A Farewell to the Classic Berea Ladderback Chair

Brian Boggs began his career by designing and building his classic Berea ladderback chair. Shaped by the influences of Alexander and Krenov. Integrated with Appalachian, Windsor, and Chippendale elements to create the most comfortable wooden chair many of us have ever experienced. Anyone who comes in contact with these amazing ladderback chair must own them.

I think that’s why Brian’s classic Berea ladderbacks decorate family trees. Whether inherited or purchased new, grown children remember these chairs and wish to populate their homes with them. They want the rocking chair where Mom wiped away their tears after the skinned knee. The dining chairs supported them during long evenings of laughing with their siblings. The armchair where they sipped cocoa and did their homework.

Ladderback Legacy

One such family is the Smiths.

“We have known Brian for a number of years and have been sitting in his chairs for that length of time. We first met Brian at Peters Valley. I ordered a rocking chair for my husband while I worked in the weaving shop, and he ordered a rocking chair for me when he was taking a course with Brian. When we went to see the shop and pick up the one chair, there were 2. Brian with a little smile asked who he should tell! We bought one, and on the way, home decided that the second chair would make a wonderful gift to our daughter as a graduation present when she got her Ph.D. Those chairs have been centerpieces in our respective homes ever since, and anyone who sits in one is very hard to pry out. They love it”.

When we moved to our retirement home in Maryland Doug made a dining table and I insisted on chairs to go with it. So, back to Brian for dining chairs. They were so admired by our daughter and son-in-law that they also ordered chairs for their dining pleasure!

As Brian was ending production of the Berea line, their daughter contacted us to order an armchair for her father. He had become ill and, while resting in one of his beloved dining chairs, he lost his balance and fell out of the chair. Brian twisted his schedule around and made room to build his last classic ladderback armchair for their patriarch. When finished, he enclosed this note with the chair.

“Even after 35 years of making chairs, every one of them is not only different in its individual character, but it is a different experience for me personally.   Some of them stand out as particularly memorable.  This chair is one of those.   It was a pleasure to make this one of my last Berea designs to be your father’s chair to enjoy his twilight years in.  It is also an honor to be a part of your touching story with this chair. You are opening a box full of heart with a pretty good chair in it.”

“And, when our daughter, Courtney, contacted Brian about a chair with arms for my husband when he was ill. Brian got that chair out to us so quickly, and it was a wonderful surprise for Doug and a blessing. When he could sit in it, rise out of it without help and the arms prevented him from falling out when he accidentally fell asleep while sitting. We have loved every one of our chairs and are especially grateful to Brian for his last creation. It is amazingly comfortable! For Brian, a note, Doug is doing much better now. After our winter scare, he is back to having to be held down so he doesn’t do too much–a bit slower but that is acceptable at age 84. Thank you so much, Brian!”

Completing a Home with Ladderback Chair

When we got married and set up house for ourselves, most of our furniture was what you’d call family hand-me-downs.   Instead of being disappointed with our old, sometimes beat-up furniture, we soon discovered our hand-me-downs connected us back to our Kentucky family and roots, no matter how far away we lived.   They made our house feel like home… like family.

Rocking chairs were an especially big part of our family when we grew up.  Kids and grandkids were rocked to sleep, beans shelled, newspapers read.  And our ‘visiting’ mostly happened while leaning back, gently rocking back and forth as the important news of the moment was delivered and discussed.  The right rocking chair was just as important as the right kitchen table, or sofa, or bed.

In the mid-1980’s we moved into a big old house with a keeping room right off the kitchen — the perfect spot for a pair of rocking chairs.  So we decided to keep on the lookout for some beautiful rocking chairs of our own.  No hurry though, we were willing to wait for just the right chairs to come along.  After all, they had to fit into our family of furniture.

One weekend we were having lunch in Berea when a pair of rocking chairs on display caught our eye, and we first heard about Brian Boggs.  We pretty much stumbled on Brian’s workshop and were amazed by the art and old school craftsmanship he put into his work.  The more we heard Brian talk about his process — how he used to steam and pressure to mold the shape of the wood, how the parts were connected without nails — the more we knew a pair of Brian’s rocking chairs were meant for us.

We like handmade things, especially from our home state, and we loved that our rocking chairs and footstool were handcrafted in Kentucky, just for us.  We always felt like the chairs were made the way they should be, using techniques and craftsmanship our own family furniture makers might have used long ago.  They fit into our home seamlessly and were our chairs of choice for reading the morning newspaper or a good book, watching TV, visiting with friends, or just thinking and rocking for a while.    

From our accidental discovery of Brian’s work in Berea so long ago, our rocking chairs followed us for over 25 years, from the cozy keeping room to many other places and porches.  And no matter where we were, we could count on our rocking chairs to remind us of Kentucky, and family, and home.  

Recently, we found our lives changing again (as they tend to do), and had to face the fact that we don’t have the space to use our rocking chairs anymore.  But we knew we couldn’t just sell them to a stranger on eBay or craigslist.  We felt very strongly we had to find someone who would love our chairs as we did, and appreciate their artistry, story, and heritage. 

So we did the only thing we could think to do – find Brian again, and ask him to help find a new home for these rocking chairs that have meant so much to us.  He completely understood, and in a touching reunion, welcomed our rocking chairs back as if they were his children returning from a long journey. 

We hope a new family will love these rocking chairs as we did and feel the same special piece of Kentucky, home and family that made our chairs much, much more than pieces of furniture to us.

Brian brought these chairs from Kentucky to Asheville with him. They remained in galleries and storage until this past spring. A young woman sat in them and, swept away by their comfort, purchased them for the new house she is creating with her husband as they begin their family.

Ladderback Chair Longevity

“I first saw the Brian Boggs ladderback in Louisville, at the Crafts store there. It was a ladderback chair that means rocking chair, made of walnut with hickory bark was woven seating. The Store had invited designers and woodworkers to compete in rocking chair design.  The Boggs chair swept the field, and also left an indelible impression in my mind. I realized I had to have this chair.  

At first, I thought of driving to Louisville for the next meeting I had to attend there, but upon discovering the distance. I dropped that idea in favor of a drop-off by Brian on a swing through the Atlantic states he planned for later in the year. This event must be a decade old now, or close to it. 

This chair is my favorite in our home, and I use it constantly to read books and to watch films on our TV screen. The textures of the walnut and of the hickory are important elements, which I experience while seated by rubbing various spots on the chair.  It’s a habit I don’t want to break; the wood speaks to me as I sit there, and I respond by imagining the trees from which these finished products came. 

Soon after the chair arrived at our home in Garrison, New York, I noticed that one piece of the hickory has broken across.  Because of its stiffness, it didn’t unravel or loosen, but I thought at some point it might.  This led me to call Brian Boggs on the phone and ask how I could repair it.  He said he would come to my house and re-weave the entire seat.  To my amazement, this he did within the month, softening the bark strips in hot water and then quickly weaving them into a new seat for my chair.  He stayed for dinner and the night, which offered us the pleasure of getting to know him. 

Since then we have bought for ourselves and some of our children the dinner ladderback chairs, which I know from a lifetime of sitting down to eat (84 years to be exact), that these chairs are the most comfortable ones I’ve ever experienced.  My kids agree.  Whether the seats are hickory bark or shaker style tapes, the chairs are a brilliant example of functional art of the highest quality.  The Longstreths are very proud owners of the Boggs ladderbacks.”

Our tradition of customer care is one which we will never abandon.

The Next Chapter

In conjunction with discontinuing this classic line, Brian decided to release the plan to the public with this statement:

“I am now releasing the classic post-and-rung chair design to those who would seek to perfect them. Both for personal and commercial use as I no longer construct these chairs.

Each of my chairs is signed, dated, and numbered with the exception of the very earliest ones. If you happen to own one of these early chairs and would like a certificate of authenticity, please contact me for verification and the certificate.

I hope that these chairs remain a valued piece of your family’s history, even as they remain an intrinsic part of my legacy.” 

Even as we say farewell, we honor these chairs which document the beginning. The era of the classic Berea ladderback chair may be ending, but their influence remains in our DNA.

Cio Rocking Chair Ratchel and River

The next era in Brian Boggs’ ladderback chair legacy starts with the Cio collection, updating the ladderback with the state-of-the-art Linsit seat and a contemporary look. Recently, the Cio side chair won a 2019 GOOD DESIGN award. Read Brian’s thoughts on the new ladderback chair design and award-winning design.

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