CH36 by Hans Wegner 1962

chair in the collection of Designmuseum Danmark in Copenhagen

 

Shakerstole / Shaker chairs

 

A chair that appears to be simple but actually is very sophisticated - where the design takes as a starting point the Shaker type of chair.

It is part of an interesting trend with Danish furniture design through the whole of the modern period where designers seem to tread a course between being simple and robust as in being a country chair and being simple and functional as in being  a 'modern' chair. Not mutually incompatible ideas but not actually the same when you try to assess the character or the style of the furniture.

The construction here in the CH36 is almost the most basic form possible for a chair - so two vertical front legs and two vertical back legs that are taller (otherwise it would be a stool) with four pieces of wood forming a frame for the seat and four pieces of wood below as stretchers  - to keep apart and keep together the legs - to stop them splaying apart under the weight of a person sitting down - and with a simple piece of wood either fixed between the upper parts of the back legs as here or, even simpler, fixed across the front of the two back legs, as a back rest for the person sitting in the chair.

The most basic chair could be made with squared and planed parts nailed or screwed together. Here all the parts are either turned or shaped and curved.

So where this design is actually incredibly sophisticated is in balancing changes or refinements that have been made for aesthetic reasons with the need to consider the technical details of how the parts of the chair are made and how they are joined together.

The tapered front legs are very close to the form of the legs on the famous Wishbone Chair by Wegner and have the same domed top. The rails of the seat are set down from the top of the leg and the widest part of the leg is at the top and the position of the front and side rails of the seat are staggered so that the tenons of the joins do not weaken the leg too much or split apart. The top of the leg is rounded because most people on standing up will put their hands down to their sides, palm down, and either steady themselves or even press down on the chair as they transfer their weight forward to stand. If you don't think this is important try standing up from a chair with your back kept vertical and without using your hands.

Again, the back legs are also thickest at the centre where the seat and the rails or stretchers below the seat are fixed so mirror the profile of the front legs but taper again towards the top and are also rounded or domed at the top like the front legs. The back rest may look very simple but actually it is curved and also although it is vertical at the legs it gradually angles outwards to the centre to reflect the angle of the upper part of the spine of the person sitting on the chair.

The front and back rails for the seat are set lower than - rather than above - the side rails which forms that much more comfortable hollow or scoop shape of the woven seat. Here the arrangement of the side and front and back rails of the seat allows for the most straightforward form of paper-cord seat with the characteristic X pattern, when seen from the top, where the cords pass over or under each other before going round the opposite rail and returning underneath.

The side rails are deeper than they are wide, for greater strength, and are deeper at the back than at the front to give the same tapered or angled line as on the Wishbone Chair … although on the Wishbone Chair it is the underside of the side stretcher that is level and the top that slopes down to give a slightly different dynamic to that chair when seen from the side whereas here it is the top edge that is level.

The front and back stretchers are staggered with the front set closer to the underside of the seat, so it is possible to sit with the feet tucked slightly back under the seat without the stretcher pushing into the back of the legs. Again this is not just reflecting how we sit but how we stand up from a sitting position: if you stand up when sitting on a box then normally you find your heals are pressed hard against the box-  simply as part of that process of moving forward the centre of gravity.

At the back, the stretcher is set slightly lower than the side stretchers - again so that the mortices do not weaken that point but also you can see here an aesthetic consideration so the back of the chair looks less cramped … Wegner had that often-quoted maxim that a chair should look as beautiful from the back as it does from the front.

 
 

height: 81cm

width: 52cm

depth: 48cm

height of seat: 45cm

manufactured by Carl Hansen & Son