My New Thoughtstyling Throne

As an aging gen-x blogger I decided it was time to build myself a throne from which to harangue, cajole, abjure and speak ex cathedra. Said throne is a replica of Gustav Stickley’s Bow-arm Morris Chair #336 from his 1901 catalog as shown above with a cat for scale.

The differences between the original English Morris chair and the American versions say a lot about our cultural differences. An Essex based carpenter, Ephraim Colman, designed the chair that William Morris would take into production for his company in the 1860s. While the English chair is delicate, Stickley’s American versions are beefy, aggressive and man-spready. The #336 begs for a cigar and whiskey accompaniment along with the assumption that you’ll be using it to oversee your various robber baron hustles. With its adjustable back the robust and elegant #336 is the spiritual ancestor of the BarcaLounger which shows you how far this American Empire has declined.

Making Stickley’s #336 involved an nerve racking steam bending process. The wood went in a makeshift box fed with steam from a wallpaper steamer. After an hour in the steamer the wood was quickly rushed to a form made with plywood. I had to actually sit on the arm to get it to bend. On the first attempt the arm broke and I had to do it all over again. When I was done with the arms I had to steam bend the back slats of the chair. All this took many, I should add pleasant, hours of focused labor blissfully apart from the distractions of the interwebs.

Of all the furniture in a house chairs get the most abuse. Each time you sit down and get up you stress the joints. The arms on the #336 attach to the legs via a sturdy, handsome and labor-intensive through mortise. Details like this explain why Stickley went out of business. His competitors made fake versions of through mortises to save a buck. While my chair was at the upholstery shop someone wanted to buy it but the price offered was way short of the amount of time required to do the steam bending and to fit the four (!) through mortises. The chair sold in 1909 for $31.50 which would be around $900 today.

It’s interesting how much Stickley’s design depends on the attractive ray pattern of quarter sawn white oak. I’ve seen versions of Morris chairs like this made with much cheaper plain sawn red oak and they look horrendous and primitive as if made by Fred Flinstone.

As usual, mistakes were made in building this chair. The principle one was not reading the fine print in the directions in the book of plans I was using that noted that Stickley added two inches to the legs between versions make between 1901 and 1909. I was able to counteract the lack of height by having my upholsterer make a thicker cushion. Since Kelly and I are of the tall tribe I need to pay better attention to customizing fit. If I’m going to go through the trouble of making furniture myself I might as well take the time to make sure it’s a custom job.

Now lets hope this latest DIY project doesn’t lead to the sort of bad ideas that afflict other throne owners:

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6 Comments

  1. Awesome chair.
    I agree with your last comment- please don’t start poisoning the people of LA with Salmonella !!

  2. That’s beautiful! I’m so impressed. I think woodworking is going to be one of those things I don’t get to in this life, sadly. It seems my generalist nature isn’t going to allow for that, so I have a lot of respect for the focus and commitment you put into this.

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