Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Twelve Office Chairs (and One Dog)

An Informal Survey of Seats

We use them all day long, yet we don't really think about them much, the chairs in our offices, and even then it's usually in the negative --- if our backs hurt, we complain about the chair.   Otherwise, nothing.  We ignore them until the next time we start complaining. (In this way, office chairs resemble how we usually treat the classified staff IN the chairs.)

Some office chairs have ended up in art museum, including the 1994 Aeron Chair (shown below). This one here is from 1849 and has sprung-steel bands to give it bounce and tilt. I love the art-deco-ish metal work on the arm rests.

A fun survey of chairs can be found in this book, below, from where the 1849 chair comes, along with a few other shots in this blog.  It breaks it all down, from headrest to footsies.

According to this book, there is no part of the office chair that has not been tweaked or corrected or made to look new and improved, and some "modern" designs are older than automobiles and electric lights. Look for example at this sequence of arm rest designs.

These arm rests don't look classic, they just look tired.  (And they don't look like they were ever comfortable, not even in 1965, when the chair was probably delivered to us.)  This chair, rescued perhaps from the Island of Unloved Toys, lives in the break room in OF3.

 The world is full of abandoned office chairs --- not quite comfortable enough to be somebody's desk chair at a work station, yet not quite so broken as to be eligible for the dumpster, or at least not for a dumpster behind a school or natural history museum. This chair below is in the Ornithology Department at the Museum of Natural History in Exposition Park. The bird on the table is a dead condor which I was studying as part of a review of wild animals in Los Angeles.  Hard to imagine, but Pasadena and even Hollywood would have been filled once with condors, just as the Antelope Valley had antelope. (And Grizzly Bears too, if we were going back a few hundred years.) Now we have landfills and bad office chairs.

 In OF3's break room there is an office chair that is a bit confusing to people, but I do remember the story behind it, as it (or was) mine.  When I was hired in 1989, AVC still allowed instructors to control small aspects of their lives, including, in some rare instances, their office desks and chairs.  I was having back trouble then, and Vice President Rae Yoshida (long may her name be remembered with honor and joy) authorized an odd chair, the one here.

How it works is, you sit your behind the higher part (on the right, above) and then tuck your legs under, kneeling on the padded part in front.  It supposedly kept your back in an ideal posture while typing. Well, it may have done so indeed, but it also wasn't the right size for me in some ill defined way, and while it may have saved my back, it blew out my knees. (Now my office chairs are from Staples; I paid for them myself.)  Some chairs date themselves very swiftly, such as this design, the first one, which is from the 1970s, and the one below it, more timeless yet seemingly "from" the 1990s.  It just has that look, doesn't it?

The top of the two is by Olivetti, and even has a 1970s name, "Synthesis 45."  Injection-molded plastic was a new thing then. As for the second chair above, that is one I hear about on the radio a lot. One of the sponsors of National Public Radio programming is the "Herman Miller Aeron Chair Now Available in True Black." I have heard that for years, but its inclusion in the chairs book (and its inclusion, according to its website, in the Museum of Modern Art's design collection) made me look up more about it.  I guess it really must be a pretty good chair, since it costs $850, plus shipping.

The Administrative Assistant in Language Arts is a wise and long-suffering person named Donna Casey, and if you are even in the LS1 building do stop in and say hi, as she is a true gift to our Division --- and to the campus as a whole. When she learned I was doing the blog on chairs, she reminded me to include those bouncing ball chairs that are also supposed to be good for strengthening the back. I have one at home that is too small for me, though visiting toddlers like to roll it around the living room, and Lucy likes it too since its height is such my hands come down just to a good level for petting.

Next time I redo my AVC office though, if I can't convince my dean to buy me the Herman Miller Aeron Chair Now Available in True Black ("But they talk about it on the radio!" I can explain), then maybe we can go more retro / cool / frontier looking. Here is something from a folk art collection in Kentucky, a classic American chair from the 1890s.  By then America was becoming settled --- we were winding up a successful 200 year genocidal relationship with Native Americans and had pretty much shot the buffalo into oblivion.  Nostalgic for the lost American West and the values it supposedly represented, city slickers began to collect antler furniture, such as this item below.  It was an international fad; in England, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert had furniture like this, but theirs came from Germany.  Hmm, with tastes like this in Buckingham Palace, no wonder Lady Di never got along with the royal family.

Maybe the best office chair is not to have a chair at all --- or an office.  Here is Life magazine photographer Margaret Bourke White doing her job, which is to say, making art, and in this case, doing so on top of the Chrysler Building.  I happened to see a similar shot recently, something very nicely done by Vincent Laforet, and besides the use of color, can you notice another difference?

Here is the recent shot, taken the same place.

Ah yes, the legally required safety harness.  And so with that, can we predict the office chair of the future? It should have cup holders (after all, don't most new cars have, like, ten cup holders in them?), and maybe built-in heating and cooling elements (again, like expensive car seats). But what if you make a sudden roll towards the filing cabinet yet go so fast you tip over?

That is right. What the office chair of the future will come with will be seat belts. That . . . and with a stack of forms saying that if you burn yourself on the cup of coffee in your cupholder while racing up and down the newly waxed hallway floor, it won't be the chair company's fault. 

And last point on this topic, when your office furniture wears out, please don't just dump it in the desert.  No, not at all.  After all, there is a very special place to throw away broken office furniture --- the break room in OF3.


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  5. I really like how your seat venture converted out! It looks excellent. I retrieved an seat last season to use in my class room. My own went from greyish to grayscale chevron. Off to examine out some more of your posts!

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  6. Great post! There are more modern looking and comfortable chairs that came out in the market. You should also check those out, I like the Steelcase Leap Chair. But Aeron Chair still stands strong even up to this year.

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