Orkney Chairs

The Orkney chair is so much more than just a piece of furniture. It tells the story of people, place and time.

From its humble beginnings to becoming a much sought after item of furniture, Kevin is honoured to be one of a handful of Orkney makers to carry on this centuries old traditional craft with a long heritage. The design and methods of making an Orkney Chair has hardly changed over the years, but The Orkney Furniture Maker uses only the highest quality timbers including Scottish grown hardwoods felled from sustainably managed woodlands, to Oak and Ash - all to create his chairs to the highest possible standard. He uses the finest furniture oils to finish the chair which brings out the beautiful figure in the wood. The original chairs generally had solid wood seats but The Orkney Furniture Maker also creates chairs with a hand woven seagrass seat for added comfort and appearance. His chairs are also available in different sizes and designs including a Childs Chair, Ladies Chair and a Gents Chair to best suit his client’s needs.

To create his own personal touch and to give him a greater connection to his Orkney Chairs, The Orkney Furniture Maker grows his own oat straw on his family’s farm which is now in its fourth generation; this is also where his workshop is located. During April, the process of growing the straw begins when the oats are sewn. During the early summer months, the young oats benefit from Orkneys long summer days which bring near constant daylight to grow and ripen. When September arrives, the crop is ready to be specially cut. In order to keep the straw in peak condition, a binder or a scythe is used which cuts the crop and ties it into individual sheaves ready to be stooked so the straw can be dried and ripen further. It is during this time that the straw will develop its beautiful, distinctive golden colour which will eventually be the perfect back for your Orkney chair. Each individual piece of straw is then prepared by hand and quality checked before being handstitched as the chair back.

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Gents Chairs

Ladies Chairs

Child Chairs

About the Orkney Chair

The Orkney Chair was first created many generations ago when Orcadian farmers built them for their crofts, although there is little official documentation on the origin of the Orkney Chair as they were originally made out of necessity rather than for sale. It wasn’t until the 1870s when a local carpenter called David Kirkness standardised the design of the chair and started producing them to sell. You can find examples of David Kirkness’s work at the Victoria & Albert Museum in Dundee and London where Kevin’s work can also be admired. The oldest surviving examples of original chairs are examples made almost entirely from straw. It is thought the design began like this and changed through time into a chair with a wooden base and straw back such as the fan back Orkney chair. Over time, the design evolved again in to the style of chair most commonly associated as an Orkney chair today; a chair consisting of a wooden base with attached wooden uprights to support the stitched in back, along with arms and their uprights.

Earlier Orkney Chairs were made from reclaimed timer and had much shorter legs allowing the user to sit much lower to the ground - this was to avoid the sooty air from the peat fires which were common in Orkney crofts. The high, straw back was designed to help protect from drafts and also for added comfort. A hood or a drawer was often added to the design and the drawer was used for storage while the hood prevented drips from the sooty roof landing on the sitters head. Of course, in the earlier days, high quality timbers such as oak or elm were scarce, particularly in Orkney. Due to the rugged, coarse weather and plentiful Orkney shores, there was no shortage of driftwood washed up and this is what they would commonly use to construct their chairs and of course, they could grow their own oat straw for the chair back. The Orkney chair shows the resourcefulness of Orkney crofters and how they combined readily available materials from the Orkney landscape to make a piece of beautiful and functional furniture that has been loved and admired for generations.

For further information or if you have any queries regarding The Orkney Chair, please do not hesitate to contact The Orkney Furniture Maker