The fair chair

Special to Tribune Newspapers

Some gals go for jewelry. Judith Miller goes for chairs.

"I can never come home from researching a book project without one, but they're getting harder to sneak into the house without my husband catching on," admits this British antique maven and wildly prolific author of more than 100 tomes. Her latest, "Chairs" (Octopus Books, $65), is dedicated to her favorite piece of furniture.

Why chairs? "Everybody needs them, but they're not just for sitting on," she says. Like jewelry, they can make the plain lines of a table or bare confines of a corner, or even an entire room, come alive. Few think of them as an accessory, but they provide flourish as well as function and give new meaning to the term universal design. After all, "there's one for every pocket and look," maintains Miller, who calls the many intriguing lone chairs she spots in vintage shops "orphans" and readily acknowledges she can't resist bringing them home.

And why not? Do the math: One stray chair can equal exponentially fresh style. "I have Arne Jacobsen ant chairs in loads of hues surrounding the dining room table, but I'll also put a gorgeously carved, centuries-old Georgian chair with something modern. The options are endless," she says.

But chairs aren't mere baubles, mind you. Miller is quick to point out that this seemingly simple item "represents great innovations in design and technology." Indeed, from the early carved, gilded, painted and bejeweled throne of King Tut (circa 1325 B.C.) or the elegant, leggy fauteuils of the 18th century to the curvy bent plywood and molded polypropylene numbers by Charles and Ray Eames in the mid-20th century to the precise, one-piece injection-molded New Gaudi by Vico Magistretti (issued one year after his death in 2007), chairs have required and reflected the most deft design skills and advanced technological achievements of their makers.

Miller has picked 100 seminal chairs to highlight in the book but is quick to point out "these were the ones that spoke to me. There are so many I just couldn't fit in."

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