Friday, October 16, 2009

Dining in Comfort

There are just a couple of things that make for a good dinner party: the conviviality of the guests, the food, of course, and a pleasant, comfortable ambiance. I am pretty attuned to the first two factors but the third one does not come naturally to me. I often unconsciously choose appearance over comfort. And this leads me to talk about dining room chairs.

I have a friend who has strong opinions about dining room chairs. To his mind, they are a conspiracy to keep chiropractors in business and to shorten dinner table conversations which he would very much like to prolong. At my house, he is able to sit through the main course and perhaps a salad course, but at his limit, he bounds to his feet saying “These are the worst dining room chairs in the world. You need some chairs like mine.” We move to the living room for dessert and at last he can find some comfort for his modestly padded behind.

So, you might ask, what are these remarkable chairs he wants everyone to buy? They are vintage Hermann Miller office chairs, a version of which you might be sitting on right now in front of your computer. They are good-sized, with arms and rolling casters, upholstered in durable fabric in a variety of colors, many of which he has. He bought them used maybe eight years ago from a discount office supply place in Emeryville. His six surround a table which could seat ten or more people.
There are a couple of disadvantages for the typical dining room. These chairs take up a lot of room. You need to have a large table and an even larger room to incorporate chairs this big. On carpet, they don’t roll particularly well. And on hardwood floor, they can leave roller indentations. In my opinion, they are not destined to show up in a House Beautiful photo spread for the latest in dining room fashion.

But he’s absolutely correct: they are the most comfortable dining room chairs you could ever want. You and your dinner guests can linger over the food and a good conversation as long as you or they desire, comfortable and padded in every regard.

I’m probably not going to trade in my chairs for his rolling variety. But I have been led to consider other possibilities better suited to comfort and perhaps stylish and pretty at the same time. Ideas?


Jim Gunshinan said...

I think I'm with the chubby-butt deprived friend Catharine. Comfort may be number 1 for me when entertaining guests, or just having a meal with my partner. Good food and wine follow a close second.

My chubb seems to have migrated from my butt to other areas. That's why I like some padding.

Anonymous said...

I recognize those chairs!!! Part of a dissertation and quite a few poems got written in them.

A particular satisfaction involving chairs with wheels and a giant table: when alone one can have apple slices and peanut-butter crackers at one end of the table, one's work at the other, and rollllll back and forth now and then for sustenance without getting cracker crumbs on the computer.

When other diners are present, rolling adds a whole new dimension to the drama and pleasures of eating together. One can go "visit" another diner mid-meal; for instance, utilizing one's seated mobility, one might kiss a dining companion then roll discreetly back to one's own proper place. Try doing that on regular chairs!

Anonymous said...

8 years ago, we found wonderful dining room chairs in Seattle at McKinnon Furniture. At the time, they only sold this dining chair, insisting it was the most comfortable they'd found. We love them. They have sort of high backs and the vertical wood members curve in to fit your back. Our dinners have been known to last hours with no one wandering off.

Tim said...

Function or Form...something to sit on...the problem has been driving designers crazy since mammals got tired of standing. And truly for some, aesthetic stress can be as difficult to endure as a sore bum.

So, for a gracious host, it becomes a storage problem.

If some underlying premise of a dinner party is to pleasure one's guests, then each, his choice of chair, is the only really ecumenical solution.

I feel your pain.

Dante Noto said...

I'm one of those people who is usually eager to get away from the dinner table and "retire to the living room" for conversation. Maybe it's a gendered thing from growing up: the men would retire to the family room to watch tv and the women would stay in the dining area or some other place to talk. I do remember that we were constantly experimenting with different dining table chairs; I can recall each style vividly. (We also went through a phase of beanbag furniture in the family room!) Right now we're trying to choose comfy chairs for a lounge space at work. The quest for style and comfort is long and arduous!

Ben said...

I have to admit, your chairs are pretty uncomfortable and I still have a gigantic butt. They were also made for people 5'4" and under.