The Simple Lessons of Chair Repair

The Simple Lessons of Chair Repair

There are countless objects in our lives that we are quick to throw away. One we might not think very much about is the humble chair. They are ubiquitous, so much so that they are practically invisible.

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Repair for moveable articles for use in the house or office.

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Have a chair that breaks? There are countless more to replace them. We have cycled through them since ancient Chinese nomads (likely) created them—breaking, repairing and replacing them ever since. Nowadays we are quick to toss a chair with a broken leg, with an abundant catalog of cheap alternatives to turn to. But is that how things should be?

Amsterdam-based designer Ollee Means is using design and restoration to subvert our lack of love for chairs, rescuing and revitalizing a dozen mid-century Danish dining chairs that were bound to turn into garbage.

The Alchemy of Repair

Ollee Means earned some repair-world accolades for his creation of the guilder—a place where people can exchange skills, services, or materials instead of money, all documented through photographs.

His latest project “12 Chairs” scooped these seats from an early death and restored them, from a workshop in a closed bar in Amsterdam. The project points to the flaws in our current modes of consumption, starting with one of the simplest objects we rely on. Means centers sustainability and points to the labor needed to maintain objects and ensure their materials are used to their fullest.

The chairs make a compelling argument for the importance of repair and sustainability in modern design. “It’s like solving puzzles that you didn’t create,” says Ollee, referring to challenges like inconsistent construction techniques in the objects. He describes a particular chair in which “the leg joints that had come loose over time were nailed back together by a previous owner. However, the joints were not aligned before nailing and so the joints had large gaps.” The owner had to decide whether to remove the nails, line up the joint and go from there, or to celebrate the story of it being misaligned and fill the gaps with aluminum. “He chose the second option.” 

It’s like solving puzzles that you didn’t create.

–Ollee Means, on repairing old furniture

The choice to highlight the story of a repaired product through visible repair is called kintsugi, drawing from the Japanese tradition of mending broken pottery with gold lacquer.

In a world where objects are used to their full potential, repair will need to be ubiquitous. But currently, repair is typically undervalued. Because of the labor-intensive approach to repairing the chairs, Means’ chairs likely would have retailed around €1000 per chair. He has chosen instead to price them at €195. Clearly, I can easily find similar chairs for less. The project instead points to the other costs associated with disposing of our goods—a lack of connection with the objects in our lives and the violent downstream effects of waste and overconsumption.

Repair doesn’t have to be an act of restraint or asceticism; it can be joyful and beautiful. But we undervalue repair in part because of our insulation from the hidden costs of our disposable culture. However, Means’s work heralds an optimistic future, one where care and respect both the labor and materials to produce the objects we rely on. And while a chair might be a simple start, the lessons we can learn are equally as straightforward.

More News

  • California passes electronics right-to-repair act: California approved a bill requiring companies to provide repair materials for longer periods based on product cost; it has passed a concurrence vote in the senate and now heads to the Governor’s desk. The bill is well poised to set a trend for nationwide legislation, with Apple’s recent support for the bill and its concessions towards repairability highlighted.
  • Chromebooks get 10 years of software updates: Google will extend the automatic update lifespan of Chromebook models released since 2021 to 10 years, responding to calls from a coalition of nonprofits, parents, and teachers who sought longer-lasting laptops in schools to reduce emissions and costs, with advocates considering this a victory for the environment and education.
  • Global shortage of technicians for electric vehicles: Concerns about increased repair and warranty costs, potentially affecting efforts to reduce vehicle carbon emissions are being attributed to a technician labor shortage. Independent repair shops are seen as vital for making EVs affordable but are reluctant to invest in training and equipment due to the risks involved, including electrocution and EV fires, leaving consumers with higher bills and longer repair times.
  • Mining e-waste for rare earth minerals: Renewable energy sources like wind and solar still require raw materials such as lithium, cobalt, and copper, and the concept of “urban mining” is emerging as a solution to recycle and reuse these materials from discarded electronics, as the demand for these metals escalates and prices rise, prompting the mining industry to invest in urban mining facilities to extract reusable raw materials and potentially profit from recycling efforts in the green transition.