The Insanely Low Bar for Chair Comfort

I start every morning working in the chair on the right. Sometimes I’ll sit in it for three hours straight. Yes, it’s comfortable.

Ever since I started selling stick chairs, potential customers have asked: “I like the look of your chairs, but are they comfortable?”

My canned response has been: “Compared to a La-Z-Boy, no. But compared to typical wooden chairs, yes, they are fairly comfortable.”

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Last weekend I experienced a forced, painful and radical reassessment of my work.

For Thanksgiving, we went to St. Louis (city of my birth) to celebrate with my extended family. Because I lost my mom and dad recently, I’ve tried to strengthen ties to the family members still standing.

We stayed in an Airbnb downtown that was packed with factory-made Forest Chairs (what most people call Windsors). They looked nice and had some saddling to the seats. But after sitting in them for five minutes, I was in mortal agony. My back and my tailbone screamed in two-bone harmony. In my body’s defense, I added a pillow for lumbar support, which helped my back. But my poor coccyx might never be the same. It might not even be triangular anymore….

During the long weekend, I ended up sitting in a variety of factory-made hoop-back Forest Chairs. Each time, I was amazed at how awful they were. In fact, I think I stood during most of our four days out of town — just to avoid sitting in those chairs.

When I came home, I realized that I have been spoiled for a long time. The chairs I make and the chairs made by other woodworkers (Forest and stick chairs alike) are an entirely different universe compared to the factory-made stuff. For years I’ve been fretting over how comfortable my chairs are compared to those made by Peter Galbert and other chairmakers (and I always will fret). But I had forgotten just how low the bar is for comfort when it comes to wooden chairs.

So if you have been wondering how comfortable wooden chairs are that have been made with care by an individual, I have a new answer for you. 

First, I’ll whip out my flattened coccyx (no, I won’t). Then I’ll say: For the love of corn — yes, they are far, far more comfortable.

— Christopher Schwarz

P.S. Sales pitch: I cover in detail how I make my chairs comfortable in “The Stick Chair Book.” I don’t have any secrets (except the shape of my coccyx).


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