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Making a Place

Author: Doug Virtue

Re-purposed classroom chairs now being used for catering. The chair in the middle is exactly 50 years old!

Can a Chair Make a Place?

In the case of our 9000 Series, the answer might be yes. Last summer, long before the Coronavirus dominated the news, my wife and I were at a birthday party in California’s eastern Sierra. The caterer had acquired some Virco 9000’s from a local school where the chairs had been in service for over 40 years. Recognizing the colors as being quite old, I lined up these three for a portrait with Montgomery Peak in the background.

When we got home, I asked our Senior Industrial Engineer, who also happens to have been my first boss at Virco, to research the age and provenance of these chairs. The two mustard ones date from the early 1970’s, but the aqua chair in the middle with its unique single rivet in the backrest dates from late 1968 or early 1969, making it over 50 years old. The caterer was happy to report that these chairs were still stout performers at every event. They were “school chairs.” In fact, we believe these are the world’s best selling school chairs of all time, with over 60,000,000 sold and perhaps as many as 20,000,000 still in service. If there is any chair design that says “school,” this is it.

Which takes us back to the original question: can a chair make a place? The association of this chair with education is so strong that merely putting it in a room, or a field in the mountains, can make that place a place of learning. As more families struggle to accommodate distance learning into their daily home routines, the signaling benefit of a designated place might be helpful. Setting aside a time and place for home learning can help bring discipline to the process without the need for disciplinary behavior. If the chair and desk are familiar from the classroom, their presence can quietly transform almost any room or corner into a “place” where learning is expected.

This is not a pitch for selling more chairs. In fact, I would caution that for many rooms in a household, there is probably already more than enough furniture, and if any pieces like these are brought in, an equal number should be taken out. But, if quiet signaling is what you are looking for, we have designs that are familiar and understood by most students. These include rocking chairs, elementary sized mobile task chairs that can be used comfortably at the dining room table, and even floor rockers. We also have desks that fit unobtrusively into corners, allowing unused parts of a room to be turned into educational nooks. Larger versions of these will accommodate a laptop plus additional materials for adult home offices.

We’ve launched this site to support home schooling, family gatherings and home offices with the same quality furniture we’ve been suppling to America’s schools for over 70 years. We’re also testing some new designs, and inviting you to share your needs or design ideas with our staff. We still pay the bills by supporting public schools, so our goal here is not to sell a bunch a of chairs, but to learn from conversation with you. As you’ll see, we don’t advertise this site and we don’t track or share or sell your personal information. You will not receive follow-up pitches or promotions from us or anyone else unless you specifically ask. We’ve benefited from live dialogue with public educators for over 70 years; now we’d like to extend that conversation to smaller classrooms closer to home. We invite you to start the conversation however you like: by phone, email, or posting a comment. We look forward to hearing from you.

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