Commonplace Chairs


People – both woodworkers and the less handy – often ask me what kind of chairs I build. Lately I’ve been calling them “commonplace chairs” instead of diving into an eye-glazing lecture on the British Isles, vernacular furniture and John Brown.

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The word “commonplace” suits them in both the literal definition – not unusual; ordinary – and when you happen to pull the two root words apart – common and place. These chairs are both common and come from a place. What about this one?

This one came from my scrap bin. When I design a new chair, I rummage through my 5-gallon buckets filled with leftover ash and oak legs, stretchers, sticks and such, some of them years old. This seat was a backup seat left over from a class. The arms and crest were some straight, bendable sassafras.


I set out to give this chair a formal silhouette, like a Scottish Darvel chair. I got to examine one in person this fall and loved its presence. I wanted a low-slung undercarriage to belie the age of my design. But most of all, I pictured this chair in my mind as belonging to the head of a household. So it should have some height, arms and a just a whiff of throne.

But still be a stick chair. And not too damn fancy.

It’s comfortable and cozy (thanks to some negative springback after the steambending). The back sticks taper gently from 5/8” to 1/2” and bend ever-so-slightly out to cradle the shoulders of the sitter. The oak seat is lightly saddled, as per my usual way. And it’s painted with General Finishes (Not) Milk Paint in Coastal Blue that has been brushed on.


If you want to see this chair in person it will be in the gallery at Fine Woodworking Live in April (the event is almost sold out). I wish I could offer this chair for sale. Nothing would make me happier. But the head of the household (Lucy) wants it for the dining table. It will be the nicest chair of mine that we own – everything else around the table is dogmeat and prototypes.

— Christopher Schwarz


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