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The Evolution (or lack thereof) Of The Chair.


At some point in history, people stopped trying to improve the chair. And by “improve” I don’t mean make cuter- we’ve got a lot of cute chairs. I mean make better. Ergonomically better. More comfortable. More body friendly. 


We get a new version of the iPhone every six months and we line up for hours to get our hands on the most minor of updates, but we haven’t had innovation in sitting that’s made us all collectively “oooh and aaah” in a long time… or maybe ever. We use chairs just as much as we use our iPhones-in fact, it could be the one thing we use more than our phones. Even when we’ve designed different types of chairs that have a ton of scientific and ergonomic proof that they are better for us than the typical right angle chair (like the KNEELING CHAIR!) they were never widely accepted as a normal way of sitting.


Whenever I’ve had someone new come to my house and spot my kneeling chair I am always, met with a handful of questions and they are always a version of the same question:


“What is it?” “Is that a chair?” “How do you sit in it?” “Can I sit in it?” “Do you actually use it?” “Does it work?” “How does it work?” etc, etc, etc. 


What is our deal with the chair? Why can’t we see past it? We are quite literally stuck in our ways when it comes to sitting and it’s so puzzling. Chairs come in every different style, are made in every different material and fabric and are used in every situation imaginable but still, the best we seem to be able to do is place our bodies in a 90-degree angle- which is actually an incredibly difficult posture to maintain. 


Trends are (by nature of the word) constantly changing, but the only sitting trend that’s changed for sitters (aka, all of us) is the appearance of the chair, not the actual mechanics behind it (with the exception of the kneeling chair.. holla!). Sometimes it feels like the ancient Egyptians made a chair template and for the next billion years we’ve just stuck to that template making very minimum (and tbh, very useless) changes. 


One thing I understand is probably getting in our way is the fact that we are all different shapes and sizes and have our own specific requirements in order to attain “perfect posture”. It is quite literally impossible to please everyone which I imagine can be very discouraging for designers, but surely we can do better than we have done so far. 


It’s a cold hard fact that when our hips are placed in a 90-degree angle (the angle most chairs place us in) we start to curve forward creating a C-shape with our spine. When the seat of our chair is placed at a more obtuse angle our pelvis tips forward and opens up and, in a chain reaction our spine straightens out. This eliminates unwanted tension, curved shoulders, an overextended neck, etc, etc, etccccc. We know this- so why don’t the masses know this? If they knew it would they throw out their right angle chair and adapt to the kneeling chair or something equally as ergonomic?  


My curiosity about our blind spots when it comes to sitting led me to do more research about the evolution and history of sitting and chairs in general- most importantly when did our open-mindedness about it stop? Humans are natural-born innovators, so what is it about the chair is stumps us so much? Why are we so unwilling to let a new way of sitting enter our workplaces, homes, and lives? Why are people still so unaware or unsure about the kneeling chair? 


WHY ISN’T IT POPULAR YET?!?!


So, without further ado- here’s a brief (super brief) history of the chair….

Fact: Chairs didn’t originate in classical Greece.

Chair sitting was already a widespread practice in ancient Egypt- we’re talking 2850 BC. The oldest physical chair was found in the tomb of King Tut who died in 1352 BC. There are paintings and hieroglyphics on temples that show chairs were used by many people, not just royalty.

FUN Fact: The Egyptians were buried with the things that were important to them and would help them out in the nest life and therefore they were buried with chairs! That's how we know about their involvement with chair design. Fascinating!

Like many things it’s likely the Greeks adopted the sitting culture from the Egyptians, closely followed behind the Romans.

As social conditions changed, chairs changed. By the 1600s decorations had become part of the design of ordinary chairs. Throughout this century furniture became more stylish. There was a big change in England during the Restoration period when carving and inlaid decoration began to appear on chairs.

The term ‘arm chair” was first adopted during the seventeenth century to distinguish chairs with arms from back stools. It was during this period that chairs became more common as life became more sociable. Padded armchairs with high backs and decorative knobs at the tops of the uprights began to appear in rich homes.

The eighteenth-century is widely viewed as an apex in chair history because of the new attention paid to comfort and artistic unity. Whether or not chairs succeeded in uniting the two, they continued to play a part in social differentiation. Not surprisingly, the American social history of the chair roughly recapitulates that of Europe- status over comfort, baby!

By the nineteenth century, the Industrial Revolution made a huge difference in how much time Americans and Europeans spent sitting. Industrial work was more likely to be seated than agricultural work. Historians really downplayed the significance of people sitting for longer periods of time, but some have at least been alert to the contract between the conservatism of chair design and the rapidity of social change during the nineteenth century. 

Then the twentieth century hit and it’s obvious that style rather than technology-dominated furniture design… Here are some whacky chairs we were more quick to adapt than we have been to adapt the kneeling chair- an actual ergonomically valuable chair. 

The Butterfly Chair

The Wassily Chair

The Freaking Bean Bag Chair

 

The Rietveld Chair
(designed by a cabinet maker and is essentially a cabinet you sit on)

None… I repeat NONE of these chairs offer any ergonomic value whatsoever. As time has gone on, we've become more dependent on chairs as work became more and more office-based and sedentary, and our lives became more social. Chairs have become second nature to us and therefore invisible to us.

So is that it? Has the way we sit become so ingrained into society and our day to day lives that we’ve stopped even noticing it? Have we become so used to experiencing aches and pains while we work that now we assume they are a part of getting older and not caused by our environment?

If that’s the case, what has to be done to make it visible again? To get us talking about, questioning and innovating the way we sit. What is it going to take for us to start to sit differently? Maybe it’s too late. Maybe our bodies have grown and evolved around the chair too much and we can’t undo all that time- but, I refuse to accept that. That’s why we’ve created Sleekform- to reduce the abuse our sedentary lifestyle puts on us.

The fact of the matter is that it’s going to take a determined group of adapters to take ergonomics and really run with it. To refuse to accept that a healthy, smartly designed chair can’t be stylish. We may look a little crazy at first in our new, swanky kneeling chairs, but it won’t take long for people to jump on the ergonomic bandwagon, first, they just need to know that the option is out there. 

At Sleekform we are ready to start a full-blown sitting revolution and write the next chapter of societal history. We are passionate about giving everyone the opportunity to have an alternative to their right angle chair. It’s time we stop growing our bodies around the furniture we build, and start to create furniture built for us rather than furniture designed once and forcing our bodies to develop in order to suit it… and also have it still look great, duh. 

So join us and help us with the movement! Let us know in the comments below how you are taking steps to improve your sitting posture.


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