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ISLANDS OF DESIGN

Hand Crafted Furniture

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Orkney and Shetland, like the Outer Hebrides, had few trees, so driftwood was gathered from the shoreline to make hand crafted furniture. This resulted in each one being an individual design based on the materials that were available. Each island had its own traditions for making dressers, benches or chairs. In the Outer Hebrides the settle was called a beinge or seise, whilst in Shetland it was called a restin chair, and there was one as the focal point in each blackhouse, near the fire.

Orkney chairs were traditionally handcrafted with a particular person in mind, so this affected the style and size of the chair.  They have a number of very practical design features which sets them apart; the most unique and easily recognisable is the straw plaited back. Some will also have the additional feature of a straw hood. Liberty & Co of London recognised the unique design in the early 20th century when they began retailing Orkney Chairs. 

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Like the wooden designs on other islands both the straw features were to keep the draughts out and to keep in the heat from the fire you were sitting beside.  Many also have a drawer underneath to store possessions. Fair Isle is the only other island to feature the straw design although theirs differs from the unique Orkney design with a different frame construction and straw knotting instead of stitching. The Fair Isle design is on the red list for endangered crafts as only one person still makes them.

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