While the origins of the Windsor chair are unclear, the spindle backed seats were being made by wheelwrights (using the same techniques used to turn the spindles of wooden wheels) as early as the 16th century before being used in the gardens at Windsor castle - where the form got its name. The story goes that King George III was impressed with this chair while seeking refuge in a peasant cottage during a storm. He brought the design back to be reproduced, and the rest is history!
The chairs were later brought to North America by English settlers and became a popular choice for their lightness and portability, which is achieved by combining sturdy hardwood spindles with softwood seats. Windsor chairs have remained in the arsenal of traditional furniture makers ever since, with vernacular twists in various areas - in Ontario for instance, a paint finish made from buttermilk, turpentine, and cow’s blood became the norm.
Now contemporary interpretations of are showing up in the repertoire of a number of Canadian design studios.
Photo Courtesy: mabeofurniture.com
Back in 2006, Patty Johnson launched the Maun Windsor Chair for Mabeo. Built by craftsmen and women in Botswana, where the Windsor chair was introduced in the 19th century, the clean lines of the piece are meant to complement those of African wooden sculpture.
Photo Courtesy: msds-studio.ca/projects/ancestor-chair
More recently, MSDS Studio (The acronym stands for Make-Shit-Design-Shit) based in Toronto, introduced the Ancestor Lounge Chair, based on a predecessor to the Windsor chair that was more spare in its use of parts and connections, with an emphasis on ease of fabrication. Designers Jonathan Sabine and Jessica Nakanishi aimed to play homage to the succinctness of the original design.
Photo Courtesy: mattherkroeker.com
This year, Matthew Kroeker, the industrial designer behind Top&Derby that's based in Winnipeg, introduced his interpretation of the Windsor - available with and without arms, as part of EQ3’s Assembly collection. Produced entirely in Beech wood, the piece features a continuous steam-bent back and arm rail. Unlike the above versions, Kroeker’s take on the Windsor doesn’t include a “splat” (the flat back piece typical of English versions), instead opting for an all-spindle back, common in American versions.
These simplified interpretations of the Windsor archetype are poised to find themselves equally at home in modern - or more traditional - interiors, and are evidence that our Colonial heritage still shines through in Canada’s contemporary design DNA.
This article was researched and written by Miranda Corcoran, a designer based in Toronto, currently studying Lighting Design at Ryerson University.