The Art and Science of Chairs

Anyone who has taken the time to read my bio knows that I have an engineering degree and an interior design degree. I am one of those odd folks who has an interest and an aptitude in both the sciences and the arts. Looking back, it is funny how many times those interests crossed without my even realizing it at the time. Here is a photo from an engineering study project I did for a course in Ergonomics (essentially, the science of making items comfortable to use over extended periods). Those chairs look REALLY comfortable, don’t they?!

For the assignment, we were to pick any one product and then go canvas the campus to research the various ways that people used that product. The idea was to figure out what worked well, what didn’t work and then propose ways to improve the item to result in better ergonomics. My study partner and I decided to choose a ‘chair’ as our product of choice. We went all over campus photographing people sitting, lounging, sleeping, and virtually anything else that you can think of that students do in chairs!  Amazingly enough, of all the homework assignments I did for my engineering degree, I still have all the photos from this one and I remember it fondly.

Years later, when I started design school, I remember having to learn the language of design. I walked into the first introductory class and found out that the first assignment was all about chairs. Woo hoo! I had already studied chairs AND I had a whole bunch of photos that I could re-use. This would be a piece of cake! But then came the assignment….

This time, rather than study the comfort and usability of the chair, we had to go identify all the different STYLES of chairs. That is when I found out that just because it looks like a chair, sits like a chair and collects dust like a chair, it isn’t necessarily called a chair. You can have a side chair (a chair with no arms), an open armchair (a chair with arms that are open), a fauteuil (an open armchair in French styling), a bergere (a closed armchair in French styling), a windsor (an open armchair made with spindles in English or American styling), a lawson (an armchair with rolled arms), a wing chair (a closed armchair with upholstered wings attached to the back) and on and on. In the world of design, it is important to differentiate things by style so that they can be put together in a pleasing way. One of the secrets to good design is to blend a few styles so everything isn’t matchy-matchy but not to use so many styles that you really just have a mess.

Perhaps this is why I fell in love with the specialty of kitchen and bath design. It is a very technical subset of the interior design field where ‘engineering’ is important to achieve the good ergonomics of functioning in the space but ‘interior design’ is important to achieve beauty in the space while making sure what you design works nicely with the rest of the home. For me, it is the perfect blend of science and art. And, yes, when I am out of the office, a chair is a chair is a chair. 😉


About CatTail Studio Arts

I am Theresa - the 'T' in CatTail Studio Arts. My husband, Chuck, is the guy behind the 'C'. Our tales cover our many interests including good food, adventurous travel, cooking, gardening, hiking, cycling, crafting ceramics, beekeeping and occasionally even cat tales!
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