Designing a Chair

I often work with interior designers. Recently one that I’ve worked with for many years asked that I think about a design for a client that had  pretty specific requirements for a chair. The client recently having moved into a new condo had a walnut desk of Mid-Century vintage in her new bedroom that needed a chair. The new chair needed to have a look that would fit the design of the desk; it also had to fit the client so that she could sit comfortably at the desk, her stature being somewhat smaller than most chairs are designed for. The chair also had to slide in under the desk when not in use.

I visited the site and took this picture of the desk.

The interior designer remembered a chair that I had done for another client of her’s some time ago and thought that something similar might work in this case although the style would have to be changed to a Mid-Century Modern look.

This chair was designed to look like a Biedermeier chair for a bedroom set I had done in that style. I took this basic chair, changed the dimensions to the ones we had worked out with the client to get the seat height just right and created this first design.

You can see how I took the design detail of the pulls from the desk and put it in the back. Here is a drawing of the dimensions that I gave to the client along with several renderings like the one above.

The client didn’t think that this was what she was looking for so it was literally back to the drawing board for me. I realized that the client had the sense that the chair wasn’t sturdy enough and didn’t offer enough support. That led me to create this next design.

And below you can see the added lumbar support this design offered.

I also created this front view of the design…

…and a line drawing with dimensions.

The client said that this was perfect.

Here is the final product.

A word about the finish I used. Typically the walnut used in Mid Century Modern furniture made before the 1980’s had a lighter color than walnut available today. This is partly due to the interest in darker woods towards the end of the 20th century. It has also become much harder to find walnut logs of the size available before the 80’s with their wide expanses of heartwood. Consequently it became standard for sawyers to treat walnut with steam in the process of drying it. This darkened both the heartwood but also the lighter colored sapwood, giving them more sale-able wood.

I selected the wood for this chair by color and grain pattern. To achieve as light a finish as possible I devised a finish that used several coats of different shellacs top-coated with a mixture of linseed oil and spar varnish. The client said she was very pleased with the chair and finish.

A Deck Chair

Modern Patio Furniture

Deck Chair

Purchase on Etsy

Summer is here and I’ve been thinking about relaxing on my deck, simply watching the world go by. Why not create a really nice patio chair for doing just that? Something inspired by wooden boats,  something reminiscent of Mid Century Modern or Danish Modern design. Something that can take a little weather if it’s left out for the weekend. The more I thought about it the more I started noticing that there are an awful lot of smaller sized balconies attached to some really nice condo units that could use a couple of really nice patio chairs too. If you’ve found my other blog you may know that I’ve been watching the new condos, especially those along the rivers in Milwaukee, pretty closely. (The picture links to that blog if you’re curious.) So, I designed this chair. It’s a little smaller than a lot of outdoor chairs out there so that a couple of them will easily fit on a condo balcony, yet it is very comfortable for even big guys like Todd Fillingham I made the first two out of walnut, which turns out to be very durable wood for outdoor use (used in boat building worldwide), northern white cedar (another boat wood) and stainless steel. The back is easily removed (no tools needed) for shipping and storage . I finished the chair with my own mix of oils and spar varnish.  This is an easy chair, made for sitting back and relaxing, part of what I call my summer stress relief system.  Set it out and sit back. by Todd Fillingham

by Todd Fillingham

by Todd Fillingham Where can you get these? Two are now available on my Etsy site where it is very easy to order online.   I’ll deliver them  in the metro Milwaukee area with no shipping charge. Enjoy the summer!

By the way, I will be recommending on my Etsy site that these chairs be used in a protected outdoor setting however you can leave these chairs out in the weather all summer if you want. The finish may fade some. If it fades too much it can easily be restored, or better yet the chair can simply weather to a beautiful, stylish gray, it will still be just as comfortable. All metal parts are stainless steel so they won’t rust and the woods are highly resistant to rot.

Please feel free to leave a comment here to contact me. Or, if you would prefer you are welcome to use my alternate email address which is . I am also available on twitter as @toddfi .

buy now

Update: I’ve been asked for the dimensions of this chair. Here they are:

deck chair by Todd Fillingham all rights reserved


Over the years I’ve made many stools inspired by the stools Wharton Esherick made. Above is one of my latest.

I keep a copy of a clipping on the wall of my studio that I clipped from a magazine long ago.  It shows an artist’s studio with at least 3 Esherick stools.  Maybe the stools were inspiration, I’m sure they were functional. I have used several of my stools both in my home and in my studio. They’re great. They are light weight, sculptural, comfortable, and get better with age (natural daily polishing of the seat).

Here’s a stool I made many years ago. It was sold through a gallery I was showing in at the time. I like the way I did the rungs. The legs on this stool are square in section. My new stools have lathe turned legs and rungs. I’m thinking of doing a stool soon though that has both turned legs and sculpted rungs.

Above is another view of one of two stools I’ve just finished. This stool’s seat was carved from a gorgeous piece of walnut that was sawn from the crotch of a walnut tree. The grain is extraordinary.

I cut the seat to best highlight the grain pattern.

The second stool I just completed does not have as striking a grain pattern nevertheless it is a very nice looking stool.

A couple of angles are needed to get an idea of what this stool looks like.

Wharton Eshericks stools command a lot of money these days.

Live Auctioneers have one listed at an estimated price of $4,000 – $6,000 with the bids starting at $2,000. Architonic, Sotheby’s, and Rago list similar prices.

The Museum of Arts and Design shows a very nice Esherick stool online as well.

Of course these prices are high because of Wharton Esherick’s name and reputation, and (unfortunately) because he is dead.

I am selling these stools on Etsy at a fraction of the prices listed above (…LOL…). I also have two more stools in the works and will list them on Etsy as soon as they are done.

Are these stools art? They are sculptural, but are they sculpture? I think of them as art furniture. They fall close enough to sculpture on the art- craft continuum for me to sometimes shorten “art furniture” to just “art” because in making them I am expressing a feeling and emotional vision in an abstract way. There is no question that they are functional however, functional beyond the true, fundamental function of art.

If you take a little time to contemplate some of the elements and forms that these stools are made of you may notice a few things. One is that the shape of the legs are different for the 2 stools. This shape shifts a sense of motion (or stability) by adding mass either towards the floor or upward. Another thing you may notice is the angles of the rungs and the space that is outlined by the legs, seat and rungs as you move around the piece. These things are subtle and take time to appreciate, but are some of the elements that I considered when making them

Here’s a link to my Etsy store if you would like to consider owning one (or both!) of these stools.

UPDATE: I just got word of this show: Wharton Esherick: Birth of the American Modern . It looks very interesting.

UPDATE 2: These stools have been sold. I am working on several more as we speak though.

I keep a clipping on the wall of my studio

A Rocking Chair

A friend of mine and his wife are having a baby! They asked if I had a rocking chair design. I hadn’t, but it was something I had been thinking of and working on, off and on, for a long time. I decided to finally complete a design with the hope that my friend would like it and want the chair. Above is a rendering I’ve just completed of my design. Below I’ll write a little about the process of designing the chair.

I knew that one of the biggest hurdles facing me in this project was Sam Maloof. Sam created the definitive craftsman designed and made rocker many years ago. Many, many woodworkers have copied, emulated and been inspired by the Maloof chair and it’s no wonder. Not only is the Maloof chair in many ways beautiful he also published how he made the chair along with drawings with dimensions. The earliest article I’ve found is his “How I Make a Rocker” in the September/October 1983 issue of Fine Woodworking magazine.

Actually I told my friend about the Maloof rocker and he indicated that he had seen versions of it already but he wanted me to re-interpret that rocker in my own way. There were elements of that rocker that didn’t really look right to my eye, that I thought may have been concessions to practicality, to designing a chair that could be sold at a given price point perhaps. This is part and parcel of the design process and I cannot criticize this aspect of the process at all. It is necessary if the design will ever be built. But this did give me an entry point to the design.

I was surprised though that with so many others making versions of this chair no one else had addressed the issues that I saw. So, I decided to use the Maloof chair as my starting point and try and work out those elements that just didn’t sit right with me. In doing that I hoped that I would come up with a design distinctive enough that I could put my name on it.

Kem Weber designed a chair he called the Airline Chair. My sketchbooks have many drawings of variations of this chair and in going back through them to review my past attempts at this summit I decided to pull some of this work out and stare at it for a good long time. You can see an example of Weber’s chair here. And here is one of my sketches that shows the influence of that chair:

After quite a bit of sketching with pencil on paper I moved to my CAD program, Rhinocerous and started “sketching” on the computer. I developed a profile that I found interesting.

The circle and arrow were part of my study of the center of gravity for a person on the rocker.

I also used my “ergo man” to study the profile.

I would return to my ergo man throughout the process to check dimensions and the location of the arms and back spindles. I continued to refine the profile.

I then used the profile drawings to guide me as I built the design up into 3 dimensions. I also used the Flamingo rendering program to apply wood grain and texture to the design. Here is an early rendering I created to see if I was headed in the right direction.

It became apparent to me that I was getting close but still had a lot of work to do. It was right around here that I realized that I did not like the crest rail, that rail at the top that the spindles ended into. It was not only derivative of the Maloof design but it was too heavy for my eye.

Once I changed that rail I was free to change the profile of the back legs as they rose up to meet the crest rail. I was able to then add a curve in a different plane, to bow them slightly. This was getting exciting now.

Here’s an image showing the bow I am talking about.

The above image also shows the changes I made in the front legs. I added material to them and shaped them to reflect the bow of the back legs in the same plane. With the curve of the crest rail I was expressing a cradling of the sitter. I emphasized this cradling by adding curved brackets at the joint of the back legs and the crest rail, up at the top.

I resolved a couple of other issues, particularly the joint of the back legs to the arcs that curve under and support the seat and really felt as if this chair was becoming complete. Here’s another view of the finished design.

Since my friend and I are both surfers, as is my friend’s wife for that matter and their new baby will likely surf as well I did a rendering of the chair in maple with walnut stringers in the seat. A reference to surfboard stringers.

I list the chair on my website here although this is the only place I show the surfer version (so far).

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Found Composition


While digging through my flat files, looking for early designs for rocking chairs, I came across this accidental layering of drawings and thought it interesting.

Chair by Todd Fillingham all rights reserved.

I also uncovered some old drawings I had done, probably in response to having seen some of Gerrit Rietveld’s work in an exhibit of De Stijl furniture.

Chair by Todd Fillingham all rights reserved.

The drawings were too big to fit entirely on my scanner bed so I’ve cropped them.