The Orkney chair is a traditional piece of furniture dating back many hundreds of years. While many of the old straw crafts have died out, the Orkney chair is still in production, taking pride of place in the home of many Orcadians as well as being shipped all over the world. Originally the chairs were made completely of straw, the only wooden part being the four feet protruding from the bottom. Due to the lack of trees suitable for furniture production on the islands, driftwood thrown up on the beach was often used.
Developed through local tradition, the Orkney chair originated from a simple piece of furniture that the islanders could make for themselves with what materials were readily available. In its very early stages it was nothing more than a low round stool covered with straw. It was then developed into a low chair by the addition of a straw back some two feet in height. The short stumpy legs of older chairs kept the person sitting in the chair close to the ground to avoid the smoke from the open fires, which were in the middle of the room in the old farm crofts. The addition of a hood to the chair gave the occupant shelter from draughts, but not all people liked the idea of being enclosed. A drawer was also added for the man of the house the keep his personal belongings in.
A chair back that has a proper shape should rise up straight for some fourteen rows, depending on arm height, and then start to slope outwards, thereby supporting the lower and upper back of the sitter. Originally designed by crofters, the chair is an optimum shape that keeps the heat in and the coldness out.
Nowadays the Orkney chair is displayed with a decorative as well as functional purpose. One very important thing that has remained unchanged is the way in which the Orkney chair is constructed. Only locally grown straw is used to make the backs, which are intricately woven by hand. The chair frames, originally made from driftwood found on nearby shores, are now generally made from the best quality wood available and beautifully finished by hand. This mix of tradition, history and a unique design make the Orkney chair a very special heirloom to be displayed with pride in any home.
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