I just finished a telephone interview with a reporter in the mid-west. She is writing an article about Windsor chairs. I do several of these interviews a month. They are a bit tedious, in that the questions are always the same, and the reporter is going to get a lot of it wrong anyway. However, I do it willingly, as every time an article about hand made Windsor chairs appears anywhere it raises awareness that there is an alternative to factory chairs. Potential customers learn that there are folks out there making really good chairs that will last 200 years. The more people who know this, the easier it is for chairmakers to make a living, whether they have studied here or not. The time I take with reporters is time I willingly give back to the craft that has been so good to me, and it is one of the ways I share the gravy.
One question I can predict a reporter will ask is “Why Windsors?” The reporter is essentially wondering aloud, “What is there about a mere chair that could turn a guy’s life on a dime, and then inspire him for the next 36 years, and beyond? Furthermore, what is there about a simple chair that could attract some 6,500 other people to travel to him to learn how to make one and then, most of them to go home sharing the same obsession?”
It’s an easy answer. Perfection. I liken Windsor chairs to sharks. Sharks have been around for millions of years, and they don’t evolve because they are they are perfectly developed for their purpose. The same applies to Windsor chairs. Windsors are perfect in the three areas that matter for any piece of furniture (or most other things humans make.) Their designs are perfect. They are perfectly comfortable. They are perfectly strong.
Windsor design is so perfect that it has not changed since the classic period of the 18th century. The designs the old guys worked out still have the same eye appeal today as they did for early Americans. Furthermore, these designs have a universal appeal. Not only have they transcended time, they transcend cultures. People study here with us from countries all over the world where Windsor are not a native form, and they all fall equally in love with these chairs.
Windsors are perfectly strong. If you buy a set of factory made chairs today, you expect to put them out at the end of the driveway for the rubbish pick up in about a decade. Antique Windsor chairs 200 years old or more, are plentiful. They may be expensive, but they still exist in countless numbers. Most of these antique chairs are still as tight as the day they left the chairmaker’s shop. Obviously, the old guys knew somethings about working wood that is not common knowledge today.
I have been able to make only minor changes in the perfect joinery the old guys worked out. The brother-in-law joint is perhaps my only addition. When it comes to perfect durability, Time fears only the pyramids and hand made Windsor chairs.
The comfort of Windsor chairs is legendary. When people visit The Institute for the first time my wife Susanna invites them to sit in a chair, observing that “You would not believe a wooden chair could be so comfortable.” In amazement, everyone agrees. They move from different style of Windsor to different style, trying them all. They observe that all are a remarkably good sit.
Put those three perfects together and how can one not get excited about Windsors?
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