Decorating Guides

Origins Revealed: The Orkney Chair Goes to Haute From Humble

There’s a seat once made by farmers and fishermen on the remote Orkney Islands (off the coast of Scotland), crafted from whatever materials they can scrape together. Now called Orkney seats, today they grace a number of the chicest homes round the world, as well as the furniture collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum. Everything about the seats was created of necessity; made for modest homes, the original seats were written of straw and driftwood. Here is how they’ve evolved.

Taste Design Inc

The Orkney chair provided a place to sit near the hearth; its back blocked chilly storms while enveloping its occupant from the warmth from the flame. Therefore, it’s also known to sometimes as the Orkney heating seat.

Function determined its form initially, however, the chair is now used to add texture and character into well-appointed rooms. Once a very short chair that was nearer to the flame but past the sooty air, it has evolved through the years.


Orkney Island Hooded Chair

From the 1870s Orkney resident David Kirkness started a joinery workshop and started to create the seats across the side, but they soon became his most popular item. The style of most of the reproductions available today is dependent on his seats, which he created from designs passed down through many generations.

Kirkness crafted versions for gentlemen, women and children, and made a hooded version with a drawer. It is transformed by the hood . The drawer beneath is the correct size for a knitting project, a publication or perhaps a bottle of whiskey to help heat up its occupant.

Kelley & Company Home

Orkney chairs made their way round the world due to the Scottish Home Industries Association, which encouraged them in exhibitions.

Today in coastal Southern California, chilly drafts aren’t such an issue, but the seat’s wrap-around back provides coziness in a desk. The woven back adds a rustic beach texture.

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Kelley & Company Home

“The Orkney seat is a personal favorite of mine. There’s something fantastic about a handwoven seat,” says interior designer Kelley Motschenbacher. “The springs are not wicker but stitched rush, so they are thick and provide when you lean back into the seat.”

Motschenbacher likes to match the Orkney with more modern furniture, such as this glass-topped sawhorse desk. “They are simply very different and interesting and a little bit old English nation in style,” she says.

Wicker Home & Patio Furniture

Orkney Chair With Woven Seat – $1,230

The original makers of Orkney chairs had to use driftwood due to a lack of trees on the islands, but today you can buy reproductions made of woods such as Filipino mahogany.

Richard Bubnowski Design LLC

An Orkney seat adds some background, feel and heft to the hall at a beach house on the Jersey Shore.

Wicker Home & Patio Furniture

Orkney Warming Chair – $670

For those of you at the center of the nation, Orkneys will look fantastic in your houses, too. Their history of being made of hay leaves them a fantastic match for a farmhouse. This version, with classic white timber, would work nicely in a cottage or a house with Belgian flair.

Harte Brownlee & Associates Interior Design

Some furniture designers have co-opted the Orkney look to more modern pieces, such as bar stools. The interior designers in Harte Brownlee Associates had their upholsterer wrap the backs of those bar stools in raffia. Given the contour, they seem like the Orkney seat’s younger cousins.

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