If you've got the design genius of a Bill Stumpf and a Don Chadwick married to the technological and manufacturing might of a Herman Miller, you can create an Aeron chair for mass production. And you can even make it in three different sizes for folks of differing heights.
Erickson Woodworking, a father-and-son business out of Nevada City, California, may not have access to furniture giant resources, but they reckon they've got an office chair that discerning customers will line up for: a bespoke, made-to-measure model called the Niobrara.
"Every single one is tailor fit to the individual like a suit," writes Tor Erickson, company co-owner. A host of measurements of the customer yield a fit more precise than three sizes can offer, and this is about as far from factory production as you can get: The Ericksons harvest, mill and dry much of the wood they use themselves.
"A mass-produced piece of furniture is missing something," says Robert Erickson, company founder and Tor's dad. "Even a beautifully designed piece lacks the individuality and soul of something made by hand." Erickson senior, by the way, has worked on some 60 iterations of the Niobrara to date. And speaking of 60, that's just about the amount of hours it takes the Ericksons to build a single one, "plus nearly a dozen hours by the upholsterer and harvesting and drying the materials," according to The Star Tribune.
We managed to get in a quick Q&A in with Tor for some details on the chair:
Core77: What are the customizable elements of the Niobrara?
Tor Erickson: In addition to the wood choice and upholstery, the real unique thing is the system of measurements we take that alter things like the depth of the seat, the width of the seat, the height of the arms, the degree of flex in the wooden backlats, the height of the headboard, the placement and degree of the lumbar curve, et cetera.
What's the procedure for taking the user's measurements?
The process is best done in person at a show or at our workshop in Northern California, but we also have a measurement card that people can fill out and send in.
I understand your father produced an earlier version of the Niobrara in the '80s, and has updated the present design. What's different between the newer and older versions?
The [current] Niobrara has updated styling in the arms and backposts, as well as a new seat design that incorporates an upholstered cushion held by a wood frame. This lets us have an upholstered seat, but still incorporate some wood for looks.
The Niobrara also has a new mechanism. In addition to some standard adjustments (height, spring tension, etc.), it operates off of a torsion bar rather than the spring [used previously]. The advantage of the torsion bar is that it gives an almost completely silent rock to the chair, whereas the spring-based ones make a whooshing noise.
Should a customer want to order one, what is the procedure, turnaround time and price point?
They can contact us directly or go to our gallery representative, The Gerald Peters gallery, which has offices in Santa Fe and New York. We take their measurements and a small deposit, which reserves their place in the production queue. We build each piece one at a time, to the customer's specifications. The current lead time is about five months. The Niobrara starts at $6,100 in a wood seat version, and $6,500 in an upholstered seat.
What are the chair's technical specifications?
It weighs about 30 pounds and comes with 65mm casters.
Woods available are:
- Salvaged California Walnut
- Sustainably harvested Pacific Bigleaf Maple in a variety of figures
- Black Cherry, and
- Limed California Black Oak that we handmill ourselves
The leather is bison leather, which is available in a handful of basic colors: Black, dark brown, lighter brown and a few others.