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Collecting Life Stories, One Chair at a Time
Chair #1: Dining Room Chair - 1940's - Red Velvet Seat - Nice - $25
When I went to pick up this chair, the gentleman selling it brought it out to my car and helpfully wedged it in amongst the car seats. As an afterthought, I asked what the story was with the chair. He told me it had been his grandparents from when they were first married, in the 1940's, in St Louis. But my grandparents lived in St Louis at the same time! For some reason this shared history felt like magic. "My grandmother was in the League of Women Voters!" I told him. "Hm," he said, "I don't know what mine was into. Probably a Yiddish Theater Troupe or something." The chair-seller explained that he had recently inherited tons of gorgeous furniture from his grandparents' home that was now filling his tiny apartment, and that he counted among his roommates an enormous china hutch, a creepy dress-maker's form, chairs and chairs and chairs. I felt this sounded very poetic. He felt crowded. So it goes, with someone else's life story.
Chair #2: Vintage Embossed Wooden Parisian Chair - $25
This one lived in the Navy Yards. I wasn't sure what the Navy Yards exactly were, but turns out it's just a bunch of warehouses. What an adventure, there in my own city, strolling past actual factories, workshops, and the photographer's studio where the chair, a former photo shoot prop acquired at a Parisian flea market, was being sold. (I might not make it to Parisian flea market anytime soon, but at least now I can pretend.) The photographer told me about the chair's life story, but I admit I was distracted by the enormous nude photographs hung everywhere. Needless to say, I disinfected the chair upon bringing it home.
Chair #3: Grey Eames Shell Side Chair - $40
As a personally unstylish design-blog lurker, I've often found myself eyeing those sleek Eames chairs -- but they're always so pricey, and so, I don't know, designy. But last week, finally, I found the one for me. It's a homely thing without feet, a fiberglass shell punctured with inexplicable holes, an object that in person says less "Grey Eames" than it says "70's public school nurse's office." I love it. So anyway, when I asked this seller about the chair's story, he sighed and said, "Oh. Right. Well, we actually started a vintage store. Uh, right in time for the recession. So it only lasted a year." Of course this downtrodden-looking seat had a sad back story! He explained it was a rehab job, stripped of nasty upholstery, that never sold in their shop and had been haunting a corner of their home ever since, a daily reminder of the dream lost.
I am happy to report that these three odd bedfellows now congenially hug our table, telling a story about the history of chair design, for one: the stiff angle of the 1940s chair is as proper and buttoned-up as a starched shirt, while the modern shell hugs a comfortable slump. And I like to imagine them chatting (am I the only one who does that?) -- the WWII-era Yiddish Theater Troupe denizen teasing the dainty Parisian lady, the modern would-be hipster standing by with amused detachment. As musician/artist David Byrne once wrote about chairs, "They're people — they hold you, support you, elevate you or humble you." So? What stories are your chairs telling you?
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