Modern Mendlesham and 'SLOW' chairs
We all know that the British Isles is home to very many regional varieties of food and drink, as well as accents and dialects - but the same is also true of traditional chair design. This project came out of a desire to investigate this and so in 2017 I traveled around the country, visiting private collections, sale rooms, and out-of-the-way museums, to sketch, measure, and look at exactly what makes a Lancashire Double Bow, a Continuous Arm Yealmpton, or a West Midlands Spindle-Back quite so distinctive.
Researching these old chairs is like reading the label on a French Appellation d’Origine Controlee wine or cheese, and discovering the exact ground - the ‘terroir’ - that produced it. There are many parallels here with the Italian CITTASLOW movement which celebrates local traditions and diversity. Instead of a world where everything is the same everywhere, SLOW stands up for the handmade, the regional, the authentic, the sustainable. If you think ‘slow’ means slow-witted, think again!
Not wishing merely to copy the old designs, I decided to take the ‘feel’ of each chair and update it for today. I got a local chairmaker involved and the first piece in this collection was the Modern Mendlesham which we launched at the Milan Furniture Fair with Designersblock. But the chair company closed down (not because of this!) and so - sadly - the Mendlesham is (so far at least) the only part of the new 'collection'. It has proved very popular and now that I have my own workshop I am making them myself, by hand.
Traditional Mendlesham chairs were made in the Suffolk village of the same name by members of the Day family, who were active from the end of the 18th century until the 1830s. The design is unusual in that a sophisticated, almost Sheraton style back - often strangely elongated - is grafted onto a ‘Windsor’ seat.