On Friday nights we order pizza and watch a family movie, which means that for at least a portion of the evening—before dishes beckon from the kitchen or our two-year-old loses her will to sit still—all five of us vie for a position on our very modest couch. There’s room, mathematically anyway, for a larger couch in the room, but we move slowly around here, generally waiting for the right piece to arrive deus ex machina-style. Sometimes, it does.
Earlier this winter, we briefly tried taking a more proactive approach to furnishing the room. I crudely photoshopped images of larger, fluffier sofas with ten- and twelve-week delivery delays onto emptied out pictures of our living room. We contemplated giving the room over to furniture entirely and fitting a sectional couch in the corner by the window. Maybe, I thought, we could ignore the awkward bump of the old fireplace. If we treated the wall like a flat one, or angled the couch, or switched the position of the dining room table for the dozenth time, maybe we could make it work. I ordered free fabric swatches and pinned them up around the room while James sent me listings of local secondhand couches. Together we taped the outline of larger couches onto the floor to get a sense of what space we’d be sacrificing. We were served an uncountable number of ads from direct-to-consumer furniture companies hawking nearly identical still-not-quite-right couches. On Friday nights, James dutifully pulled two high-back wooden chairs to face each other and form a makeshift Lazyboy, minus the upholstery, moving parts, or comfort.
Then James found the rocker. A slender nineteenth-century bentwood rocker for sale from a neighbor is not a sectional or a fluffy sofa big enough to seat the family, but it is a place to sit that’s easy to move around, ready to be picked up immediately, and a step up from the purgatory of two dining chairs.
Because of course I would, I went down a rabbit hole of research. Patented in 1875 by the Henry I. Seymour Chair Manufactory in Troy, New York, the simple bentwood construction and the woven blue and cream seat and back is an American mash-up of Thonet’s famous chairs and Shaker furniture makers’ signature taped seats. It was these chairs and others like them that prompted the actual Shaker community to start stamping their own furniture to foil the copycats capitalizing on their designs. I can only imagine what those furniture makers might have made of this mass-produced imposter.
Today, in most places the woven tape is faded to the perfect shade of dusty blue where I imagine the original must have been a rich indigo. Whatever varnish might have once been on the wood is largely gone, the dark bentwood frame patinaed richly and splattered, in spots, with paint or ink or other pigmented things. The chair groans when you ease yourself into it and it protests loudly any raucous rocking from small children, but for now anyway it’s just what we—and the algorithm—didn’t realize we were looking for.
It’s been nearly a hundred and fifty years since this chair was shiny, and new, and arguably, plagiarized. As always, to me, those years are a comfort. Maybe someone—or many people—rocked a baby in this chair. Maybe someone sat for long hours knitting a sweater, or darning socks, or editing a manuscript. Maybe it sat in the corner of someone’s studio and that someone contemplated the world and a vase of poppies from their perch on its woven seat. For now, the low, rounded arms make it perfect for laptop writing. The small size still comfortably fits the adults in the family and cocoons the children who sit in it with legs curled in on themselves. All of us have been dragging it to whatever spot in the room the sun happens to be shining the brightest and we’ve almost made it to Spring.