Brewery work can be strength-sapping. Just think of all those different stages in the brewing process: weighing, mashing, wort boiling, fermenting, filtering, pasteurising – and quite probably a few more, too, that I’ve overlooked.
When AB Stockholms Bryggerier was established in the Swedish capital in 1889 as a consortium comprising a number of other local breweries, both large and small, this created a need for new chairs. Orders were placed for hundreds of them, each with the new brewery’s mark on the underside of the seat.
The chairs may have been made in Östervåla, in the north of the province of Uppland. However, this is merely a guess on my part, as the village had boasted a flourishing furniture-making industry since the early 1800s.
These “brewery chairs” have something of a Thonet feel to them, traces of Biedermeier style and a three-ladder back – precisely the look that chairs from Östervåla often tended to have.
At some later date the chairs found their way to Solvalla, with its famous horse-racing track and all that implies for chairs. The venue opened in 1927 and hosted more than 80 race meetings a year. It was a setting where chairs were tested to the limit – just like the horses out on the track. There was betting and all the buzz of the race itself, often in an atmosphere of feverish excitement. All of the chairs were dragged as close as possible to the big panoramic windows. The celebrities and VIPs of the time fought for space cheek by jowl with horse-lovers and gamblers, all wide-eyed with intense anticipation. There was the odd mug of beer here and there, and race-course visitors who made themselves comfortable on the sturdy chairs as they sat to eat their lunches.
In the fullness of time, 52 of the once mighty legion of chairs ended up in a Stockholm tavern, Comics, on Timmermansgatan. As to the fate of their many siblings, who knows what became of them?
At Comics questions were raised about the many different layers of paint that the chairs had acquired over the years. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to find out what they had looked like when they were new?
Red, green, white, brown … It was merely a matter of trying to reverse the passage of time without tiring in the process. One of the guests described it as a Sisyphean task, but others were decidedly more positive. True, the work of scraping off layer after layer was wearisome and time-consuming, but it was terrific fun, too.
Finally, the chairs were painstakingly restored to their original condition. Stained brown as they had been initially, and with the wonderful saddle seat clearly visible.
People in the restaurant conversed a great deal about the “new” chairs’ long journey from their old life in the Stockholm brewery to their current status at Comics. (I should add, by the way, that Comics used to serve the best Swiss schnitzel and rösti that you could ever hope to enjoy.)
Strange, isn’t it, how chairs help to rekindle old memories? Not just eras and styles, not merely different colours and woods, but, as in this case, people galore and the delectable aroma of those unforgettable schnitzels.
“Swedish manufactured nineteenth-century birchwood chairs with the original owner’s mark”: that sounds like a fitting enough description, if you ask me.
by Gun Bjerkander Handberg
This blog is an extension of the beautifully produced hardback books published by Vind & Våg Publishing, where the author shares more tales of inspirational chairs and musing of a four-legged variety! If you enjoy the blog, both books are now available online and at all decerning bookshops. Buy online here
Please Be Seated – Historic Chairs and The Tales They Tell ISBN: 978-0-9927084-7-4
Please Be Seated – More Historic Chairs and The Tales They Tell ISBN:978-0-9927084-8-1