Seating for House and Camp

By Alasdair Mac Roibeirt

A class on different seating options available for pre 17th century recreation events.

Seating Handout

One of the first and most obvious needs in the SCA is of course, clothing. Close after covering that basic need many people come to the decision that for comfort at events, a place to sit is a requirement. From simply spreading a blanket on the grass to elaborately decorated period perfect chairs and everywhere in between, the choices can be confusing. With this class we will discuss some of the options, broken down by broad types, that are available to modern recreationist.

Non period

If you have gone to an outside event, you have seen people in mundane fold up chairs. They are modestly priced, collapse to be easily transportable, and can be used for mundane needs as well. They are also obviously modern and can be visually jarring to creating a historical aesthetic if left as is. There are numerous examples on the internet of covers and drapes people have used to make modern drapes blend in better.

Not period but better

For many people the first attempt they make to go for a more historical place to sit is what is dubbed a stargazer or Viking chair. The chairs are constructed of a pair of boards, usually 2×8 or 2×10, that have a square hole cut in the back piece and the seat part is cut to resemble something like a spoon, with the handle being shaped to fit into the hole cut in the back. They break down flat, that are relatively simple to make and they are not a modern chair. But are they any more historically accurate? Most providence for these chairs puts them as a project created for boy scouts in the mid 20th century, I have heard some reference to an African chair design that is similar but have no actual information on them. To my mind they are a good step and are less visually jarring than a mundane folding chair.

Moving on to another seating option we look at the leopold bench. The leopold bench is a backed, semi collapsible bench constructed of 2×6 and 2×12 material. Like the stargazer chair it is relatively easy to construct for most people with common tools. The bench breaks down into 4 pieces and some pegs, making it decently compact for something that will hold 2 or more people. It is once again not a design from a historical example.

Another option that has been seen in small numbers is a break down couch. Much like the leopold bench, the couch is intended to come apart for transport and seat more than one person. Unlike the leopold bench the couch has a wider seat, supported by rails instead of  single thick board and also comes with arm rests built into the sides.

Historically based

Stools, 3 legged ones such as the lund stool, are incredibly versatile seating options. Consisting of a round or, in the case of the lund stool, a “D” shaped seat and equipped with 3 legs stools are simple to make and economical on material. The three legs work to form a tripod to make a stable seat over a wide range of different and uneven terrains. The stools are pretty small so storage and transport are relatively convenient. The stool being a solid piece it does make for some waste space between the legs but it’s easy to use that space to store other things.

Folding stools are perhaps some of the most compact seating options available to the SCA. Generally speaking a folding stool consists of a pair of rectangular frames with a connected pivot point part way down the side and a flexible seat at the top. Many cultures have folding stools of this design, some with elaborate decorations.

Benches are easy to see as an evolved version of the stool and are prevalent in both manuscripts and as surviving pieces. By adding a fourth leg, separating the legs into 2 groups, and lengthening the seat you have now added capacity for a second person for not much more work than a stool. Though not as inherently stable as a three legged stool, the bench has an added benefit of doubling as a work space or even an elevated sleeping place. The bench comes in a wide variety of configurations by adding stretcher bars, carving, slanted legs, and even the use of pegs to break down.

How to throw a medieval feast. An elaborate banquet depicted in a 14th-century illuminated manuscript of Froissart's Chronicles. (Getty Images)

Bench boxes are more of a grey area in between the world of seating and the world of storage. In essence a bench box is nothing more than a very thick bench but it gives the option of interior storage as well. Instead of the legs being inset from the edge, the legs are out to the very edge of the bench and serve dual duty as both sides of the box and legs.

Backed benchs are another evolution of the bench family. A good example of a backed bench is church pews. A box bench will share characteristics with the  bench box  in that a backed bench often has a hollow box like construction that the seat rests on while the end not only form the les but also extend up to form the arms of the bench. The back of the bench also extends up to provide a back rest.

The swing back settle is a fairly well represented bench with a rather unique feature. It is a backed bench but the back takes the form of a bar that is attached to a pivot point at the top of the legs, allowing the back of the bench to be switched from side to side merely by rotating the bar over.

Fauldstools are another type of folding stool are also seen in a wide variety manuscripts and surviving pieces. Fauldstools give you a more elevated seat both in terms of decoration, as well as physical elevation over the fixed legged stools. They do require more skill to construct than any of the previous mentioned forms of seat, needing multiples of identical pieces to fold smoothly. The individual components for a folding stool are often rather simple, usually a straight piece of wood with a couple of holes bored into it for a pivot point and for connection to other pieces. The stools can also be extensively carved or made of multiple legs to show off the skill of the maker or the wealth of the owner.

Soins. Médiéval.

Guy de Pavie, Traité d’anatomie en latin (XIVe siècle), Chantilly, Musée.

Folding chairs like the Dantesca or Savonarola are a marked step up in seating having back support, a comfortable arm rest, and an opportunity for decoration and display of skill and wealth. Both chairs are easily linked to the folding stools that come before, the Dantesca consisting of four legs, a front set, and a back set, connected by stretchers and covered by a fabric seat and back while the Savonarola chair consists of multiple legs and seat boards that scissor open and close.

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Hall chairs show up later in the SCA timeline and have the same basic construction details as a backed bench, but are shortened for one person. They are often heavily carved and have a higher back than sides. Many thrones, including the current thrones of An Tir can be classified as hall chairs.

Some construction resources. Links to plans and construction information.


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