Sitting Firm – chairmakers
Coventry, West Midlands
Sitting Firm is company founded by Dave Green in 1989 for the manufacture of traditional Windsor chairs, and is based in the lovely Warwickshire countryside between Coventry and Birmingham. In July the company celebrated its 25th anniversary.
The definition of 'Windsor' in chair design is a wooden chair which has its legs and back spindles all fitted into a solid seat. It's a brilliant method of construction, which is hard to beat – especially as the natural shrinkage of the timber seat tightens all the joints as the wood dries out. The earliest Windsors date back to the 1700s - maybe earlier - and they were always honest country chairs, made for use rather than show.
Dave Green trained at Rycotewood College and learnt chairmaking while working for Fauld Chairs. Later he set up on his own and within two years was employing sixteen skilled craftsmen. 'How easy is it to get the right people for this sort of work?' I ask him. 'I've been very lucky,' says Dave 'with the people who've come to work for me. I've trained them all up from scratch and they've been extremely loyal.' At one point, before the financial crisis, forty-two were employed in the workshops; now it's settled back down to a more manageable sixteen. Rather like the 60s rock band Canned Heat, Sitting Firm is a 'family' – and sees itself as such. Everyone has a nickname ('Beard', 'Rossa', 'Arnie', etc.,) and many have been here for fifteen or twenty years. There's family loyalty here. I ask Beard what it's like to work here. “There's a lot of variety,' he says, 'and working with all these well-known designers means there's always interesting and varied projects on the go. We've all become specialists in our own skill, and then I'm always learning new skills from Dave and the others.' I ask Rossa the same question. 'I love the challenge of the projects and the deadlines set – every day's different. And our chairs go all over the world – I'm proud to be involved with that.'
There are other chairmakers in this country, but Sitting Firm is unique in having all the processes under one roof. Turning, steam-bending, adzing (ie seat shaping), carving, assembly, and polishing – all work is carried out by a specialist craftsman with that particular skill. Some work is done by hand, some by machine. A few years ago Dave Green and I went 'bodging' (as greenwood chairmaking is called) and discovered for ourselves the back-breaking effort needed to adze a seat by hand. Dave had already solved this problem at the factory by commissioning an Italian machine company to design and produce a rotary adze; this is currently the only one of its kind in the UK.
Dave and I met in 2008 while we were both working on the same project for another company, and I was immediately impressed with the whole Sitting Firm set-up. 'You should make some contemporary versions of these chairs,' I suggested. 'You design them, and we'll make them,' said Dave, and that's what happened. These days 70% of production at Sitting Firm is for the contemporary market and many other designers have come on board. 'It's all down to you,' Dave told me recently, 'you've changed the whole company!' That's a nice thought but in reality I think that for the company to survive the move towards modernism would have happened at some point. In my view this is the way forward for craft – get involved with designers and modernise!
(above) Arnie legging-up a Stickback Double Bow
(above) Arnie fitting arms to a Stickback Double Bow
(above) A video showing Katie Walker's Windsor Rocker being made at Sitting Firm. This award-winning design is now on sale at Heal's, Tottenham Court Road.