After I had trudged up five floors, Lauren, a docent in the Ceramics exhibit at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, pointed me toward the furniture room. There I found a “Chair Bench”, designed by Gitta Gschwendtner. The light-colored ash bench, made by the Sitting Firm Chairmakers in Coventry, sported six chair backs and legs each having its own unique design. According to the placard, the designer found historic chairs in the gallery, each made from different woods with different artistic techniques, and installed them onto a flat, horseshoe-shaped bench. The legs of the bench were from the same antique chairs but were mismatched with the backs.
There was a captain’s chairback with armrests, a chair you might find at a French café, and another that might have been from a formal dining room. One was was straight-backed and tall, another short and rectangular, and the last was an ornately carved decorative chair. I decided to find the originals and when two were difficult to locate, I engaged Kate, the exhibit’s docent to help me. Afterwards she and I sat on the bench and discussed what we’d found. She sat in the Captains’ chair with a heater at her feet and said it was the most comfortable of the chairs. I sat across from her in the rectangular chair.
Working from left to right:
- The uncomfortable ornate chair is from 1560’s Italy, made from walnut, and was worked on by at least two artists, one from the 16th century and one from the 19th.
- The 2011 factory-made rectangular chair, designed by Industrial Facility was made from ash, and assembled using dowels. It was a comfortable chair.
- Next was Frank Lloyd Wright’s rigid tall-backed chair, made of stained oak. Geometric regularity was his signature architectural style. This chairback promoted excellent posture, which isn’t necessarily comfortable.
- The café chairback from the Thonet Brothers (1859), was designed in Vienna, and used steam-bent solid beechwood to create the delicate curved support.
- The formal dining chair was created around 1725 in England and was carved from walnut.
- The seat I called a captain’s chair is a Windsor armchair from 1830. Thomas Simpson used steam-bent yew for the back and the legs were carved from ash.
Since I was exhausted from all my London touring, and the gallery was quiet, Kate and I relaxed on the bench and discussed the furniture around us, her future as a portrait painter, and she suggested I visit Strawberry Hill House and Garden in Twickenham, where I’d enjoy the Gothic architecture and Horace Walpole’s curiosities from the 1700’s. It seems there’s no rest for the weary in London’s fascinating neighborhoods.