As Peer Gynt reminisces with his dying mother, they dwell long and fondly on how, when Peer was a child, they would imagine his bed was a sleigh whisking them across a frozen fjord, a sleigh pulled by “fleet-foot horses”.
Or more accurately by a cat proxying for fleet-foot horses; a cat who before being pressed into service as a horse had been peacefully “sad på en kubbestol“1, sat upon a kubbestol: a chair hewn from a tree trunk, and an item of furniture which is as closely associated with Norway as is Peer Gynt, and which may have led just have as many lives and have just as many tales to tell…..
The study of vernacular furniture can teach us a lot about not only the development of understandings of furniture, nor only of the development of societies and cultures, nor nor only only about relationships between furniture and wider realities, but also how the position of furniture as a cultural good, as a good embedded in a culture and society, can see furniture serve as a component of projected understandings of heritage and identity, and in doing so can endow attributes on an object of furniture it doesn’t naturally, inherently, possess.
Something particularly well expressed in the (hi)stories of the straw-backed chair, a.k.a. the Orkney Chair1
“Trunk-hasped, cart-heavy, painted an ignorant brown.
And pew-strait, bin-deep, standing four-square as an ark”1
Reading Seamus Heaney’s musings on his Settle Bed one could be forgiven for considering it a thoroughly unremarkable object. Ignorant even.
That would however be to misunderstand the nature, spirit, essence, of poetic construction. And the nature, spirit, essence of the Settle Bed.
In all corners of the globe one finds objects of furniture which developed in response to local conditions, traditions and practices; vernacular objects without a formal author and which although, on account of?, arising from a very specific place and time can, invariably, both teach us a lot about the essentials of furniture and help explain furniture’s relationships with wider realities.
And objects we want to celebrate, starting with arguably, one of the best known examples of vernacular furniture: the Windsor chair.