What I Learned from Making a Chair
I didn’t understand why industrial designers were obsessed with making chairs until I had to make one myself. Somewhere between sketching thumbnail ideations and building quarter-scale models, I realized how many different chairs would result from settling one sole detail. A shift in the angle between a chair’s seat and its backrest could impact how comfortable it might be. The tactile experience of a chair made of metal is completely different from one made of linen. Then, there are bigger questions, like, what exactly defines a chair? These were all questions I confronted when making my first chair. Here’s a few more.
Everyone experiences comfort differently.
During critique, there was a highly noticeable difference between how a petite classmate felt in a particular chair and how our very tall professor felt. My petite classmate felt very comfortable in chairs that were low to the ground, however, such a chair would encourage my professor to bend his legs. This is normal. Aside from this, there’s also variance in how each person sits or positions themselves on a piece of furniture.
Designing a chair is 65% pre-production (research, modeling/testing, planning, buying materials) and 35% actual building.
I built the Halt Chair in six weeks, however, only two weeks were spent actually constructing it. It takes a robust amount of information and specifications to understand how a design might or might not work, or how to streamline or make the process more efficient or cost-effective. For example, when determining how much wood to purchase, I could have estimated. However, taking an hour to do the math, saved me the $20-50 more dollars I would’ve spent buying 3-4 times more wood I thought I would need at a lumberyard.
It’s really difficult to physically build a chair alone.
Since chairs are relatively large objects, it requires physical stamina in order to do difficult things, like, joining two pieces together or stretching a piece of fabric over the frame of the chair. During these times, it’s best to a friend for help.
Each chair has its own design language.
It was so funny and interesting to see how each chair resembled its maker during critique. In fact, it was this realization that made me wonder, again, how much of who we are is reflected in what we create.
It’s useful to know different joinery methods.
Since the Halt Chair is strung together solely by rope, you could probably guess that I wasn’t exactly well-versed in the different ways of joining wood. Many suggested that I maintain the form of the chair while still employing mechanical joinery, however, I was up for the challenge of letting its joinery dictate its physical gesture.