Small Things in Chair Design

Gary Rogowski - Original Cafe Chair

One of the fascinating points to emerge from our Chairs by the Roadside Show was the difference that small changes can make to a chair design. We all started with a basic Café chair that I designed and tweaked and fiddled with until I developed a first sittable prototype. From there I built the first version of the chair, again a prototype, which I put into the show. But here is where it got interesting. If you lowered or shaped the rear rail as some designers did, you changed the angle of the seat which changed the sitter’s posture and comfort. The same thing is true if you raised or lowered the backrest which accommodated better lumbar support for some backs. With a single backrest it’s hard to please every back and so its placement becomes crucial for comfort.

Then there is the matter of the seat and how it was shaped or formed. Slats on a curve give one sense of comfort versus a shaped seat in solid wood or a woven seat in fiber or a filled seat covered in fabric. There are so many variables in engineering off a single design that change how a chair feels. Add to this the variations possible with stain or paint, carving or inlay and you could see how we got so many astonishing possibilities for the show.

Chair construction is one of the more challenging builds for a furniture maker. Just ask our Mentor students. The chair project they build is always the one that makers like the most in the program. It’s all about taking away all the unnecessary wood and leaving the chair behind. It’s about making the negative space of the chair count.

This Café chair design was so much fun to do that I’d like to have a class in building it next summer. Of course that means I’ll have to tweak the design some, come up with some new jigs, and build another prototype. That’s the fun part. Look at our Summer schedule for a class in building a Café Chair next year and come join the fun.

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