example, replacing the preservative oiling of arms and armour in museums. The wax film is hard and dry and does not, like oil, remain sticky and attract atmospheric acidity. Exhibits are more comfortable to handle. Greasy dirt on waxed surfaces is easily removed by gentle use of a soft rag dampened with paraffin; alternatively, warm water with a little liquid soap. Neither cleaning method will harm the wax film. Should surface repair or restoration be needed, Renaissance wax can be completely removed by rubbing with white spirit (a petroleum distillate). In professional fine-art conservation all treatments must be ‘reversible’ without damage to the original surface, to allow use of a better technique.

New ideas for using the wax continually reach the manufacturers. For instance, a model ship maker reported that dipping small-diameter wood drills into the wax almost eliminated drill breakage when working on hardwoods. Steel tools in the workshop no longer suffered from rusting. Paper kites and model aeroplanes can be waterproofed. The wax reduces ‘drag’ on model boats racing in the water. Leather shoes of all colours are protected positively with a brilliant shine by use of Renaissance wax. There is no ‘fallout’ of coloured waxes from brushes to spoil clothes.

Leatherwear & Marble

Ladies’ leather/plastic handbags are proofed against rain. Marble is easily stained by contact with coloured liquids. The stains can quickly sink into the surface, which will usually need regrinding (expensive and inconvenient) to eliminate the marks. Makers and restorers of marble-top furniture appreciate the highly protective qualities of Renaissance wax to avoid staining.

Musical Instruments

Makers/restorers of violins, ‘cellos and guitars use the wax to protect the varnish from players’ natural acid contact and also from the sticky powdery residue of rosin on bow hair.

Automotive

On the motorcar, Renaissance produces a great shine with an unrivaled service life in all weathers. It can be used successfully on all surfaces: coach work paint, bright metals, rubber or plastic seals. Inside the car the wax is perfect everywhere, especially on leather upholstery. The wax’s micro-crystalline structure has amazing plasticity. The dry film ‘flows’ under pressure and will not fracture when the seat is sat on.

When applied correctly – in thin layers – the wax is extremely economical in use, so that its initial cost compares very favourably with ordinary commercial waxes. In room temperature, with the can firmly capped, Renaissance has a shelf life of many years. This is due mainly to the extraordinary solvent-retention power of the wax. It will remain in perfect condition long after other waxes have caked hard and become useless.

Spain: 17th century

The Golden Age of Spain during the 17th century also left its mark on the chair. Paintings show a type of chair with a relatively crude wooden frame; a back and seat, nailed on, consisting of two layers of leather, with horsehair stuffing in between, stitched to produce a pattern of small pads. The front board and a corresponding board at the back could be folded after loosening some small iron hooks. Thus the chair was an easily portable piece of furniture for travelling which, at the same time, had the dignity of a four-legged, high-backed armchair.

The Netherlands: 17th century

A low, square, upholstered type of chair can be seen in engravings of interiors of affluent Dutch homes by Abraham Bosse, a French artist, and in paintings by the Dutch artists Johannes Vermeer and Gerard Terborch. Although this kind of chair is also found in countries where Dutch styles of interior decoration and Dutch furniture won favour, it is not certain that the form actually originated in the Netherlands. Normally, the legs of the chair are smooth, round in section, and of slender dimensions; they are sometimes baluster-shaped (vase-shaped) or twisted. It is clearly a bourgeois piece of furniture and was made in considerable numbers, as can be seen from one of Abraham Bosse’s engravings, in which a whole row of such chairs has been lined up against a wall. The form asserts itself by virtue of its harmonious proportions and fine upholstery in gilt leather or fabric bordered with fringes.

France and England: 17th and 18th centuries

The French Rococo chair in its most mature form—that is, as developed in Paris around 1750—spread over most of Europe and was imitated or copied into the mid-20th century. The model owes its popularity to a combination of comfort and elegance. The seat conforms to the human body and permits a relaxed sitting position. The back is bow-shaped, the legs curved. Normally the seat and back are upholstered, and there are small upholstered pads on the armrests. Smooth transitions achieved between seat frame, legs, and back disguise all the joints, which are solidly constructed on craftsman like principles despite the absence of stretchers between the legs.

French Rococo chairs and imitations thereof employ wood of fairly thick dimensions; but all members are deeply moulded, all superfluous wood has been cut away, and finer examples may be further embellished with very delicate and decorative carving. The wood may be varnished, stained, painted, or gilded. Silk damask or tapestry is used for the upholstery on the seat, back, and armrests; cane work is sometimes used in place of upholstery.

English chairs of the 18th century are more varied in design than the French. The French taste for stylistic uniformity, which spread from the most distinguished circles in Paris and Versailles over most of France and won favour in several parts of the Continent, had no parallel in England. Prior to 1740, the most commonly used wood was walnut; thereafter, and for the rest of the century, it was mahogany. Walnut, though beautiful in hue, was soft and therefore less suited to wood carving than to rounded, curving forms. Outer surfaces, such as the back and seat frame, were usually veneered. During the walnut period, highly overstuffed armchairs, covered with leather or embroidered material, were also developed. The best upholstery of this period is precisely and firmly modelled and accentuated by braiding or tacks. When imports of mahogany became common, no specifically new chair designs appeared, but the character of the woodwork changed. Mahogany, having a firmer, closer grain, could be cut thinner, which meant that individual parts of the chair could be more slender in shape. Mahogany also lent itself better to carving than walnut. Carving was concentrated more on the arms and back than on the legs, which as a rule were straight and smooth with chamfered (bevelled) edges and moulding. There was a wealth of variety in chairback designs, featuring elegant, pierced, vase-shaped splats or two upright posts connected by horizontal slats (ladderback).

Alongside the French Rococo chair and the best English chairs in walnut and mahogany, the stick-back chair was relatively unaffected by the stylistic changes of the day. Originally a medieval form—known, for example, from paintings by Pieter Bruegel the Elder and still found in the churches and inns of southern Europe—the stick-back chair (in all of its variations) consists basically of a solid, saddle-shaped seat into which the legs, back staves, and possibly the armrests are directly mortised. This typically peasant form underwent a renewal and a process of refinement in England and America during the 18th century. Under the name Windsor chair (a term that seems to have been used for the first time in 1731) or Philadelphia chair, it became well known and was widely distributed throughout the world.

Late 18th to 20th century

During the Neoclassical period, no basic changes took place in chair forms, but legs became straight and dimensions lighter. Backs in the shape of Classical vases replaced the fanciful outlines of the Rococo period. Around 1800, freely executed imitations of Greek and Roman chairs of the klismos type, with curved legs and backrest, appeared. French chairs of the Empire period, executed in dark mahogany and embellished with ornate bronze mounts, created a ponderous effect.

In cheaper versions of inferior workmanship, bourgeois chairs of the 19th century carried on the traditions of the 17th and 18th centuries. The only real innovations were the bentwood (wood that has been bent and shaped) chairs in beech that became popular all over the world and were still made in the 20th century. Around 1900 the Continental styles Art Nouveau and Jugendstil (French and German styles characterized by organic foliate forms, sinuous lines, and non-geometric forms) and the Arts and Crafts movement in England (established by the English poet and decorator William Morris to reintroduce idealized standards of medieval craftsmanship) gave rise to original chair designs by Eugène Gaillard in France, Henry van de Velde in Belgium, Josef Hoffman in Austria, Antonio Gaudí in Spain, and Charles Rennie Mackintosh in Scotland. These new furniture styles did not exercise wide, let alone decisive, influence. The Art Nouveau chairs designed by the French architect Hector Guimard, for example, are collector’s pieces, but his name is known to a broader public only because of his fanciful entrances to the Paris Métro.

Modern

After World War I, the Bauhaus school in Germany became a creative centre for revolutionary thinking, resulting, for example, in tubular steel chairs designed by the architects Marcel Breuer, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and others. During World War II, the aircraft industry accelerated the development of laminated wood and moulded plastic furniture. The dominant chair forms of this period go back to designs by Alvar Aalto, Bruno Mathsson, and Charles and Ray Eames. Rapid technical developments, in conjunction with an ever-increasing interest in human-factors engineering, or ergonomics, suggest that completely new chair forms will probably be evolved in the future.

Kinds of furniture

Chair

Of all furniture forms, the chair may be the most important. While most other forms (except the bed) are intended to support objects, the chair supports the human form. The term chair is used here in the widest sense, from stool to throne to derivative forms such as the bench and sofa, which may be regarded as extended or connected chairs and whose character (i.e., whether they are intended for sitting or reclining) is not clearly defined.

The social history of the chair is as interesting as its history as an art and craft. The chair is not merely a physical support and an aesthetic object; it is also an indicator of social rank. At the old royal courts there were social distinctions between sitting on a chair with arms, on a chair with a back but no arms, and having to make do with a stool. In the 20th century the director’s or manager’s chair became an indicator of superior dignity, and even in democratic parliaments the speaker sits on a raised level.

As a furniture form, the chair encompasses a wealth of variations. There are chairs designed to match for a person’s age and physical condition (the high chair, the wheelchair) and position in society (the executive chair, the throne). In olden days there were chairs to be born in (birth chairs), and in the 20th century there were chairs to die in (the electric chair). There are chairs with one, two, three, and four legs, chairs with or without arms, and chairs with or without backs. There are chairs that can be folded up, chairs on wheels, and chairs on runners.

Modern living has developed special chairs for automobiles and aircraft. All of these chair forms have been evolved to conform to changing human needs. Because of its close association with man, the chair appears to its full advantage only when in use. Whereas it makes no difference to one’s appreciation of a cupboard or a chest of drawers whether there is anything inside or not, a chair is best seen and evaluated with a person sitting on it, for chair and sitter complement one another. Thus the various parts of a chair have been given names corresponding to the parts of the human body: arms, legs, feet, back, and seat.

Because the basic function of the chair is to support the body, its value is judged primarily on how well it fulfills this practical role. In the construction of a chair, the designer is bound by certain static laws and principal measurements. Within these limits, however, the chair maker has great freedom.

The history of the chair covers a period of several thousand years. There are civilizations that have created distinctive chair forms, expressive of the highest endeavour in the spheres of technique and aesthetics. Among such cultures, special mention must be made of ancient Egypt and Greece; China; Spain and the Netherlands in the 17th century; England in the 18th century; and France in the 18th century during the reigns of Louis XV and Louis XVI.

Egypt

Two ancient Egyptian chair forms, both the result of careful design, are known from discoveries made in tombs. One of these is a four-legged chair with a back, the other a folding stool. The classical Egyptian chair has four legs shaped like those of an animal, a curved seat, and a sloping back supported by vertical stretchers. In this way a strong triangular construction was obtained. There was apparently no marked difference between the construction of Egyptian thrones and chairs for ordinary citizens. The main difference lies in the decorative ornamentation, in the choice of costly inlays. The Egyptian folding stool probably was developed as an easily portable seat for officers. As a camp stool the form persisted until much later times. But the stool also took on the character of a ceremonial seat, its mechanical function as a folding stool being forgotten. This can already be observed, from as early as 1366–57 BCE in two stools, executed in ebony with ivory inlay work and gold mounts, from the tomb of Tutankhamen. They are in the form of folding stools but cannot be folded as the seats are of wood. The simple construction of the folding stool, consisting of two frames that turn on metal bolts and support a seat of leather or fabric fastened between them, reappears somewhat later in the Bronze Age folding chairs of Scandinavia and northern Germany. The best known of these is the folding stool, made of ashwood, found at Guldhøj (National Museum in Copenhagen).

Greece and Rome

The typical Greek chair, the klismos, is known not from any ancient specimen still extant but from a wealth of pictorial material. The best known is the klismos depicted on the Hegeso Stele at the Dipylon burial place outside Athens (c. 410 BCE). It is a chair with a backward-sloping, curved backboard and four curving legs, only two of which are shown. These unusual legs were presumably executed in bent wood and were therefore subjected to great pressure from the weight of the sitter. The joints fastening the legs to the frame of the seat are therefore very strong and clearly indicated.

The Romans adopted the Greek chair; a number of statues of seated Romans show examples of a heavier and apparently somewhat more crudely constructed klismos. Both types, the light and the heavy, were revived during the Classicist period. The klismos chair is found in French Empire furniture, in English Regency, and in special forms of considerable originality in Denmark and Sweden around 1800.

China

The ancestry of the chair in China cannot be traced as far back as in Egypt and Greece. Since the Tang dynasty (618–907 CE) an unbroken series of drawings and paintings has been preserved showing the interiors and exteriors of Chinese houses and their furniture. Also preserved since the 16th century are a number of chairs of wood or lacquered wood that bear an astonishing resemblance to representations of older chairs.

Moon-viewing chairMoon-viewing chair, hongmu wood, China, Qing dynasty, early 18th century; in the Honolulu Academy of Arts.Photograph by TenoriZero. Honolulu Academy of Arts, gift of Frederic Mueller, 1968 (3535.1).

As was the case in Egypt, there were two major chair forms in China: a chair with four legs and a folding stool. The four-legged chair is found both with and without arms but always with a square seat and straight stiles (upright side supports) to support the back. In one form, however, the stiles are slightly curved above the arms so as to conform to the angle of the S-shaped back splat (the central upright of a chairback). All three parts are mortised into the yoke-like top rail. While the design of the back splat exercised an influence on English chairs of the Queen Anne period, wooden members that only to a limited extent reinforce corner joints (and are loose into the bargain) represent a feature exclusive to Chinese chairs. The four legs pass through the seat frame, which closes about the rounded staves. All members are round in section or have rounded edges—references perhaps to the bamboo tradition. The seat is uncomfortable and may have a plaited bottom. These chairs required the sitter to remain stiff and upright; for if too much pressure is exerted on the back, the chair has a tendency to topple over. In patriarchal Chinese homes of this period armchairs presumably were reserved for the senior members of the family, for they were held in great esteem.

The Chinese folding stool is presumed to have travelled to China from the West. It does not differ so very much from the Egyptian or Scandinavian folding stools, but it has a variation in that the top rail is elegantly joined to the two legs of the stool by means of a curved member, which is often provided with metal mounts. From a Western viewpoint the overall effect of both these furniture forms is stylized. The constructive and decorative elements are combined in a manner that is simultaneously naïve and refined. The pieced-together appearance is a result of the fact that the individual members do not appear to have been joined together with either glue or screws, but have been mortised into one another and locked into position in the manner of a Chinese puzzle.

Spain: 17th century

The Golden Age of Spain during the 17th century also left its mark on the chair. Paintings show a type of chair with a relatively crude wooden frame; a back and seat, nailed on, consisting of two layers of leather, with horsehair stuffing in between, stitched to produce a pattern of small pads. The front board and a corresponding board at the back could be folded after loosening some small iron hooks. Thus the chair was an easily portable piece of furniture for travelling which, at the same time, had the dignity of a four-legged, high-backed armchair.

The Netherlands: 17th century

A low, square, upholstered type of chair can be seen in engravings of interiors of affluent Dutch homes by Abraham Bosse, a French artist, and in paintings by the Dutch artists Johannes Vermeer and Gerard Terborch. Although this kind of chair is also found in countries where Dutch styles of interior decoration and Dutch furniture won favour, it is not certain that the form actually originated in the Netherlands. Normally, the legs of the chair are smooth, round in section, and of slender dimensions; they are sometimes baluster-shaped (vase-shaped) or twisted. It is clearly a bourgeois piece of furniture and was made in considerable numbers, as can be seen from one of Abraham Bosse’s engravings, in which a whole row of such chairs has been lined up against a wall. The form asserts itself by virtue of its harmonious proportions and fine upholstery in gilt leather or fabric bordered with fringes.

France and England: 17th and 18th centuries

The French Rococo chair in its most mature form—that is, as developed in Paris around 1750—spread over most of Europe and was imitated or copied into the mid-20th century. The model owes its popularity to a combination of comfort and elegance. The seat conforms to the human body and permits a relaxed sitting position. The back is bow-shaped, the legs curved. Normally the seat and back are upholstered, and there are small upholstered pads on the armrests. Smooth transitions achieved between seat frame, legs, and back disguise all the joints, which are solidly constructed on craftsman like principles despite the absence of stretchers between the legs.

French Rococo chairs and imitations thereof employ wood of fairly thick dimensions; but all members are deeply moulded, all superfluous wood has been cut away, and finer examples may be further embellished with very delicate and decorative carving. The wood may be varnished, stained, painted, or gilded. Silk damask or tapestry is used for the upholstery on the seat, back, and armrests; cane work is sometimes used in place of upholstery.

English chairs of the 18th century are more varied in design than the French. The French taste for stylistic uniformity, which spread from the most distinguished circles in Paris and Versailles over most of France and won favour in several parts of the Continent, had no parallel in England. Prior to 1740, the most commonly used wood was walnut; thereafter, and for the rest of the century, it was mahogany. Walnut, though beautiful in hue, was soft and therefore less suited to wood carving than to rounded, curving forms. Outer surfaces, such as the back and seat frame, were usually veneered. During the walnut period, highly overstuffed armchairs, covered with leather or embroidered material, were also developed. The best upholstery of this period is precisely and firmly modelled and accentuated by braiding or tacks. When imports of mahogany became common, no specifically new chair designs appeared, but the character of the woodwork changed. Mahogany, having a firmer, closer grain, could be cut thinner, which meant that individual parts of the chair could be more slender in shape. Mahogany also lent itself better to carving than walnut. Carving was concentrated more on the arms and back than on the legs, which as a rule were straight and smooth with chamfered (bevelled) edges and moulding. There was a wealth of variety in chairback designs, featuring elegant, pierced, vase-shaped splats or two upright posts connected by horizontal slats (ladderback).

Alongside the French Rococo chair and the best English chairs in walnut and mahogany, the stick-back chair was relatively unaffected by the stylistic changes of the day. Originally a medieval form—known, for example, from paintings by Pieter Bruegel the Elder and still found in the churches and inns of southern Europe—the stick-back chair (in all of its variations) consists basically of a solid, saddle-shaped seat into which the legs, back staves, and possibly the armrests are directly mortised. This typically peasant form underwent a renewal and a process of refinement in England and America during the 18th century. Under the name Windsor chair (a term that seems to have been used for the first time in 1731) or Philadelphia chair, it became well known and was widely distributed throughout the world.

Late 18th to 20th century

During the Neoclassical period, no basic changes took place in chair forms, but legs became straight and dimensions lighter. Backs in the shape of Classical vases replaced the fanciful outlines of the Rococo period. Around 1800, freely executed imitations of Greek and Roman chairs of the klismos type, with curved legs and backrest, appeared. French chairs of the Empire period, executed in dark mahogany and embellished with ornate bronze mounts, created a ponderous effect.

In cheaper versions of inferior workmanship, bourgeois chairs of the 19th century carried on the traditions of the 17th and 18th centuries. The only real innovations were the bentwood (wood that has been bent and shaped) chairs in beech that became popular all over the world and were still made in the 20th century. Around 1900 the Continental styles Art Nouveau and Jugendstil (French and German styles characterized by organic foliate forms, sinuous lines, and non-geometric forms) and the Arts and Crafts movement in England (established by the English poet and decorator William Morris to reintroduce idealized standards of medieval craftsmanship) gave rise to original chair designs by Eugène Gaillard in France, Henry van de Velde in Belgium, Josef Hoffman in Austria, Antonio Gaudí in Spain, and Charles Rennie Mackintosh in Scotland. These new furniture styles did not exercise wide, let alone decisive, influence. The Art Nouveau chairs designed by the French architect Hector Guimard, for example, are collector’s pieces, but his name is known to a broader public only because of his fanciful entrances to the Paris Métro.

Modern

After World War I, the Bauhaus school in Germany became a creative centre for revolutionary thinking, resulting, for example, in tubular steel chairs designed by the architects Marcel Breuer, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and others. During World War II, the aircraft industry accelerated the development of laminated wood and molded plastic furniture. The dominant chair forms of this period go back to designs by Alvar Aalto, Bruno Mathsson, and Charles and Ray Eames. Rapid technical developments, in conjunction with an ever-increasing interest in human-factors engineering, or ergonomics, suggest that completely new chair forms will probably be evolved in the future.

Floor Scraping 1875

Gustave Caillebotte – The Floor Scrapers, 1875.

When I first saw this picture on Facebook, my back ached just thinking about it. I can’t imagine how exhausting this work must have been, but it got me thinking when someone shared a gif on Facebook of money being thrown away.

This image depicts three men scraping the floor in a single room. I’m not sure if this is an accurate portrait, but three men are employed as opposed to one man with a machine. Whether floors are scraped in the modern world or not, we understand that machinery has drastically reduced our labour force, but it hasn’t reduced the owners’ profits, but rather increased them. “Poverty exists not because we can’t feed the poor, but because we can’t satisfy the rich,” this statement could not be more accurate.

I’m sure some wealthy people would disagree with this statement, and that’s their right; everyone is entitled to their own opinion. In my opinion, if machinery were removed from the equation, employment would increase. Profits would have to be shared in order to keep employees, and the company would have to expand from a three-man cabinet shop to a twenty-man crew. Skill would return, and thus the quality of workmanship would return as well. Quality tools would be in high demand, spawning a slew of new toolmakers who would compete fiercely with one another. Consider the old Stanley days, when their tools were made to far higher standards than they are now. Overall, people would be wealthier and healthier, and the government’s coffers would be brimming with revenue from their taxes. To me, it appears to be a win-win situation.

However, I am concerned that the government, which is made up of ordinary sods, is nothing more than a set of puppets for corporations. Corporations, I believe, are vehemently opposed to this idea because they would rather reintroduce slavery and buggery to human lives than offer something beneficial.

Fully upholstered furniture

The manufacture of fully upholstered pieces is often a separate branch, though large manufacturers often make both upholstered and non upholstered types. It remains to a great extent a handicraft, for the skill of trained and experienced craftsmen is needed in turning out quality pieces. The standard upholstery foundation consists of a system of coiled steel springs resting on a webbing of burlap and tied to the furniture frame, which may be of wood, fibreglass, or plywood. The springs are embedded in a filling material, such as rubberized hair, foam rubber, palm fibre, or Spanish moss; and the spring system is topped by a thick padding of cotton or foam rubber in sheet form. Muslin is frequently employed as an inner covering for this assembly, while a durable upholstery fabric is used as an outer and finishing cover. Loose cushions are filled with special spring units in a bedding of foam rubber or down; the springs are covered with layers of cotton, and the entire assembly is encased in upholstery fabric.

Only a few mechanical aids have proved satisfactory in upholstering. Multiple layers of fabric can be cut efficiently and economically by machines in production-line operations, and staples are used instead of tacks on less expensive pieces. But the mass production of such components as the basic coiled-spring system and the mechanical handling of such materials as the bedding, or filler, have not proved efficient and economical. Some useful substitutes have been found, however, for the coiled-spring supporting unit; they include the modern non sagging springs that may be clipped to the frame and the steel bands that are held to the frame by helical springs. Sponge rubber may be moulded to constitute a complete seat that is firm and comfortable. Webbed seat frames also are used, and the natural resiliency of wood is utilized in building springy plywood supporting structures.

The art of chairmaking

Chairmaking has been a separate branch of furniture making since the mid-17th century. One of the most intricate branches of woodwork, it involves odd angles, compound shapes, and awkward joints and at the same time calls for maximum strength, chairs being subjected to more strain than most other furniture. There are three main types of chairs: the Windsor chair, made largely from turned parts, with solid wood seat; the framed type of dining chair with either loose or stuff-over seat; and the upholstered chair.

In Britain the Windsor chair belongs traditionally to the High Wycombe District of Buckinghamshire where beech trees abound. Until relatively recent times men worked in huts in the beech woods making turned parts for chairs. They felled the trees, cut the trunks and larger branches into suitable lengths, and split them into pieces of a section large enough to permit chair legs and uprights to be turned and also to provide lighter members for rails, etc. They turned the parts on a primitive pole lathe in which a cord was attached to a treadle, taken around the wood to be turned and up to a springy sapling anchored at the lower end to pegs outside the hut. The power was supplied by treadle, the cord revolving the wood; then as the foot was raised the spring of the sapling lifted the treadle and at the same time turned the work backward. The turning gouge or chisel could be used on the downward stroke of the foot only, but the economy of effort was amazing. A complete leg could be rounded, the curves and beads formed, and the ends brought to the required diameter in a matter of seconds. Of course, working in green timber enabled the turning to be done much more easily and quickly than if the wood were dry.

These bodgers, as they were called, made only the turned parts and delivered them to chairmaking firms for assembling. They had no overhead expenses, no power costs, and the only lighting they needed in winter was an oil lamp or candles. They were long able to compete with powered workshops.

The manufacture of the Windsor chair of Victorian and Edwardian times was a specialized trade. The seat, invariably of elm, was hollowed out (bottomed) with a form of adze, and the holes for the legs were bored with a brace fitted with a spoon bit held at the required angle solely by judgment. The better chairs had a hooped back of yew. Today this hand work has been replaced by boring machines that are fitted with a jig to maintain the correct angle. The hollowing of the seat is machined to an extent, but the depth is only slight, compared with the early hand work. Furthermore, traditional timbers—elm, beech, and yew—are frequently replaced by imported timbers.

The quality of framed chairs of the dining type varies widely, but perhaps the outstanding general feature of modern dining chairs is the wide use of dowelled joints rather than mortise and tenon. In the late 19th century this had already occurred to a large extent, the chairmaker’s kit of tools invariably including a dowel plate with a series of holes through which the craftsman hammered roughly squared pegs to form the dowels. Today machine-made dowels are universal, with a glue-escape slot cut in. Dowelling is a far quicker and consequently cheaper process than mortising and tenoning, especially in shaped work where the curved part frequently must be joined at odd angles.

When a chair has compound curvature it becomes difficult and expensive to make. A chair back may be shaped in both front and side elevation (and often in plan as well). Taste and experience are indispensable in providing a continuous curve that will be aesthetically satisfying from every angle. Over the years, experience has been built up, especially on traditional models following period lines; a chairmaker’s workshop invariably carries bundles of templets in plywood for the various parts of chairs, with the fullness provided (where necessary) for a good line.

Dining chairs may be made in sets of half-dozens or dozens, or more cheaply in batches of 50 or 100, depending upon the capacity of the factory. In some cases parts are standardized and interchangeable in different designs of chairs.

The upholstering of dining chairs is a separate trade, though carried out in the same factory, and may be of the loose seat, stuff-over, or plywood-covered type. Traditional stuffing materials such as horsehair have largely been replaced by foam rubber and synthetics.