Red wine stains, a scratch, some dents and that deep semi-gloss patina on edges and corners that only comes from decades, centuries, even, of casual handling – also known as life. Furniture with history. Ed Wilde said in my interview with him that one of the joys of furniture making is making “stuff that will long outlive you”. I have now seen this in effect and with full consciousness after our week-long trip over the new year visiting nos amis Chris and Maud in Roussillon, in the south of France.
Maud’s maternal Great Great Grandfather made the table and a generation later the chairs were bought by her paternal Great Grandfather. This places their construction in the late 1800s and they remain in everyday use today. Sitting on the chairs and eating our croissants on the table (no plates, as is customary) it doesn’t take much imagination to conjure up the people who would have sat there before and the times they lived through. The chairs, stamped ‘La chaise’, were originally made by a company called Camard Fils for a church in the north of France were Maud’s family were originally from. This area would have been torn apart during the Second World War and so it’s with some guilt that, at breakfast, we worried about whether enough snow was falling for snowshoeing that day – 73 years earlier in those very chairs at that same table, they had real worries.
It felt humbling and not contrived to add to the furniture’s story by using these wonderfully simple pieces of craftsmanship and enjoying local foods with good company. I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that these pieces of furniture may not be the story, but like words of a story they help form it.
Like a lot of good design, I was at first unaware of what I liked about the furniture, until I really looked hard. One of the first things I noticed is the maker has used a clever technique David Savage uses today as well, where the back leg is angled in relation to the seat pan, giving the impression that the leg is bending in two planes, whereas it is in fact only in one (this is far easier to make in construction). This in turn gives it a sense of organic lightness, like the arc of a blade of grass. The joints too are obviously real joints, no nails, no screws. The proportions and ratios make intrinsic sense and the slightly smaller size of the chairs (compared to their modern-day equivalents) make them feel modest and inviting.
Discovering pieces such as these is inspiring. My hope is to create furniture that will still be a centrepiece in people’s lives for centuries to come – that’s if they still use tables in 2100…