I have been making Windsor Chairs for over 25 years ever since I met Stewart Linford- a well known Windsor chair maker from High Wycombe, whilst I was at university. It was during my time working for him I learned so much about their design, construction and the finer details of this iconic chair.
A Windsor chair is defined by having a solid seat, with it’s legs and back socketed into the seat itself. The seats are often heavily shaped for comfort, as well as the backs, so you do not get a pressure area of discomfort that you would otherwise get from a flat seat and back. This makes them the Stradivarius of wooden chairs.
Traditionally made Windsor chairs have a different look and feel about them, than that of a machined, mass produced version, or indeed that of simple joined chairs, that were a popular vernacular chair across many parts of Britain (eg. a Shetland chair- a simple joined chair made on Shetland). These chairs would have been based on the early Wainscot chair, that were made using simple mortise and tenon joints and flat panels, which are uncomfortable to sit on, compared to the sculptured seat and backs of the Windsor chair.
I still use the same traditional hand skills and techniques that the original Windsor chair makers did nearly nearly 300 years ago.
Each chair seat is hand shaped, using travishers and spokeshaves, out of one piece of solid Scottish Elm. When heavily sculptured this reveals an inviting, rich, continuous grain pattern, that is not achievable if the seat was made from jointed planks.
Elm, Yew, Oak and Ash are the predominant woods that I use for the steam bent components and hand turned spindles. The rockers on my rocking chairs are never cut from a solid piece of wood, so as to avoid weak short grain on this most vulnerable part of the chair, but are either steam bent or laminated for strength.
Each of my Windsor chairs can be identified by it’s luxury embossed solid metal plaque, so that it’s provenance can be proved, identifying the maker in years to come.
Windsor chairs have been popular here on Shetland for nearly 150 years, probably since Francis East moved from High Wycombe and set up his Windsor chair factory in Dundee in 1869. These chairs would have arrived by boat, and as can be seen in old photographs are well documented in townhouses and croft houses on Shetland.
A well made and well designed Windsor chair does not look out of place, be it in a Croft house, townhouse or modern contemporary home. The chairs sit quietly with a wonderful timeless appeal about them, which makes them so well loved, and a joy to use.
I don’t think there is anything more satisfying than sculpturing a hand made Windsor chair in the time honoured fashion- a look and feel a machined made chair cannot match.
Windsor chairs are not only comfortable and pleasing to look at, but evoke a sense of nostalgia, security and fond memories in adults and children alike, that become treasured heirlooms.
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