Research Output

Now I Sit Me Down by Witold Rybczynski, Review Paul Kerlaff

  A simple but profound point opens Now I Sit Me Down: that chairs illustrate a kind of democratic manifestation of our relationship to things. Unlike architecture, and to a lesser extent built in furniture, chairs bear witness to our capacity for change, and are variously championed, maligned, forgotten or simply used without a second thought. Our history of creating, owning and using them is a social history, and so offers a direct and uncolored indication of our shared history of sitting, and therefore inhabitation. This connection is reciprocal; it offers the reader not just a detailed context in which to place the selected works, but a springing point for much wider associations with the philosophy of interior practice. In part, these associations are formal, or at least related to the development of made things. Rybczynski recounts the history of sitting, from semi-prone one-handed roman revelers to the elevated thrones of kings; explores the profound consequences of sitting etiquette on materiality and interior form. Lineage is not hard to find; the northern Chinese Kang, for example, an elevated brick seating area heated by steam, can be seen as a precursor for modern interior thermal mass strategies. Though not exhaustive, Now I Sit Me Down is an effective catalyst for further exploration and resonated strongly with my own experience as a furniture designer and maker. I found myself reading alongside a laptop, in order to refer to a wider set of illustrations than could be shown by Rybczybski's competent but rather small hand drawings. What did Adolf Loos' café and museum chair for Thonet look like? Essentially an update of the no. 14 Café Chair, it turned out to predate the silhouette of Arne Jacobsen's 3107 chair by a satisfying 56 years. Lineage here is a recurrent theme, though key developments in technological and social fabric are described in lucid – and sometimes lurid – detail. A passage on the unconventional marital and decorative arrangements of Enlightenment polymath couple Voltaire and the Marquise du Chatalet, for whom telescopes, harpsichords, and morning coffee bore equal significance, is a delight. Just as chairs mediate our human experience of built form, Rybczynski draws on his own experience to discuss the discrepancy between idealized seating and the reality of taking the load off. We feel his disappointment at the thigh chafe that accompanies a much-anticipated Breuer Wassily Chair, and his subtle appreciation of the stories of sitting, bookended by the Greek Klismos and the contemporary plastic monobloc.

  • Type:

    Review

  • Date:

    24 October 2016

  • Publication Status:

    Published

  • DOI:

    10.1080/20419112.2016.1242267

  • Cross Ref:

    10.1080/20419112.2016.1242267

  • ISSN:

    2041-9112

  • Library of Congress:

    N1 Visual arts (General) For photography, see TR

  • Dewey Decimal Classification:

    740 Drawing & decorative arts

Citation

Kerlaff, P. (2016). Now I Sit Me Down by Witold Rybczynski, Review Paul Kerlaff. Interiors, 7(2-3), 191-193. https://doi.org/10.1080/20419112.2016.1242267

Authors

Keywords

Furniture, Architecture, Building, Design, History, Sitting, Witold, Rybczynski

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