The birth of the Oscar Chair

You’ve just designed and made the Oscar Chair, tell us about it…

Stu from Kithe has been designing and prototyping our first chair over the past few months.

With the Oscar, we set out to make a piece that will stand the test of time: a well-made, aesthetically pleasing and comfortable dining chair. I’m very happy with the result! From the joinery to the lofted seat, the simple form really lets the timber speak for itself. It has been an enjoyable process of designing, prototyping and finally coming up with a chair that we were really happy with. We were having a bit of trouble naming it at first, so we named it Oscar after my canine companion.

Although common, the chair is considered one of the hardest objects to design, how did you approach it?

When I design furniture, I think about what it’s going to be used for. For example, an armchair has different needs to a stool: one needs to robust and extra comfortable, and the other needs to be light and mobile. Designing a dining chair is about finding the balance between comfort and aesthetics.

A dining chair is on display much of the time even when it’s not being used, so it should look elegant. Secondly, I know how tight it can get around a dining table, so I decided on a thin frame, kind of like Ponti’s Superleggera chairs, to suit tables of all sizes.

On a technical level, we made a prototype and set about testing it: the strength of the joins, the comfort of the seat and the angle of the backrest, making adjustments where needed. There are always changes to be made, and it took us several prototypes before we got it right.

Have you got a favourite chair?

It would have to be George Nakashima’s Conoid Bench. The seat is made from a large full slab of walnut with a live edge. Nakashima used very old trees and wanted to highlight the distinctive character of each one, choosing only the best and most suited to the design. Each one is unique and showcases the figure of the tree. I really love this approach, allowing the timber to be the star of the design.

How did you become a furniture designer?

I‘ve always been fascinated with making things. As a child, I was obsessed with building forts out of sticks and branches down at the local creek and making objects out of random nuts and bolts in my shed. This continued into my teens, learning woodwork at school and helping my dad build a deck or two.

I started studying Product Design Engineering at Uni but I found it too heavy on the theory and wanted to be more hands-on, so I went into Furniture Design and found a better balance between design and practice.

What are your thoughts on hand-made vs mass produced?

There’s a place for both. People want affordable, well-designed furniture, and like most people, I’ve got some Ikea pieces at home. But I do believe that as a society we need to buy less and better quality: buying only fast-furniture is not sustainable.

Hand-made and custom furniture is not only better quality, but it’s also much more personal: when you have input on the design and create a piece to suit your space, it brings you closer with the furniture. There’s an emotional element to knowing it’s been made for you and inevitably you will appreciate it that much more.

Have you got a favourite timber to work with?

There are two: Tasmanian Blackwood and American oak. And I’m happy to say that the Oscar Chair will be made in both. Blackwood has great lustre and wide colour range.

The colour is similar to Teak but can have streaks of purple, dark brown and black, all the way into the red, pink and blonde. The grain can move and swirl in many different shapes. It requires a bit more thought when selecting and matching the boards, but it’s a really special timber.

Oak has a beautiful golden brown colour and a fine grain with a mostly straight figure, making it a great choice for pieces that require uniformity and consistent colouring. It’s also exceptionally easy to work with, which means I can be pretty ambitious with my designs.

What is your favourite tool?

The chisel of course! It seems romantic, but no furniture maker could make it through the day without one. They are indispensable for big jobs and small, and you can’t beat the satisfaction of handcrafting a perfect join.

I really enjoy sharpening and honing them until they’re incredibly sharp, meaning there’s a relationship you develop with them that doesn’t exist with a drop saw.

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