Events celebrate Orkney chairs and Fair Isle chairs

MAKERS of Orkney chairs and Fair Isle chairs will be celebrated next month during a special weekend at Marchmont House in the Borders.

Kevin Gauld, who launched his Orkney Furniture Maker business in 2007, and Eve Eunson, who works as an architect on Shetland, will take part in the events on 2-4 September.

Both styles of chair have wooden frames and straw backs, and both appear on the Heritage Crafts Association’s “red list” of endangered crafts.

Gauld said: “I left school at 16 and knew I wanted to work with wood and that I didn’t want to leave Orkney – that probably meant being a carpenter or a joiner on a building site.

“But it happened to come up in conversation one night that a local chairmaker was looking for an apprentice.

“The moment I went in the workshop, I thought, if I could spend the rest of my life doing this, I’d be happy.

“I just knew from the start that it was the job for me – I’ve never looked back.”

Each chair takes 70 hours to make, with Gauld’s company producing around 50 each year; half are sold on Orkney, with the rest heading south.

Fair Isle chairs have backs made from knotted oat straw rather than the stitches used in Orkney chairs, while their frames also contain differences.

Eunson – who learned how to make them in part because she wanted to work with wood and partly because of her own roots – said: “I grew up on Fair Isle and have very fond memories of the people and the culture.

“I can remember well, as a small child, sitting on my great uncle’s knee on these chairs and being told stories about shipwrecks and about the history of the island and of the furniture.

“So that was something that I was very connected to.”

She added: “Fair Isle is famous for things like its knitting – its female crafts.

“But these chairs were an artistic outlet for the men, who were spending their winters making some really special things.

“There’s obviously a lot of love and care that went into making the chairs and while some were quite utilitarian, others were particularly nice with a lot of attention to detail and decoration.”

Read more news on Scottish Field’s interiors pages.

Plus don’t miss how owner Michael Worobec’s artistic flair has transformed his Edinburgh home in the September issue of Scottish Field magazine.