19 Chairs by two brothers celebrates the objects we have become so familiar with of late
Tom and Will Butterfield have been making a chair a day during lockdown, and are now gearing up to send them around the world to be reinterpreted by other artists and designers.
- Ruby Boddington
- 29 May 2020
During the pandemic, many a creative has been keeping themselves busy with a side project or two. And brothers, Tom and Will Butterfield, from south London, are no different. From the workshop at the end of their garden, the pair have been working away on a time-killing but ultimately meaningful project titled 19 Chairs. The concept is simple: using 27mm square section timber and 40mm screws, the boys designed one chair every day for 19 days. Now they are gearing up to send the chairs to creatives across the globe who will reinterpret each design to be auctioned off in support of Age UK.
Both brothers attended Kingston School fo Art for their art foundations. Tom, 26, moved onto Northumbria University before moving to Copenhagen and, since returning to the UK in 2018, he’s been working as a freelance designer for Tom Dixon. Will, 22, stayed on at Kingston to study graphic design, and is currently in his final year.
As many of you reading this will know, being freelance or a soon-to-be-graduate right now is tricky and it was out of their respective situations that 19 Chairs was born. “From the damage caused by Covid-19, and as a freelance designer, it has been difficult to find work,” Tom tells us. “However, with more time on my hands, it has marked as a great opportunity to keep busy being creative. 19 Chairs is an itch that I’ve been meaning to scratch for some time now.” With Tom set on making a series of chairs, it was when he told Will the idea that the project grew into something else. “When I spoke with Will about the idea of making chairs in lockdown he was certain that with some extra thought and a slight shakeup there was something bigger and better waiting to happen,” Tom says, with Will adding “making 19 chairs is a great achievement, but what is its purpose?”
So what is that purpose? It’s a celebration, the brothers tell us, of the every day items we have become more familiar with during lockdown. It’s an ode to the chair, you could say, using readily available materials. In turn, it’s both an interesting exercise in designing with restrictions, and the creativity that forces, but also in collaboration – between Will and Tom, and also the designers who will be reinterpreting each chair.
On why they set themselves these specific restrictions, Tom tells us that it was because “lockdown has meant that a lot of businesses have had to close, so it was important that we used easily sourced materials.” And while these restrictions seemed somewhat “challenging when designing and building 19 chairs,” the results prove that “limitations aside, using just the bare essentials it is possible to create a unified collection. Understanding the basic ergonomics I was able to design 19 functioning chairs that all look different from one another.”
Describing the project as a series of simply “functioning chairs” seems to be somewhat downplaying the ingenuity and sheer creativity that has gone into the design of each piece. Somehow, what the pair has created is a series in which each chair is vastly different from the last, despite being made from such basic materials. Flicking through the designs brings on a certain joy, only obtained from witnessing the kind of project you just know was a lot of fun to make. All this is furthered by their fantastic documentation of the project, and the mini-site which sits alongside everything else.
So now it’s time to send out the chairs to 19 collaborators, the line-up of which will be announced on @19chairs soon. “For Tom and I, it was important that that stage two of 19 Chairs made a connection with our chosen charity Age UK,” says Will. “The brief is simple, ‘reinvent, reimagine or redesign your chair with an older person in mind.’ The possibilities are endless!”
If you’re interested in taking part in stage two of 19 Chairs, you can get in contact with Will and Tom via their website.
About the Author
Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor.