The Planter’s Chair remains one of the most recognizable symbols of India’s colonial past, but there’s a lot more to the chair’s history than most of us are aware of. Jassu Sekhon, principal architect at Salt tells you how the Planter’s Chair actually came into existence
One of the most popular remnants of the colonial era, the Planter’s Chair has become synonymous with antique furniture from this period. Historically, furniture in the traditional sense did not exist in the Indian subcontinent. People ate, slept and socialised on the ground. The Portuguese and later the Dutch, French & English filled this need by training and commissioning furniture from Indian craftsmen who manufactured western pieces using local techniques. Along the way, they introduced new ornamental elements leading to the creation of colonial furniture.
To deal with India’s extreme heat, the Europeans were inclined to relax by resting their feet on a raised surface. This could range from a footstool to a table to a locally made reed Moorah. By mid-nineteenth century, this need gave birth to the Planter’s Chair. The Planter’s Chair is a low, easy chair with an inclined seat and arms that fold in and out. These arms extend out to form the leg rests. It had a cane matting which not only took the contours of the user’s body but also made it comfortable to sit in, providing ample ventilation.
The Planter’s Chair (also as the name suggests) was primarily used in male- dominated environments of camps and plantations. Their inclusion in the ‘Army and Navy’ catalogue of 1907 under ‘Barrack Furniture and Camp Equipment’ ensured that they were exported to British Colonies around the world. They were used in verandahs in plantations and came to be primarily associated with tea planters in east and south India.
The design of the Planter’s chair is about generosity of space and comfort, achieved with swooping and simple curves. Made of solid Teak wood or Indian Rosewood, it is large, streamlined and majestic. As comfortable as it is handsome, this is an exotic work of furniture art at its best. The large armchair is fitted with a variety of Matting or decorative cover. The long arms of the chair have the ability to be folded inward and outward to act as a leg rest. It is an armchair associated with prestige and relaxation, sunny afternoons and gin & tonic.
Upon being introduced to different regions of the world, the Planter’s Chair evolved to suit a more local environment, both in name and design. They are found in the Caribbeans, African nations and South East Asia. It was renamed a Berbice, after a region in Guyana; Campeche in Latin America and Butaque in Mexico.