Recently I have been noticing adjustable back chairs, sometimes referred to as ratchet chairs, in magazines and on web sites. It brought to mind a classic version of this chair that Formations makes - the Italian Ratchet Chair.
I have wanted to use this chair for projects on several occasions in the past. For some reason the chair was always met with resistance by the client. I don’t know why as I think it has this interesting element of an exposed mechanical feature, plus the option of reclining (the precursor to the Barcalounger but with infinitely more style).
I did a little research into the history of this type of chair and found that most versions of this chair were prevalent in the later 1800’s to the early 1900’s. The design seems to have originated with William Morris and Company. A prototype chair made by a carpenter named Ephraim Colman was adapted by renowned architect Philip Webb (often referred to as the ‘Father of Arts and Crafts Architecture’) for a chair to be produced by William Morris and Co. The chair was widely copied after Morris’ introduction and has varied from very ornate Victorian styles to American Craftsman, all featuring some sort of “ratchet” style metal hardware allowing for the back to recline into 3-4 positions.
In 1905 Josef Hoffmann created a beautiful beechwood and sycamore bent wood chair, called the Stizmaschine, for his Purkersdorf Sanatorium in Vienna. The sanatorium was an important commission for Hoffman and his partner Koloman Moser as it represents one of there earliest experiments in unifying a building and it’s furnishings as a total work of art. The Sitzmaschine was a clear reference to the the English Arts and Crafts chair known as the ‘Morris’ chair. Several versions of this chair were made, most with cushions on the seat and back.
Somewhere along the way someone made this lovely Louis XVI ratchet wing chair, which is part of a collection of chairs belonging to Rose Tarlow.
Which brings us to the most recent versions of the ratchet chair. Restoration Hardware is offering this desk chair version called the Bruges Desk Chair and below it the French Dentist chair.
And, my favorite of them all, the Gilda Chair designed by Carlo Mollino for DDC, in oak-died ash with leather upholstery. Reclining should be this beautiful!
As Marilyn Monroe sang in her cover of the Irving Berlin song “You’d Be Surprised”:
"At a party or a ball, I’ve got to admit, he’s nothing at all. But in a Morris chair, you’d be surprised." ooh lala!