Certain chairs are for style, not for comfort

RITA ST. CLAIR

October 07, 1990|By RITA ST. CLAIR

"But is it comfortable?"

No matter how beautiful a piece of furniture may be, some people always ask that question. I've asked it myself on more than a few occasions, but I've also learned over the years that there are cases where comfort is, at most, a secondary consideration. In those instances, a purchasing decision should not depend on the answer to "But is it comfortable?"

If, instead of furniture, we consider for a moment the realm of personal appearance, it becomes obvious that comfort isn't always a determining factor.

For most women, tight jeans simply are not as comfortable for sitting as a long skirt with a full elastic waistband. Clearly, however, that hasn't done much to diminish the popularity of designer jeans.

Similarly, most men would agree that a military-style crew cut is a lot easier to care for than a long and flowing mane, even when it's kept in place with a ponytail. But if comfort were the sole consideration, then we'd never see hirsute men strolling down city streets on a hot summer day.

So why don't fashion and beauty have more influence over furniture buyers? Why is it that so many of us aren't interested in a chair unless it rocks and swivels and supports every muscle and joint even better than a mattress?

Is it really necessary that every seating piece in the home be ergonomically correct?

Of course not.

Some chairs, used only for a specific task or in a certain part of the home, should be scaled primarily to meet functional needs or to complement other furnishings. While these occasional or pull-up chairs should not make seating painful, they also needn't conducive to blissful relaxation.

Other chairs, like the ones placed at the heads of dining tables, are mainly intended to give their users a sense of importance. Like thrones, they weren't built with comfort uppermost in mind.

Then there are the so-called designer chairs, conceived as artistic objects; only incidentally do they function as seating components. Their creators, who include some of the 20th century's best-known designers and architects, aim to make a memorable aesthetic statement, not to accommodate the human spine in the most comfortable manner possible.

The photo illustrates such a piece. Called the Ingram High-Back chair, it was designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, whose name was chiefly associated with the Glasgow arts and crafts movement at the turn of the century. This type of chair, whether used singly or in a series, relates to its surrounding space in much the same way as a sculpture. It deserves to be evaluated on aesthetic grounds, not merely on how a sitter responds when asked, "But is it comfortable?"

I'm not suggesting that a chair like this one, now available through Atelier International, should be used in everyday settings. But I do strongly suggest that there's room in every home for at least one seating piece that's more beautiful than comfortable.

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