I bought my first small chair in 1986, just after my initial East coast portfolio review as an illustrator. (Although I’m certain he won’t remember, it was an appointment with Alex Isley at the then-newly-launched SPY Magazine). I was gearing myself up for the next appointment, when I spotted a little green metal chair in the window of an antiques store.
I’m not sure what compelled me to purchase it exactly, but that chair — which still figures among my favorites — launched a collection that has since grown to roughly 200 examples.
I don’t claim to be a serious collector, able to recite the origin and provenance of each piece I acquire; rather, I buy these small chairs for their visual appeal: it’s all about the installation. Will this item round out a grouping of hand-made wooden seats? Or add something to my set of 1940’s cantilevered kitchen chairs? Does it appeal because it reminds me of my own printed tin ranch-style dollhouse from the early 1960’s? (I briefly collected those, too, but they took up way too much room.) I think of the chair as historically iconic, but perhaps more specifically — and personally, for me — as a symbol of home.
At first I found miniature chairs at flea markets and tag sales. Then my friends began to send me chairs found on their travels to exotic places like Greece and Cuba and Italy. Soon, I began receiving furniture-themed items —chair-shaped buttons and frames, cards and artists’ books, even jewelry.
But the reduced-scale chair itself has remained the core of the collection. Overall, the chairs that have a slightly unbalanced, homespun quality probably charm me the most. A two-year stay in London yielded some of my favorite chairs, including a metal chaise longue, and another, made by our then-8-year old daughter from twigs found outside our London flat. Conversely, I often find myself drawn to the VITRA reproductions — but so far, I’ve only given in to the iconic Eames chair and another enchanting specimen by Josef Hoffmann. Although I secretly wish I had more of these, I tell myself that anyone can buy those: after all, where’s the joy of the hunt? But the truth is, I’ve never felt I could justify the cost of these small reproductions until I had all the full-size chairs my home needed. And given my ongoing tiny furniture addiction, that has yet to happen.