What It's Like To Sit in an $11,800 Chair

feature story

Spoiler alert: It's quite comfortable.

If you're familiar with contemporary design you've probably heard of Stephen Burks. Described by Dwell as "one of the most influential American designers of his generation," Burks' work mixes first-world luxury with ethically sourced third-world materials, concepts, and craft traditions.

Burks' fascination with traditional crafts extends into his high-profile collaborations. One such collaboration is with French top-end furniture house Roche Bobois and has resulted in a pair of chairs so exceptional that one will retail for somewhere in the region of $11,800.

Christened the Traveller, these two chairs are a distillation of Burks' views on the differences between European and American societies. Each chair represents a different continent, with unique materials and thematic elements inspired by the society it represents.

Burks describes the European chair as an example of "micro architecture," a theme echoed in the chair's leather canopy. The chair provides owners with a secluded or isolated area in the living room.

Stephen Burks.jpg
Industrial designer Stephen Burks at the Dwell on Design Keynote panel. View Larger

The American chair, which made its debut onstage at Dwell on Design, was heavily inspired by the American work ethic—or, more precisely, the relaxation that takes place after work. The solid wood construction celebrates the hard working American, while the relaxed upholstery folding over the arm rests mimics the posture of a relaxed person. Burks describes the typical American as someone who "works hard and relaxes hard."

So what is it like to sit in an $11,800 chair? Well, I'm glad you asked. I may have accidentally sat in the European Traveller chair while the security guard was otherwise engaged, and I have to say it was pretty darn comfortable. The plush leather cushions enveloped my body and it felt like I could just lie back and relax for hours. Meanwhile, the peacock-esque canopy was reassuringly sturdy and protective.

Was the chair $11,800 comfortable? Well, that's impossible to say for sure. Believe it or not, I haven't sat in many similarly priced seats, so comparisons are difficult. Furthermore, when dealing with ultra high-end products, attempting to evaluate value-for-money becomes a fool's errand.

To Burks' credit, he is acutely aware of the absurdity of inflated prices in the design production sphere. At the Dwell on Design keynote, he lamented the mark-up that design brands he has worked with in the past have placed on his products—specifically, the 600% markup on his Cappellini Love collection.

While the Traveller chairs will remain out of reach for most consumers' posteriors, Burks hopes to make his work easily accessible to everyone through direct sales. Until then, those wanting to experience the opulence of the Traveller are out of luck—unless they happen to be at Dwell on Design, of course...