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JOEL Joel's Blog

Two Chairs


Two Chairs 1

Last week I wrote about different styles of traditionally made chairs. But that history gets upended in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. I left out possibly one of the most important modern types of chair. The desk chair.

Before you can invent the modern desk chair, you needed to invent the modern office. That happened in the middle of the nineteenth century. While certainly rich folks had desks long before then, the Industrial Revolution's greatly increased production created the need for bigger and better organization, including office staff, who needed a place to sit and work efficiently. By the 20th century, the modern desk chair evolved to meet demand.

The chair on the left is the oldest office chair in my house and has been in my family for at least 80 years. My grandfather bought it used and according to the label on the underside, it was manufactured by the Jasper Seating Co, Inc of Jasper Indiana. The original owner of the chair was Chas S. Nathaniel (I think) of 546 Broadway. Jasper is still around - and still still making office furniture, manufacturing office furniture in the USA. They started in 1929. 546 Broadway is also still around, although it's a residential building nowadays. Nathaniel might have been working in a loft factory in the building, or the retailer getting a delivery for a customer.

One of the chair's wheels has a flat but it still rolls. I had to replace the seat mechanism once (and it might need some work again). But what the chair is really missing is cushions, which were lost when I got the chair. As it happens, the chair isn't great for my back, so despite my sentimental attachment to it, I went out and got an ergonomic Aeron chair (pictured on the right). Sadly, living in an apartment means I have to say goodbye to my wooden chair, so it is for sale. If you are interested and can pick it in Manhattan, please let me know.

Versions of my wooden chair are probably the first real attempt to make a comfortable desk chair for the office world of the 20th Century. The Aeron chair, designed by Bill Stumpf and Don Chadwick and manufactured by Herman Miller, dates from 1994 and is the culmination of twenty years of research and the apex of twenty-first century ergonomic chair design.

The biggest problem with chairs, especially ones you sit in the whole workday, is having something comfortable that doesn't cause back pain. The Aeron chair is less about figuring out what is comfortable and more about throwing your hands up in the air and making everything adjustable. In addition to having all sorts of height, arm, back, and lumbar adjustments, the Aeron chair begs the question of size by being available in three widths.

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Many companies now make similar chairs, but the Aeron chair is one of most adjustable. Herman Miller, founded in 1900, has been known since the 1930s for its cutting edge industrial design. The chair is made in the USA. While the Aeron is made mostly of bits of molded plastic and metal, it does require a huge amount of skilled hand labor to put it together. But it's not made of wood - it's mostly molded plastic. Which chair is better? Part of the reason I stuck with my Jasper chair for so long is a combination of nostalgia and my desire to have a wooden chair. But eventually my back won out. And some of the complaints people have about plastic don't really apply to a high-end chair that's pretty close to handmade in an American factory. There's not much difference between the process of making Danish lamination furniture (in which you're using big presses to mold wood) and molding - or this case building up - plastic furniture.

I bought the chair from a Herman Miller showroom, which was awesome to deal with. Unlike knockoff chairs that I have purchased and had to assemble myself, it arrived fully assembled in a giant, giant box. And the delivery person arrived at my apartment, unpacked it from the box, wheeled it out, and gave it to me. About 2 weeks later, when I realized that the chair wasn't that comfortable, the company came back, picked up that chair, and dropped off a larger version of the chair. By larger, I mean wider. This is the chair I have now and it is brilliant. That is customer service.

A high-end chair doesn't have to be made out of wood. It can also be tailored to an individual person. This is a bit of an evolution of chair design. The wooden chair, or the wooden office chair of the 1920s with its metal mechanism, really is a completely different item than either the joined, stick, or Windsor chairs of last week's blog. It's all good. I actually like Windsor chairs a lot. I find the spokes of the back of the chair very comfortable on my back, and I like the sculpted wooden seats. For long sit-downs at a desk, however, I do prefer a padded joined chair.

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 The original product label and owner of the Jasper chair
The original product label and owner of the Jasper chair

Meanwhile: Here's a follow-up on a blog I did a few weeks ago called marketing 101. At the bottom of the blog was a picture of advertising billboards at Broadway and Canal. Here's a picture of what it looks like now. The posters are all gone I assumed to be soon replaced by something new and hip.

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The second picture is in the same vein of the guerilla marketing of the cheeseball guy. Ten years ago this guy carpeted the city with 40,000 posters stating that he was Looking for a Girlfriend, an effort he said cost him over $5000. Apparently it worked for a while and he met somebody, but he's back on the market, now upgrading his demands for the Perfect Woman, once again blanketing the city again with posters. In the intervening time he switched to online dating because “The internet is more professional than seeing a flier on the street,” but he seems to have missed the spotlight associated with this more vintage brand of advertising and its marketplace-of-one.

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Join the conversation
06/19/2024 Michael O’Brien
Hi Joel, I have had my Herman Miller Aeron chair for nearly 30 years, purchased at the HM showroom too. It looks and functions like new and was used daily in my office until I retired 19 years ago. It is now used daily in my home office. I have sat in the knockoffs of the Aeron, but there is no comparison. The HM Aeron stands alone in comfort and durability. You made a wise selection, but know you will sentimentally miss your old chair. I too have an old ( 45 years+) office chair made by the Boling Chair company in Siker City, NC. A gift ( a demo chair) to me by my favorite uncle Paul who was a manufacturer’s rep for Boling Chair Co.and for Myrtle Desk Co. in Highpoint,,NC. I still have this dual cushioned, hardwood framed and well constructed chair as a remembrance of my dear departed uncle.
Cheers, Michael
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