My (Mostly) Rockin’ Visit to Michael Yates Design

After months of looking at his Giacomo rocker and learning about the increasing number of people we know in common, I reached out to Michael Yates to let him know that I admire his work and it was influential as I went through my chair-making process. He invited me for a shop tour, and I enthusiastically accepted.

When I arrived at his shop, however, he wasn’t there. His employees were, and I talked with them and learned his car was in the shop and he’s in the midst of moving, but this still meant that I was stood up. His employees talked with me about the shop, showed me a version of the rocker I’d been looking at, and Michael apologized for not being there, but I was upset. I felt like I had told someone that I admire him very much and he had responded by telling me he didn’t really care.

Now, I know this isn’t the case and I’m taking personally what was, I’m sure, a mistake during a hectic day, but that’s how it felt in the moment. Regardless, it helps me realize that even the best people in the trade are human and can’t manage everything perfectly, and that helped make me feel a little better.

When his employee pulled out the rocker I felt a little bit like I was meeting a famous person. I had looked at it so much, admired its beauty and craftsmanship, and now here it was!

MichaelYates_Chair_DB_webThere were so many small, clever nuances to the design that I never noticed in the photos, like the way the back slats expose about an eighth of an inch of tenon…just enough to look intentional and reveal the work, and the way the connection piece underneath the armrest is actually part of the armrest—one piece that has been routed out and sanded into its curved shape. I sat in it too. A great chair.

The other wonderful thing about meeting this chair in person, was that it reinforced for me that my chair is also really, really good.

I still hope I get to meet Michael at some point, but if I don’t, I’ve still gotten a lot from him that I appreciate.



Taking Steps, Hopping Ponds


Michael Yates, Giacomo rocker.

I’m back from the winter holiday having had a productive meeting with Mark and a wonderful trip to London and Ireland. Mark an I looked at my drawings (see last post) and discussed. I had been extremely concerned that the angles I chose were completely arbitrary, which they were, but it turns out I wasn’t so far off. In general, back rests are most comfortable between 100 and 110 degrees from the seat, and my drawings were somewhere in the realm of 108. As for how the legs hit the rocker, well, I will have to test this out in a full-scale mock-up (coming soon!). The only way to tell what will and won’t be comfortable is to actually sit on it. Other considerations will be the treatment of the backrest and the seat. The design essentially places them between two frames that are the more fluid, continuous sides, arms, legs, and rockers, and so it’s worth considering whether or not to try to highlight the “separateness” of these two planes. Perhaps they are a different wood than the frame? Other “separate” parts will be the rockers and the arm rests which, though technically part of the side frames, will have their boards horizontally oriented as opposed to vertically (as in the wider part of the board will parallel to the floor as opposed to the thinner, deeper dimension). What exactly is the hierarchy of forms here? We looked at a gorgeous chair by local artisan Michael Yates as a successful manifestation of this type of hierarchy. His rocker is also about the same size as the one I’m designing.

Another important point of discussion was my intention for some of the joints to be faired (as in not meeting bluntly at perpendicular angles, but curving smoothly into each other), and to do this I have to consider the way the grains of two pieces will meet. In order to keep from having short-grain that, over time, will likely just chip off, I have to make sure the fairing is actually happening on the piece in the direction of the long grain. A lot to think about! I will be spending the weekend making sketch models and mulling this all over.

ImageWith these questions fresh in my mind, I was off to London to visit family, and was lucky enough to be able to go to the Design Museum for some inspiration, where I saw several Breuer chairs and a bunch of other cool pieces of work. And, my mom bought me a lovely book called How to Design a Chair, which I suppose I will be the harsh judge of soon enough