I’ve Been Working on This Chair When I Should Be Doing Other Things

Having a degree in music and being a fan of Wagner’s operas means that I get to drop the word Gesamtkunstwerk in casual conversation around the house. Most often translated as “total work of art” it has, when applied to architecture, come to mean a control freak fantasy of designing everything in the house down to the paperclips.

The English architect C.F.A. Voysey (1857-1941) caught the Gesamtkunstwerk fever early in his life and drew up all furnishings down to the desk accessories in the houses he designed for clients. When I spotted some of the quirky chairs he produced in the years before WWI, I knew I wanted to set about replacing the random dining room chairs in our living room with a sextet of Voysey’s “One-Heart” chairs. I liked the strange devil-like horns, the fuddy-duddy heart, and the odd hexagonal, tapered legs. Voysey used the heart motif almost to excess in his work, so much so that his client H.G. Wells made him invert the symbol to make a spade.

I’m almost finished with the prototype that I based on a photo and from a measured drawing of one of Voysey’s “Two-Heart” chairs, by woodworker Nancy Hiller. The last step will be to weave a rush seat insert. Thankfully Los Angeles hosts not one, but two caning and rush seat supply shops–Franks Cane and Rush Supply and Cane and Basket.

Voysey’s original chair has an eye-catching dovetailed back splat. While aesthetically pleasing the design is a woodworking no-no as it involves grain tied together in two different directions with no allowance for wood movement. On most of the originals, unsurprisingly, the back has split. I omitted the dovetails in my Voysey chair remix opting for an unglued mortise instead. This small detail illustrates why designers and craftspeople need to be in dialog with each other.

Voysey said, “To produce healthy art one must have healthy surroundings; the first effort an artist should make is to sweep ugliness from him.” In our degraded and utilitarian times I’ve come to the insight that the pursuit of beauty is a good thing in itself and a moral obligation. Have a look around our cities and the places we live and work and you’ll see a whole lot of ugly. How depressing that art and music are some of the first things on the austerity chopping block. In our homes and communities we need to start sweeping away the ugliness and get to beautifying. We need to stop telling our children and young people that art is a waste of time. We need to plant gardens, make music and build happy, healthy and beautiful places to live and work.

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14 Comments

  1. This is great, thanks!

    I often read, but most often don’t comment. Keep up the good work here and elsewhere.

    Sincerely,

    not a cat person (sorry)

  2. Pingback: Seat Weaving for Fun and Profit | Root Simple

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