A Chair That Smiles

A Chair That Smiles

This charming little Gustavian armchair that has at some later point in time been painted in black and gold stands in solitary splendour.

A chair like this is almost always right, wherever it is placed – not least when displayed to effect all by itself in the corner of a spacious living room. The cheerful aspect of the two slats in the back leads me to wonder if Thomas Chippendale hasn’t just paid a visit. He was the furniture-maker who dared to “open up” the solid slats of the ladder back chair to add a cheery smile or two to the backrest to charm guests on their arrival – just like we see here.

“Laughing chairs” is what we called them in Sweden when the horizontal slats were transformed into smiling mouths by chairmakers proficient enough to emulate the skills of Chippendale.

The ladderback started life as an everyday chair and was common not only throughout Europe, but perhaps also in parts of Asia. It retained its essential appearance through the centuries, indifferent to fleeting fads and fashion. Ladderbacks often had a woven seat and served their owners in castles as well as cottages. In its basic form the chair had straight rear legs that extended upwards to form the stiles of the back, between which horizontal crosspieces were fixed like rungs on a ladder. This horizontal arrangement of the slats in the backrest is the only similarity our chair bears to the old ladderback, although these, too, have been transformed by English influence into something less rectilinear and more good-humoured.

Lindome is a well-known concept in terms of furniture-making in Sweden, and it is from Lindome that this little chair hails. Lindome’s proximity to Gothenburg was important. The port of Gothenburg was the gateway to the wider world, from where the furniture-makers of Lindome could ship their wares to countries such as England, Holland and Germany. In bygone times you could see furniture from Lindome standing patiently on the quayside in Gothenburg, waiting for the boat that would take them to customers at destinations far, far away.

A carved decorative border runs around the back, the apron and the rails. This was a common feature on Gustavian furniture, as was egg-and-dart detailing, beaded moulding and a reed-and-tie design that is sometimes described as fasces moulding.

When several “laughing chairs” congregate in a room, you may, if your hearing is good and your luck is with you, detect a little gentle giggling. Perhaps that’s the origin of a saying we have here in Sweden that “a good laugh adds years to your life”. After all, this chair can proudly claim to be around 223 years old – a fact that makes that winning smile in the backrest grow even broader.

Many smiles from various chairs
A very happy smiling chair

by Gun Bjerkander

Note from Editor:

We wish all our blog readers a very happy Midsummer from our team in Sweden. Time to sit on a comfortable chair to share good food with family and friends and enjoy the longest day of the year. All 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 are now available online

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