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Gary Weeks at the drawing board

Designing Chairs

rocker front view rocker back view

The higher processes of art
are all of simplification.

— Willa Cather

Simple is hard.
— Count Basie

A Chair is a difficult object.  A skyscraper is almost easier.   —  Mies van der Rohe.

We begin to design a chair with a concept and a sketch.  We build a "fitting booth" and test the placement of the elements of the sketch by inviting dozens of people to sit and comment.

We invite people to sit and comment

From comments, we adjust the elements to determine a set of points that support most people in comfort. It is surprising to see what percentage of people will agree on what is comfortable.  The chart below was drawn from data in the American Statistician  (August, 2003. Volume 56, Number 3).  The white squares represent women, the gray, men.  The x's and half x's represent, subjectively, the comments we hear that our chairs are not an excellent fit.  We lose a few in the extremes and a random few in the middle, but overwhelmingly, we hear, "perfect."

Height chart

We take the set of points determined by testing in the booth to the drawing board in three views: overhead, side, and front.  We design a chair by adapting the sketch and concept to the points.  From the drawings, we can build a chair . . . to test some more.  Again, everyone who comes to the shop or showroom is asked to sit and review.  We perfect the fit and form.  We refine our concept to its essence.

Simplicity and repose are qualities that measure the true value of a work of art.  
—  Frank Lloyd Wright

By design, therefore, our chairs are molded to fit a person in a particular repose.  This compels us to work in fair curves and contours, not straight lines and flat planes.  These curves and contours reflect the human form, a source of beauty in sculpture, painting, photography . . . and some chairs.

Rocking chair Williams arm chair Heflin barstool Wilson side chair

The chair presents an interesting design challenge, because it is an object that disappears when in use. The person replaces the chair.  So chairs need to look fantastic when empty, and remain invisible  (and comfortable) while in use.
  —  Roman Mars, 99% Invisible Radio Show

Related Pages on this Website
Designing the Weeks Rocking Chair   Notes on Arm Chairs
Designing the Heflin Barstool   Space Planning
Related Blog Posts
Designing a Ladderback Chair
Designing an Upholstered Dining Chair

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