ost people rate comfort as the most important requirement of a chair. Style, appearance, and sturdy join­ery are also undeniable key elements, but if any of these criteria results in an uncomfortable chair, the product may end up being used as little more than an attractive showpiece.

Uncomfortable chairs give rise to a familiar litany of complaints: cutting off circulation to the legs; straining neck, shoulder, and back muscles; and squeez­ing the legs together. Each of these prob­lems stems from the fact that, although very few people share the same size and shape, most chair designs are inspired by the “one size Fits all” philosophy...




esigning and building chairs is somewhat like writing. Whether you are pro­ducing a simple stool or an ornate dining chair—a short poem or a complex novel—each project has its own form, intent, and inherent challenges, as well as per­sonal, social, and cultural meaning. This range of possibilities is what makes chair design so challenging and appealing.

Since training at Peters Valley Crafts Center in Layton, New Jersey, 20 years ago, we have developed nearly two dozen chair designs for limited production and cus­tom orders. All have benefitted from our first chair, made from recycled oak barn wood, with a simple canvas seat and back. The item was supposed to be the ultimate in inexpensive, comfortable seating.

The first person to sit in this chair was Mary Coes, the diminut...




ver the years I have built all types of wooden furniture pieces, from stands to cabinets, desks to tables, and case goods to grandfather clocks. Yet to me, the ultimate challenge for a woodworker is to design and build a chair. If you accept the “challenge of the chair,” first acquaint yourself with the standard dimensions and angles that are involved. Examine various chair styles, ranging from the simple to the ornate, then select a look that is personally pleasing and incorporate your own ideas. If you do not have the confidence to create a design yourself, choose a ready­made plan and start building.

The design phase can be as hard as the actual construction of the chair. A meta­morphosis almost always happens between an idea and the finished, final piece...




have designed more than 500 pieces of furniture in nearly 50 years of working wood. I have done furniture for homes, offices, churches, and schools, although I prefer designing for homes. Even now I take time to design and make at least five new pieces a year no matter how busy I am or how far behind 1 am in filling orders.

I do many drawings of pieces that come to mind but I also have hundreds more stored away mentally. I make drawings of case goods and tables for my clients, but chairs are designed as I make the prototype. I was asked some time ago to submit a drawing of a chair with dimensions for a publication. Because 1 did not have a draw­ing at hand I had to take measurements from a chair in our home.

When making a chair, I don’t follow any formula or template; each chair i...