Chair Making: 1 : A Makers Year 39



The chairs for this Dubai job are very largely upholstered chairs. So this brings Mary Holland, our expert upholstress, into the equation. There is always a battle between chair makers and upholsterers. The chair maker wants a lean, thin, elegant shape. The upholsterer wants to blow it up with a tyre pump and make it look like it’s been inflated like a balloon. A good upholsterer, and Mary is a really good upholsterer, will work with you to get complex shapes and curves which fit inside one another.

The other challenge is to give Mary a frame that she can indeed upholster. She has to have two opposing points to tug against to pull her fabric down. So rails have to be put in just above seats to allow back fabric to tuck in at the back there. The order of operation is also critical. We had in the past to leave crest rail components off so that Mary can upholster and then we fit the crest rail on top of the upholstery.


When making a new chair I give Daren a scale drawing. He then enlarges it up to full size making a prototype chair that we can sit on. That chair is then beaten in to shape by the two of us so that it looks good from all angles, and works like a chair should work. Edward Barnsley ( one of my heroes) used to say that the test of a really good chair is about twenty-five feet away from the three quarters back position, does that chair look good from there?

A new chair is the most difficult challenge a furniture maker can take on. Here you’ve got to create a structure which is light, strong, comfortable, beautiful from all sides and not like anything you’ve seen before. and in our case its got to be done pretty quick.

During the coming few posts we will step though this process with a new chair so you can see what happens.


David established Rowden Atelier in 1995, a now world renowned fine woodworking school. Discover Rowden, the woodworking courses, and the work that students go on to do.

Looking for our woodworking courses? is the new home of Rowden Atelier Fine Woodworking School.

It is where you will now find all the information about our renowned fine woodworking courses, our ethos, and why our students go on to do so many great things. This site remains dedicated to the designs and work, of Rowden’s Founder; David Savage. If you are looking for our woodworking courses, please click here.