There has been much talk about furniture “outliving the maker”. And that chairs currently made could still being around in several hundreds years. A romantic view that has a nice soothing feeling for the egos of the makers currently alive. After all, what is better than feeling that your life was not in vain, your legacy still lives on, there is a tangible piece of “you” still in this world after you are gone.
The view expressed has its basis in the repulsion of the current throwaway culture. When a store-bought chair doesn’t live as long as it should because it is not well-made, it is a waste of workmanship and resources. Even if the chair was cheap it is frustrating.
Many people who make their own furniture these days therefore feel a righteous feeling about the quality of the things they make. Though this is understandable, there is one hole in the argument:
The survival of your furniture does not solely depend on how well it was made.
People forget the possibility of future idiots owning their furniture after they are gone. Sure your spouse and/or children may find your work special and treasure it in their homes during the rest of their lives but what about when they are gone? At that point your work is in the hands of the world and will likely be judged upon its appearance more that on how “well made” it is. And they won’t care about it on the same personal level because they have never known you.
Sometimes it already ends sooner. The day after you die your spouse throws out that one chair they always hated. But at least the chair outlived you!
I am a strong advocate of making things as well as you can, using the best materials and techniques at your current disposal. But there also is a danger in design and fashion, two areas furniture has historically been very susceptible to.
The furniture you make has its roots in the current time. It doesn’t really matter what you build, it will at one point likely look dated. This means at one point your creations could (temporarily) end up in a damp cellar or a non-climate controlled barn or attic when they go out of fashion. So much for that strong staked leg joint when your chair is under attack by worms or termites..
But after that the chair will have that true antique-y look so it may become attractive again.
The bottom line is, people need to care for your creation after you are gone, or the piece may not have the long life that you intended for it.
How do you make people care for your furniture? It helps to give or sell your pieces to people who value them. Their ancestors or friends will likely have a similar mindset. There are many examples of Welsh Stick Chairs having been in a family for generations. And this is where the quality of materials and workmanship comes in again.
I do feel that it is remarkable that, to stay with the Welsh “peasants” that built Welsh Stick Chairs several hundreds of years ago, their pieces survived for this long even if the makers’ intention never was this.
The makers back then needed something to sit on and they made it the best they could. They never meant for the chairs to be around this long – why would that be their intention?
Therefore I make my chairs for the here and the now, to be enjoyed by the people who sit in them and look at them. Not for the future. I need a place to sit and I enjoy making chairs. That is enough for me.
I hope that when my chairs get burnt they will be providing warmth to a cosy home and hopefully accompany a nice philosophical conversation.