What a fabulous find! The donut, the bird’s nest or the king’s stool, better known as the Bamileke chair, is one of the hottest design discoveries of African origin.
Venturing into the deepest reaches of equatorial Cameroon, the Bamileke Kingdom consists of up to a million people in and around the North, West and South-West of the country. In Africa, an endless variety of seating is endemic to different cultures, with different designs created for the rank or status of the person who used it. The cotton-reel shaped Bamileke is no different.
First you’ve got to fully understand the chair’s mysterious use. It’s an oddity, but the ancient spiritual practices of the Bamileke must be acknowledged. In African tribal systems, even in modern family lineages, there’s a strong and active belief in ancestors and ‘unseen’ worlds. Ancestors are loved ones who’ve passed away and communicate via an interpreter to the living to guide them.
You can view these ancestors that are often depicted as decorative spiders or other intricate carvings on the sides of Bamileke chairs. Those circles and geometric patterns signify much more than simple designs. The seats were often reserved for use by a medicine man or by someone who was able to interpret ancestral messages. Royal courts, religious figures and military figures also used the Bamileke in one way or another in their service to the public.
Skilled craftspeople start a chair by immersing a single piece of wood under water to soften it before the carving process begins. Each chair is hewn from one single piece of wood. If a crack appears in the wood during the carving process, the project is immediately viewed as a break in the continuity of life and is abandoned.
We’re seeing a move happening in the international market with 2018 furniture designs referencing organic shapes and the curves of 1950’s designs, but the Bamileke design has gone a step beyond. The chair is so versatile that it has taken the concept of African crafts to a whole new level of functionality in modern interiors and found its rightful place in Western art and design as a classic piece.
It’s got extraordinary sculptural power. Carved from wood with a unique look, it’s a useful feature piece for any environment and good-looking too.
Don’t let the word ‘chair’ limit your thinking. The Bamileke is a lounge side-table, a stunning set of outdoor tables ideal for entertaining, a random, occasional stool complete with upholstered pill-cushion in a scrumptious fabric … we’ve even seen it used as first-choice for a side-table in plush-clad kids’ rooms, so no more bumping chins on sharp corners.
And, when you’ve had enough of square space, the Bamileke’s natural shape offers the eye a pleasant break from the uniform order of things.
Add a couple of them strategically placed in any interior as a way to introduce symmetry. Stained or lacquered they give a boost of delicious colour with an eye-catching appeal that’s playful and dramatic.