Image above: illustration by Julia Rothman
I feel as if I’ve been heralding the arrival of spring for eons. If you live somewhere with a mild climate (or are enjoying an Australian summer), you’re probably sick of hearing about our long, cold winter. But then, you live somewhere with a mild climate (or are enjoying an Australian summer), so I don’t really feel that sorry for you. We’ve finally had a little taste of warm weather, and I’m starving for more. As a kid, my family would spend every summer hiking and fishing in Mammoth Mountain and these sorts of rustic, twig chairs would be everywhere. So now, whenever I see twig furniture, I feel like summer’s on the way (that and I’m looking for a fishing pole). — Amy A.
Image above: Pair of twig chairs in original varnish. These served in a pulpit in a church in Rainsburg, PA. from The Melrose Project
There are two basic types of rustic furniture construction: twig work and bentwood. For bentwood construction, the twigs are harvested fresh and then steamed (to make them soft) and bent in a variety of directions (think the bentwood design classic — the Thonet chair). In twig work, sticks are usually peeled and then assembled into structures. Twig chairs made their way to English gardens in the 18th century via China. Eighteenth century Brits had an insatiable appetite for all things Chinese and that, combined with the rise of the great landscape gardens with their follies and gazebos, meant that there was a demand for chairs made in naturalistic forms.
In colonial America, gentry usually carted common chairs outside whenever the weather permitted. Gardens and yards were a much-welcomed extension of cramped indoor living spaces. The real moment for rustic, naturalistic furniture in America came in the 20th century when the rustic furniture satisfied dual economic sectors – those suffering from the Great Depression, who made their own furniture out of whatever materials were available and wealthier Americans whose desire to escape to the country created a fascination with camps and ranches.
CLICK HERE for more Twig furniture history + wood accessory favorites!
Image above: Greta Garbo posing with the MGM mascot in an Old Hickory Chair
Prior to the 20th century, most of these rustic seats were produced by artisans. The creation of factory-made rustic chairs was inspired by early hickory pieces made in the Southern states. The first and largest manufacturer was the Old Hickory Chair Company in Martinsville, Indiana. The Hickory Chair Company produced the dining chairs for the Old Faithful Inn at Yellowstone in 1906 (and the same chairs are still used today). Do you have any summer furniture memories? Let me know, if you’d have favorite summer furniture that you’d like to see in an upcoming past & present.
Books to Read
- Chairs: A History — One of my absolute favorite books. I’m a huge fan of author Florence de Dampierre
- Rustic Furniture — I found this at the Strand for $7 — and honestly, I probably wouldn’t pay more than that, unless you have a serious rustic furniture obsession.
Since an actual twig chair might look a little out of place in my Brooklyn apartment, (I’ll save it for my “dream cabin file”) I rounded up a few of my favorite wood-themed products to add a little rustic touch to my home. I don’t have that many wood accessories but I pretty much love anything with a live edge so I’m drooling over that cutting board!
*Just click items in the post images to go directly to their shop pages. We finally learned how to image map the links!