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A Good Chair is Hard to Find

I’ve been obsessed this winter with finding two new matching club chairs for in front of my fireplace.  They had to be upholstered and comfortable, and not too big.  I wanted chairs with a little style, chairs that fit like a pair of Cole Hahn loafers.

Shouldn’t be too difficult, right?

I scoured Washington. Mitchell Gold had a nice variety of “unique and ethical pieces,” according to its oh so stylish salesman. That’d be fine if I were purchasing a sculpture, but I was looking for a chair that I could sit in and write in for a couple of hours without my back hurting.

Room and Board’s made-in-America chairs were too mid-century modern for a cottage like mine built in 1921.  And, besides, I couldn’t wait four to six weeks for delivery. The chairs at my favorite haunt Random Harvest in Georgetown were too diminutive and too beige, while the furniture at Restoration Hardware was too expensive and too eclectic.  Domed burlap wing chairs? Faux mink bean bag chairs?  I don’t think so.

The catalogues were no better. Everything seemed grossly oversized and anything I did like seemed to be available only in pebble and putty or silver and sage.  In Rehoboth, things were certainly more colorful, but seashells, palm trees, cabana stripes, and decorator perfect chairs with coordinated piping and tassels were way too resort-like for my taste.

Exasperated, I ventured over to western Sussex County, where the roads are riddled with signs about bed bugs and Jesus, and furniture is sold in buildings the size of airplane hangars.  Yes, I went to Johnny Janosik, the largest furniture store on the East Coast at 180,000 square feet. That’s one hundred and fifty times the size of my house.

It was eerily reminiscent of being in a casino where you quickly lose all sense of time and place. There must have been thousands of chairs in all different styles and sizes, and if a few might have worked for me, I couldn’t find them, so distracted was I by the humongous ultra suede recliners that doubled as beverage coolers and all the people rocking back and forth and swiveling to and fro as if in some sort of human pinball machine.  When I saw two guys I recognized from Rehoboth trying out white matching leather recliners with cup holders, I just averted my eyes.

By the time I arrived at Mitchell’s Furniture in Laurel, Delaware, I was so delirious from the furniture vortex I’d just escaped that I began to seriously consider buying a pair of green leather library chairs at $2,500 apiece.  I rationalized that if I quit drinking for a month I could justify the expense.

Something, however, stopped me from making that purchase, and I decided to walk outside, clear my head, and make one final pass through the store.  Wouldn’t you know that’s when I spotted a pair of chairs in a bold, but masculine, floral pattern?  I got closer.  They were Sherill chairs, made in Hickory, North Carolina, not far from where I grew up.  Quality craftsmanship with a little southern flair.

As I drove back to Rehoboth with my precious cargo in back of the truck, I couldn’t help but wonder why was it that chairs seemed so much more difficult to pick out and purchase than other pieces of furniture?  Is it because they’re more like us than are beds and tables?  Chairs have arms, legs, and backs.  They can be staid, frumpy, or trendy.  They support us.

But, it’s about more than mere comfort. Chairs are expressions of our individuality and status, of our hopes and dreams.  As status symbols, we choose our chairs to demonstrate what we perceive as our good taste.

Artists and craftsmen build chairs that often express higher ideals.  The famous Bauhaus architect Mies van der Rohe once said that designing a skyscraper was almost easier than a chair.  He should know, having designed many buildings but only a few chairs, including the iconic modern Barcelona chair of 1921.

In case you’re wondering, my new floral chairs look great in the cottage beside my fireplace. They neither swivel nor recline.  And, more importantly, I didn’t have to give up my drinking allowance to pay for them.