The chair that rocked the world Design: Beloved for generations, the sturdy rocker fits into almost any room of the house.

September 15, 1996|By Rita St. Clair | Rita St. Clair,LOS ANGELES TIMES SYNDICATE

Despite today's mobile lifestyles, many of us want to believe that the furniture we're buying will one day be our children's heirlooms. I think this notion is often a delusion. For lots of reasons -- some having to do with differences in taste and others with the quality of mass production -- most pieces prove to have a relatively short life span.

But there's one type of furniture that does seem to get passed down the generations, probably because it conjures up nostalgic images of quiet nights beside the fireplace or lullabies sung by a mother to her restless child. I'm referring, of course, to the rocking chair.

This is, by the way, a distinctively American product. Historical records trace its origins to a mid-18th-century Massachusetts cabinetmaker named Eliakim Smith. He had apparently been asked by some local eccentric to attach curved pieces of wood to the bottom of a chair so that its user could rock back and forth. This quickly became a very popular design.

It wasn't long before many styles of rocker began appearing -- from the Windsor rod-backed chair to the stencil-decorated and brightly painted Hitchcock Boston rocker and the black and scrolled bentwood of European origin.

Clearly, rocking chairs provide both physical and psychological comfort to many people, which is why, I suppose, they so often qualify as keepsakes. It's true, for example, that those who grew up with a rocker in the nursery often take it along with them as they establish homes of their own.

The rocking chair's prevalence is no doubt due in part to its amazing ability to mesh with just about any setting -- except, perhaps, a dining room.

That it seems to fit so well in so many different environments may suggest that the rocker is more an idea than a piece of furniture. So, if you're in the market for a potential heirloom -- let's rock! Style is, as always, a matter of personal taste.

I chose this particular model to illustrate this column because its straightforward design will probably have broad appeal. It's a sturdy oak rocker available at Workbench stores (Philadelphia is the closest location).

Any piece of furniture with such simple lines can never be viewed as faddish. And because it's a rocker -- as opposed to, say, a dining room chair or a living room cabinet -- it manages by its very nature to avoid looking dull.

There's truly something transcendent about a rocking chair. I can't think of another type of furniture that's as universally liked.

Pub Date: 9/15/96

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