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How I Designed the Perfect Kids Lounge Chair

How I Designed the Perfect Kids Lounge Chair
One of the guiding principles at Franklin+Emily is to introduce children to good design, and quality materials at a young age. The foundation of this idea grew out my previous career as a chef and approach to food with my own children — introducing them to “adult” foods and diverse cuisines at a young age, and never dumbing it down.

As I began to meddle with furniture making and children’s furniture design, I quickly noticed that many of the options available for children were toned down and soft. I wanted our furniture to help teach children to be aware of their spaces and to take ownership of their belongings. Our materials are simple and straight forward — most can be easily cleaned by a toddler with a damp rag, and they are light enough to carry, giving little ones a sense of ownership and autonomy.

Inspiration

I did a lot of research on mid-century modern, Scandinavian and Japanese design and found elements that I liked and wanted to include in my own pieces. I like the play between wood and leather and how the two interact from a structural point of view.

One of the very first chairs I built was an adult lounger, from oak and leather. I was trying to make it without the use of screws after reading a book on the Art of Japanese Wood Joinery. It was a lot of mortise and tendon. I learned how to stitch leather and started to design and create at the same time. My first prototype was a side project years ago, and resulted in a piece that I was happy with from one angle, but really disliked from the rear.

Years later when I decided to take the leap and design and build children’s furniture full time, I looked back on my designs and notes from the past decade and teased out what worked into new sketches. I used my daughter Frances as a model and got her basic measurements (different leg and torso measurements, reach and angles), then I created a small model and played with the different angles and length — more for aesthetics at this point. Once happy with the aesthetic, I began to dive into how I would build our children’s chairs and leather loungers from a production and safety point of view.

Sketching

I first sketched the design just to get an overall sense of the shape. It was important to be able to draw the piece with one line that gave the overall feel of the design. I start with a very detailed design and then little by little, remove all the detail, until it’s just an overall outline. I think about it like “if I had to make a model of this chair, only using a paperclip, what impression of the chair would I want to give”. These sketches are first done by hand (pen and notepad), and then transferred over to Procreate on an iPad, and then finally over to AutoCAD to give the production team exact dimensions to determine yield and cost.  

Prototype & Fitting

After we had the CAD drawings, we headed into the shop and started fabricating a prototype. I started off working with cardboard and a glue gun just to get the overall feel and angles and dimensions. Then moved over to wood and did the same. It was important to me to use joinery — I love the look, but also wanted our furniture to be strong and durable, and fully assembled and ‘ready to use’ right out of the box. I chose to use walnut plugs because I love the contrast and look against the birch and also as a throwback to some of the early designs I made of an adult chair when carpentry was just a fun hobby. 

It was important to me that our collection played well together and that some items could be used interchangeably, so sizing of pieces like the step stool and chair were important to ensure they were functional on their own but that the stool could also pair as an ottoman. 

Then, usually during a playdate, we would wrangle in a few different kids to sit, play, move and generally interact with the prototypes, and get a sense of the sizing and weights, as well as how durable the materials were.

Materials

The first chair I made in this style was out of 5/4” oak and if I had made the children’s version this way, it would be over 25 pounds. So I decided to work with a high-grade Baltic Birch plywood. This would give me the same needed strength, but make the finished weight closer to 8 pounds. When deciding on finishes, price was not a determining factor and it was important that we use the highest quality, natural finishes that are safe for children and their future planet.

For the kids leather lounge chair, we choose to work with a US company that uses vegetable tanning to color it’s hides, producing rich color and texture without the
use of environmentally harsh dyes. We use a few different methods to maximize the yield and the entire side is rubbed with a natural finish that helps protect and keep it clean. Then we do the same to the cut edges to prevent fraying. The seat and back pieces are then punched and scored and sent to our leather stitching partner to get saddle stitched via machine. Any scraps make excellent bookmarks!

Production

The final steps of building are done by hand in our Brooklyn studio. We make all the necessary jigs and mitre stops to make sure that every kids lounge chair is the same. That said, because both the wood and leather are natural products, there is always some unique characteristics of each piece that makes them special. We assemble the frame, securing the joinery with little walnut plugs, and slip on the finished leather before securing the final internal connections.

Next it’s shipped to you, eagerly awaiting adventure.
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