Monastic Moving Design

Selling over 8 million chairs and often seen in chapels, churches, university lecture halls and schools, its stackable quality, allowing 40 chairs to be stacked in an area of four-square feet, added to its success as much as its comfort.

There’s a monastic yet contemporary quality to David Rowland’s Howe 40/4 stackable chair. The simple curved backrest and seat is one of the most popular, and also practical chairs to hit the market since it was introduced by American company Howe Furniture.

All great design has a starting point, and in the case of the Howe 40/4 Side Chair, it was Rowland’s experience of living in a pint-sized apartment in the late 1950s in New York, paying what would have been then the princely sum of $US40 a month. With limited space, as would have been the case for many others after the war, a stackable and affordable chair seemed appropriate. A year later the Howe 40/4, received the prestigious Grand Prix at the 13th Milan Triennale in 1964, the same year the chair was released.


Fast forward to the present and the Howe 40/4 Side Chair resides in noteworthy museums, galleries and religious institutions around the world. The 40/4 can be found in MOMA in New York and the Victoria & Albert Museum in London as well St Pauls, Salisbury Cathedral and locally at St Barnabas Church in Sydney.

Salisbury is unique amongst medieval English cathedrals, for the major part built within a generation (1220-1258). The building itself is remarkable, a testimony to the faith and practical skills of those who erected it. In 2003 the 60-year old chairs of the Salisbury Cathedral were ready for a much-needed replacement.


The existing chairs in the cathedral were uncomfortable, expensive to repair, heavy and awkward to move around. As the Cathedral is host of many different events, chairs often need to be moved, removed and stacked. However, the design of the furniture also must respect the dignified environment of the Cathedral. A contemporary design therefore must accommodate those values and specifications. Also the chair must be extremely sturdy and durable, unaffected by numerous changes and intensive handling. The Friends of Salisbury Cathedral undertook to fund the project to provide 1800 chairs and in April 2003 a Chair Appeal was launched. Sponsorship of individual chairs was invited from individuals and companies, with the option of having dedication plaques placed on the chairs.

Architect's Evaluation
Architectural consultant to Salisbury Cathedral, Michael Drury, "It is quite a challenge to find a contemporary design which will fit into a medieval context, especially when the architecture is among the best in the world. In my opinion the Howe 40/4 Side Chair performs adequately in that setting. Especially I'm satisfied with the fact that the system functions extremely well, allowing the interior to be seen uncluttered by seating more frequently. The framework of the 40/4 reveals rather than obscures the stone floors, making the interior of the Cathedral appear lighter."


Similarly in 2013, St Paul’s Cathedral replaced its sanctuary seating with Howe’s 40/4 Side Chair, and in doing so created opportunities for easily changing the configuration of its seating to accommodate the different services. For instance, during Advent the chairs are now arranged to face east, so that the congregation can await the coming of the Christ Child. The same cathedral also now can have its interior easily cleared entirely to make room for cultural events such as concerts and art exhibitions. So, if you have a space that has the potential to be utilised for multiple purposes, let us help you define that potential.

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