Chiavari is a lovely town located in eastern Liguria ( I wrote about it here). In the surroundings of Chiavari, there were always many workshops that produced silk, damask and lace. However, the most famous exporting product from Chiavari was a chair called “chiavarina“.
Chiavarina was created in 1807 r. by a local cabinetmaker Giuseppe Gaetano Descalzi. He was invited by Economic Society of Chiavari, to rework some chairs in the French Empire style. He was asked to simplify the decorative elements and lighten the structural elements. In this way, the new chair model named campanino was created.
The chair was a success immediately and soon many factories opened in Chiavari and surrounding towns. When Gaetano Descalzi died in 1855, about 600 workers were making chiavarine. The success of the chair from Chiavari decreased after the introduction of the Austrian Thonet chairs. The Austrian chairs were mass-produced, less expensive, and consisting of few elements easily assembled.
Chiavarina is extremally light (depends on model, the lightest model weighs only 1 kg i 850 g). And the same time the chair is very resistant. It was designed with each component made for the specific stresses it would carry. Physics rules!
Descalzi designed a slot system for the construction and a system to tie the strips of the willow which form the seat of the chair directly to the frame.
The timbers originally used were (and that are still used nowadays) wild cherry, beech, ash and maple. All wood came from surrounding forest in Chiavari.
The first and the most famous model is called campanino (countryman)
Another historical model was tre archi (three arcs).
Then another one that had an enormous success was parigina (Parisienne).
And then the artisans of Chiavari had created more than 150 different models that were sold during the years. Below some examples of different chiavarina models taken from the book “Le sedie leggere di Chiavari” (“The super light chairs from Chiavari”) by Franco and Jacopo Casoni.
The chiavarina’s price depends on the model and on the producer. In any case, the price starts from 400€ each chair. However, it is very common to find these chairs on Ligurian flea markets, especially in Chiavari. Very often you can find chairs that cost even 50€/80€ each!
- Mr Descalzi was called Campanino, that in Italian means countryman. The nickname came from the fact that his relatives lived in the countryside of Chiavari. And that’s why the first chair that he design took his nickname.
- the chairs were praised by the king Charles Albert of Savoy, Emperor Napoleon III and the sculptor Antonio Canova.
- chiavarine are present in the White House in Washington, in the palace of Versailles in Paris and in the Vatican.
- the Italian designer Gio Ponti was inspired by the structural system of the chiavarina and he used it as a base for his Superleggera chair of 1955 produced for Italian, design company Cassina.
- in 2018 r. in Chiavari should be opened a museum of Chiavari’s chair. Its goal will be to explain the history and incredible structure of chiavarina and make it famous worldwide again 🙂
I keep my fingers crossed that they do so 🙂