Favorite chairs

The idea of a favorite chair! What an interesting thing this is, yes? Something that maybe takes us back into our animal pasts, for isn't it a common observation of pet owners that beasts find favorite spots to rest. So what we choose In a favorite chair has to say something about our animal selves (always good for cerebral creatures like us) and also about our notions of pleasure. Show me a person's favorite chair and I'll tell what kind of vacations he takes and how she behaves in bed.

My favorite chair is an original Backsaver chair, in which I spend an embarrassingly large proportion of my waking hours. With a laptop available I need never leave it except to pursue the necessities of nature. I say original, because the Backsaver company no longer makes chairs of this model. I bought it 25 years ago because my previous favorite chair, a rose velvet love seat full of cat fleas, had turned my vertebral column into a loose association of small jagged fragments. I bought it out of a catalog for around a grand, black leather, maple frame. Okay, so this is perfect design,a work of genius. My back hurts, I sit in this chair and the pain goes away! It is literally saving my back!

So after a while, maybe five years, I decide to buy another one, so I could sit in the living room and socialize without irritating pain. By this time they had Backsaver stores and I went to one, looked around, and asked them if they had an original, and they said no they didn't make that one any more, they only had the models in the showroom. My heart sank, because they had improved a perfect thing. They had covered the beautiful curved wood with padding and had thickened the padding on the seat and changed the shape of the pillow. I sat in one. I seemed wrong, but I bought one anyway, twelve hundred, white leather, birch frame.

And it was a disaster. It was too short, for one thing, and the thicker padding somehow took away from the perfect back support. And it was ugly, they had taken all the lightness and elegance away. It looked like a Barca-Lounger or one of those massage chairs. But St. Vincent de Paul was not so picky and they took it away.

How could they do that, take something perfect that they had created and screw it up? Marketing? They found the 68.8 % of the chair-buying population likes puffy and clumsy and really soft? A mystery.

The same thing happened to the Eames chair, which you wouldn't necessarily know unless you owned an actual Eames chair, made by Eames. My mother found one of these in a junk shop forty years ago and picked it up for about twenty bucks and sometime later gave it to my wife. It was her favorite chair. I wanted one too, and so I bought one off the Internet from the current manufacturer. And it was wrong. They had a perfect design, from the hand of one of the greatest designers in American history, and they improved it. They made the base squatter and the back higher and they added a silly, floppy pillow. It is comfortable enough to sit it and I shouldn't complain, but it is nothing like the original to look at or sit in. It has neither grace nor sculptural authority, and its aluminum has the cheap sheen of a kitchen appliance rather than the almost supernatural glow of the original's metal. You can pick up an original Eames chair with the hassock for about $3500, which is a little outside my range. But I already have a favorite chair, so that's all right.

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