Now I Sit Me Down: From Klismos to Plastic Chair: A Natural History

Like his reflections about the screw and screwdriver (One Good Turn) and meditations on building a house (The Most Beautiful House in the World), Witold Rybczynski's Now I Sit Me Down is as much a personal journey through the culture and art of chairs as it is about their history, design and manufacture. Both breezy and informative, the architecture professor takes readers along as he and his wife buy their first set of dining chairs, and serves as guide through short biographies of furniture heavyweights like Chippendale, Thonet, Eames and Aalto. Before he gets going, however, he observes, "The world is divided into people who sit on the floor and those who sit on chairs." This divide is not easily bridged: "A chair in a room of floor-sitters is a rude intruder.... Sitting on the floor among chair-sitters disrupts the order of things, which is probably why teenagers like to do it."

The chair is a symbol. The throne is power. "Getting the chair" means execution. A plebian male is known by his La-Z-Boy while his uptown counterpart shows off his Eames chair and ottoman. An academic leader is "The Chair." Rybczynski explores dozens of famous chairs like the Windsor, Boston Rocker, Adirondack and Aeron ("the hubris of the dot-com bubble"), the "downright homely" aluminum/nylon-webbed lawn chair and the umbrella baby stroller ("as functional as a fighter-plane undercarriage"). Now I Sit Me Down is really about human nature where "there is nothing natural about sitting on chairs." As he summarizes: "Every chair represents a struggle to resolve the conflict between gravity and the human anatomy." Rybczynski is a treasure. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

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