These Chairs Offend Me

Descending from the ridiculous to the even more ridiculous, consider:

IMG_4887

With my squirrel-level ability to focus and Golden Retriever capacity for distraction, I have been driven nuts for, I dunno, a couple decades by the chairs shown above, a set of which infests the lovely Lady Chapel at a local church.

You must be joking, I hear, from way over here, your generous brains thinking a little too loudly. Could there be anything more innocuous than these bland church chairs? He must be kidding.

Image result for Peet's coffee chairs
For comparison, here is a perfectly bland and functional chair, spotted at a Peet’s Coffee. It does not offend.

You wish.

For a couple decades now, whenever we go to this church, I think to myself EVERY SINGLE TIME ‘what dumb chairs. What a waste of perfectly good wood. They’re so doomed.”  Then my tiny brain, which should be directed at, oh, say, the Mass or God or something along those lines, is instead imagining how I would have designed those chairs, or what could be done to fix them, until somebody launches into a agnus or rings a bell or otherwise brings my attention back to what I’m supposedly doing. For about 0.75 seconds. Then it’s back to chairs.

Why do these chairs so offend? That would take an entire blog post to expla – Oh.

Let me count the ways:

  1. The seat frames are squares of boards joined with finger joints – sturdy enough, but structurally independent of the legs.
  2. the front legs are two straight board simply bolted to the seat. The bolts and maybe some glue are the only thing holding them on.
  3. The back legs are two longer straight boards joined to a curved and padded plywood seat back and also simply bolted onto the seat frame.
  4. All legs are set perfectly perpendicular to the seat and floor.

And? Well, within short order once put into use, those leg joints are going to loosen up, especially the back ones. If you look at the Peet’s chair pictured above, you can note that the back legs are *curved*, integrated into the seat frame, and set at a slightly less than right angle both to the floor and seat. The back leans away to a similar degree.

If you do something crazy in that Peet’s chair, like sitting in it or – heaven forbid! – leaning back in it, the legs are designed to absorb that kind of stress: they are not perfect little levers to transfer all the force of your sitting or leaning directly into the single point where a bolt attaches them to the seat frame. The legs are designed, in other words, to incorporate best chair design practices from at least the last 1,000 years or so of people building chairs.

The church chairs – wow, profound metaphor time! – are built as if all that history never happened, that we clearly superior moderns don’t need to pay no mind to those old dead guys and their perfectly functional chairs.

IMG_4888
Front legs. Oh, the humanity!

The front legs suffer the same flaw: perfectly straight up and down and simply bolted on. Front leg get less of the leaning/sitting/sliding stress than the back legs, but they get some, and over time, loosen up as well.

When one sits in these chairs, there is a wobble ranging from disconcerting to scary.  Many of the chairs have been ‘repaired’.  (I didn’t get pictures. A somewhat crazed-looking old guy with a phone camera taking pictures of chairs in the chapel while the little old ladies are trying to pray: a talk with Father, or possible Officer, O’Reilly gets more likely by the minute.) The repairs are obvious and obviously doomed (not that I blame the repairman – worth a shot): drill a hole or two and stick a couple more bolts through, lather on some more glue, or both.

Ugly. And doomed – such repairs simply invite additional structural failure, and make splitting the wood more likely. I’ve never witnessed some poor soul sitting on the ground in the wreckage of one of these chairs, but I’d be surprised if it had not happened more than once.

For the defense: as designed, these chairs have lasted (with repairs) about 2 decades. How bad can they be? Also, although I’ve never seen them stacked, it’s possible they were designed to be stacking chairs and what I perceive as flaws are there to allow better stacking.

I answer that plenty of stacking chairs aren’t this bad. Further, stacking chairs offend all sound liturgical sentiment: in the same way that paper missilettes embody the ‘disposable Word of God’ sentiment, stacking chairs convey a ‘we haven’t made up our minds what this church building is really *for*’ concept.

How would I have fixed this design?

  1. Integrate the legs into the seat frame, so that stresses are distributed over multiple wood-to-wood contacts (you know, like how every decent wooden chair has been designed for centuries).
Image result for chair joints
A Sam Maloof joint joining the rear leg of a chair to the seat. Functional and beautiful – everything the Chairs That Shall Not Be Named lack! One needn’t go to this level of art, although Maloof cut and fitted these legs mostly using a table saw, a router and a rasp. Just do it like everyone has been doing it for centuries.

2. Curve the back legs so that in the inevitable event that somebody leans back in the chair, the stress is better distributed.

Chair back legs
A lame drawing illustrating the point. Yes, I’m a LITTLE COMPULSIVE. Why do you ask?

Deep breaths. Exhale. Ah, all better now.

 

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Author: Joseph Moore

Enough with the smarty-pants Dante quote. Just some opinionated blogger dude.

10 thoughts on “These Chairs Offend Me”

    1. I noticed they seem to be set up to interlock, but the never are in the chapel. Instead, they seem to move around – never in exactly the same locations or even configurations from one day to the next.

    2. Those are the chairs, but without the kneelers or side holsters for the missals. In the local parish, I’ve never seen them used except as free-standing chairs.

      I hate them.

  1. You’re both fortunate and unfortunate to be able to spot a thing like that. The church I attend has old, apparently original pews from when the church was built in the 1920s, which are rather rickety although still supporting people’s weight after nearly 100 years. You’d probably go nuts if you went to Mass there.

    1. If the pews were originally righteously made of good wood, they should be repairable/restorable. Of course, garbage in, garbage out – just because something is old doesn’t mean it was well made. (Even though reality selects for the survival of well-made stuff, other things being close to equal.)

      You know the scene in Cat’s Cradle where the Nobel prize winner starts wondering about turtles’ necks, and stops doing what the government is paying him to do, until they sneak in and steal the turtles? Apart from not having Nobel prize level intelligence, I am that guy.

  2. I grew up in a parish with these things, and you are right, they’re falling apart at the joints. My dad and uncle have taken home countless ones to re-glue and fix stripped screw-holes.

    1. Thanks. I think bobmounger above is correct, that they are not meant to be chairs but rather ad hoc pews. Even as pews, they are not attractive, but at least according to Bob they tend to last.

  3. I congratulate you on having been able to achieve a life so near to perfection that this is the sort of thing that you find necessary to gripe about.
    Interesting and fun read nonetheless.

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