Design moment: Cork Chair, c1800s
These chairs have brown leather seating and tend to be the most sought after by collectors
Four Cork Chairs that have seen better days
More than 100 years ago when every Irish city had several cabinetmakers, often working out of premises on or near the main street, a variety of Irish furniture designs emerged – often a local cabinetmaker’s version of a popular English or European style. It could be taken from a pattern book or copied from an existing piece. The Cork Chair is one such design.
According to Tom Woodward, whose family antiques auction firm has been in operation in Cork since 1883, O’Connell cabinetmakers on Lavitt’s Quay in Cork is thought to have designed the Cork Chair in the 1800s as a local version of the Regency chair. It was subsequently made by several Munster cabinetmakers, including Cash’s and Casey’s, and was such a signature style in the county that Roches Stores department stores in Limerick and Cork offered their own Cork Chairs.
The dining chair backs can have 11, 9, 7 or 6 bars, with the 11-bar being the most popular – it is thought that the 11-bar version was initially designed by O’Connells. It is typically made with mahogany and a distinctive feature, according to Woodward, is the “reeded rails at the back” – the bars being “gently fluted”.
During the second World War, shortage in materials impacted on its design although production continued. The seats had for generations been offered in Moroccan leather (the premium choice) or a range of fabrics but as leather was in short supply during the war, O’Connells procured unused car-seat leather from the Ford Motor Works in Cork. The production of cars had stopped there for the duration of the war.
These chairs have brown leather seating and tend to be the most sought after by collectors. Cork Chairs appear in Munster house auctions regularly and go for a strong price, especially full sets with carvers. The Cork Chair, like so much of Irish material culture, is under-researched.