Monday, April 21, 2008

Furniture I Love: Brian Boggs Edition

Brian Boggs is a chairologist. I’ve never seen anyone with such a scientific approach to making chairs. Boggs has spent his entire adult life studying the progression of the “country chair” from its primitive roots to the modern day, picking and choosing the best features of the chairs and the best approaches to making them, adding his own innovations along the way. Yet when all the study is done, you can also see that his chairs are full of intuition and art. Before going any further with my ramblings, have a look at what I’m talking about:

I think I first learned about Brian Boggs from that truly great but unfortunately now-defunct magazine Home Furniture, which was published by The Taunton Press. The summer 1995 issue featured a piece by Boggs in which he described how he developed his signature chair. These photos are used by permission: Home Furniture, © The Taunton Press, "A Chair Built for Comfort," by Brian Boggs, Issue # 3/Summer 1995). The first photo was taken by Boyd Hagen. Scott Gibson took the others.

I’ve learned from subsequent articles that Boggs has perfected his own kind of joinery, made his own bark removal machine and designed new spokeshaves. In my opinion, Brian Boggs deserves a genius grant from the MacArthur Foundation. I mean that in all sincerity. Boggs is a hero of mine because of how he constantly innovates. His approach – to experiment, to learn and unlearn, to streamline -- is nothing short of inspiring.

The most intriguing part is how he developed the shape of the chair’s back to provide lumbar support. His chairs are beautiful and incredibly well made, but the superior lumbar support sets his chairs apart. To get that support, as he wrote in the Home Furniture article, he drew “a scale drawing of a person sitting on a seat and drew the legs of the chair so that they followed the contours of the person’s back precisely.” And since each of the three back slats has a slightly different curve, he mocked up a plywood form in the shape of a humor torso and made his bending forms around it.

I’ve had the pleasure of sitting in a Boggs chair. From that time on, that was my measure of how comfortable a chair should be. It’s truly astonishing how comfortable it is. Beyond the basic construction, rooted in green woodworking techniques, every detail is impeccable, from the clean facets at the tops of the legs to the pyramid-shaped pegs at the back slats.

Someday I hope to have at least one Boggs chair in my house. I won’t even care that it makes the furniture I've made pale by comparison. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that if you’ve got the means, there is no excuse for not owning a Boggs chair. Think of your grandchildren!

I also want to point out that Brian is one of the co-founders, along with Curtis Buchanan and Scott Landis, of GreenWood. See my post on Curtis Buchanan for more information on GreenWood's work. See more of Brian’s work at his website

Special thanks to The Taunton Press for giving me permission to use these photographs.