Sitting Apart

Humans spend a great deal of time sitting down, whether working in an office, studying in a library, commuting by bus, car, or airplane, or eating in a restaurant. Some seats are far more comfortable than others. --Barry H. Kantowitz and Robert D. Sorkin (Human Factors, 1983)

I quit following straight lines and work with the natural lines that are there. --Warren Schulze (Taggart 2001:B3; see below, Woodworking impressionist)

Consumer product. 1. A piece of furniture with a horizontal seat, quadrupedal legs, an upright back, and horizontal arms, usually designed to be occupied by a single person. 2. Homo sapiens's most diversely styled furniture item.

Usage: Office workers spend the majority of their working days seated in ergonomic swivel chairs. "Office seating has been extensively studied" (Kantowitz and Sorkin 1983:480).

Word origin. The word chair comes from Greek kathedra, "seat," from the 7,000 year old Indo-European root, sed-, "to sit."

Anatomy. "The main weight of the body should be carried by the bony protuberances of the buttocks, more technically known as the ischial tuberosities" (Kantowitz and Sorkin 1983:478).

Animals. The legs of ancient Egyptian and Greek chairs were often carved to mimic the legs and feet of beasts. The legs of ancient Assyrian backless chairs were carved to depict lion claws or the hooves of bulls.

History. ". . . this familiar piece of furniture was not common anywhere in the world until just 300 years ago!" (Manchester 1982:69). Before the widespread use of chairs, people sat on benches, logs, mats, stools, and storage chests. The earliest chairs served as symbols for high-status aristocrats, clan elders, religious leaders, and royalty. Today, the leader of a group seated around a conference table is called "the chair."

Psychology. Asking someone to "please sit down" reduces an opponent's standing height, and thus diminishes effects of the high-stand display. Sitting in a slightly higher chair confers a subtle yet powerful psychological advantage in bargaining and negotiations. Through the nonverbal principle of isopraxism a chair suggests sitting down, because it, itself, appears to be seated.

Rocking chair. The soothing effect of rocking in a chair is due to the vestibular sense (see BALANCE CUE).

Symbolism. More than any other type of furniture, chairs have been elaborately carved, ornamented, and bedecked with symbols of heraldry, power, and wealth. They have become the everyday totems of status and rank.

Woodworking impressionist. 1. "'I had a need to create things with my hands,' Warren [Schulze, former attorney, now chair designer in Rathdrum, Idaho], 41, says, believing forces out of his control pulled him from the mainstream. 'I had to take something from natural materials and create something'" (Taggart 2001:B3). 2. Schulze makes chairs with natural branches and twigs (see BRANCH SUBSTITUTE). "The backs of his chairs reach toward the ceiling like arms stretching for an escaping balloon. His table legs bend with the natural grace of windblown branches. His benches grip the floor with duck-like feet" (Taggart 2001:B3).

Toilet seating. "The Posture Mold seat designed by architect Alexander Kira is contoured and provides proper support for the thighs. This seat was selected for the design study collection of the Museum of Modern Art showing that good human factors can be esthetically as well as functionally attractive" (Kantowitz and Sorkin 1983:482).

Trees. "Until the middle of the 17th century, the majority of chairs in all European countries were made of oak, without upholstery or other cushioning" (Manchester 1982:72).

Vehicular seating I. "Layout of most vehicle cabs begins from a theoretical design eye point. This is an imaginary point in space from which lines of sight are calculated" (Kantowitz and Sorkin 1983:483).

Vehicular seating II. "Anthropometric data also can determine side-by-side seat spacing, that is, how many seats will fit in each row. The crucial dimension is called shoulder breadth. If your shoulders fit, so will your hips" [however, this '. . . does not guarantee you will have much room to move your elbows.'] (Kantowitz and Sorkin 1983:487).

YouTube Video: A Chair for All Reasons

Copyright 1998 - 2016 (David B. Givens/Center for Nonverbal Studies)
News photo of U.S. Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama at a debate in 2008; their angular distance bespeaks the acknowledged disliking they felt as the campaign dragged on (picture credit: unknown).