Way Back When

Way back when – forty, maybe even fifty years ago – there was a large and wonderfully splendid old house out in the countryside that was home to, among many other fine things, a beautiful eighteenth-century chair. The chair was due to be put up for auction in the autumn, but the seat cover – an embroidered fabric – was terribly worn-out, tattered and threadbare. However, when we took a peep underneath this fabric to see what the upholstery consisted of, we discovered another, brightly coloured embroidered cover in absolutely pristine condition that had been stashed away among the layers of padding. An identical seat cover, no less! Someone had clearly given careful thought to the future of their beloved chair. It would, at some point in years to come, need to be spruced up to look its very best again, with a brand new embroidered seat of exactly the same pattern as the old one.

We were amazed to witness such forethought. It was so touching that it brought tears to our eyes on more than one occasion.

The house was nestled in lush surroundings among big trees, shrubs and bushes. We could almost sense how the trees nodded knowingly to us, as we carried the chair out of the house. Old chairs, like the trees themselves, speak climate’s language. Re-using nature’s precious resources has never felt more imperative than it does today.

In all of my homes there has never been so much as a single newly manufactured chair (except for a modern office chair, which was actually a mistake – a parenthesis, I dare say). So there’s no doubting the wingbeat of history in the kitchen and bathroom, as well, of course, as in the living room and bedrooms.

Grandma’s wonderful old chairs, four of them in all, came in very useful when I moved out of the family home to the first little place I could call my own. They were a constant source of joy to me over many years.

Once I have chosen a favourite old chair to settle down and feel at home in, I like to sit back and let it share with me the story of its life.

It’s a sensation from the chair that somehow transplants itself into my consciousness. From a beautiful leafy tree out there in the forest, or a tall proud pine with all those prickly needles, to sawmills, furniture makers, upholsterers, furniture dealers.

It is then that the past links hands with the present and, it is to be hoped, the future, too.

The Swedish author Torsten Fogelkvist put it this way: “A true up and coming individual is not a mindless yes-man who unthinkingly embraces all that today demands. He understands that life now must forge links with the living past – and that past, present and future coalesce to form an unbroken chain of life.”

Torsten Fogelkvist occupied Chair 11 in the Swedish Academy between 1931 and 1941.

by Gun Bjerkander Handberg

Note from Editor:

🌳 Those who follow our blog regularly will be aware of the importance of trees and the importance that the preservation of trees is to author Gun Bjerkander Handberg. Chairs can link the past to the present, crafted with care and skill, using materials from nature. By taking time to restore an old chair or reupholster a tired looking seat you are saving not only trees and materials, but embracing furniture that already exists by reusing it and giving it new life.🌳

Find chair inspiration in the publications from the series Please Be Seated – Historic Chairs & the Tales They Tale, which relate to this blog and are written by Gun Bjerkander Handberg. All three books are now available online