A Suite of Savonarola Chairs and Stools
Adaptations of 16th Century examples

Max sits on his Medieval Arts & Science entry
at the 2005 Northern Lights Pentathlon*

The Savonarola is a sturdy folding chair, distinctive for its many criss-crossing legs which terminate in arm rests, and its interlocking wood seat. It first came into popularity in Florence during the later half of the 15th century, and quickly became a status symbol reserved for clergy and nobility.

Sturdy, comfortable, and easy to transport; the Savonarola is just as practical today as it was during the Renaissance. They are also fun to design and build! I created designs based on several museum displays and photographs of period pieces, and then built four chairs and two stools. My Wife and I enjoy our modern adaptations in our Medieval-inspired living room, as well as in our SCAdian encampments.

Click on the thumbnail pictures to view larger images.


The new chairs have the sturdy feel of a throne. They weigh 35 lbs each, and fold to seven inches in width.

The stools use only half the number of legs, and are more lightly constructed from the seat up. This makes them suitable for carrying about outdoor events. They are also great for storing in a corner of the living room for when extra seating is needed!


Desiring to build chairs and stools which were well suited for travel, I searched for some of the simplest period examples to emulate. This chair, found at the Higgins Armory Museum, most influenced the design of my adaptations. Unlike the generously bent legs of later period examples, and of most modern adaptations, the legs of this 1529 Italian Savonarola are so straight that they could be carved from narrow slats!

I admired this particular Savonarola for its efficient and practical design. Although my adaptations borrow several features from other period examples, they closely maintain the basic form, size and proportions of this chair.






The Savonarola chair above is thought to be of European walnut, as was befitting such a status symbol. I was not prepared to purchase anything that actually resembled first-growth juglans regia however, and so chose to make my adaptations from American white ash. Ash was widely used for distinctive furniture during the 16th century, and American white ash is a reasonable substitute for its European cousin fraxinus excelsior. The wood used for the chair backs is well figured, and two of them are also richly spalted; a rare find! The adaptations are finished with a mixture of varnish and linseed oil.


Queen Svava Thorgeirsdottir expressed Her royal pleasure over the chairs at the 2005 Northern Lights Arts & Science Pentathlon with the presentation of Her "Queen's Favorite" award.

As She and King Thorvald Halvorsen had but six days left to reign, I traded their compliments by saying that my wife and I liked their chairs as well; but they refused the bait. Just how much damage did they think we were capable of doing as King & Queen in only six days?

 Christmas '04

Northern Lights '04

 Harper's '05


Furniture and Interior Decoration of the Italian Renaissance, by Frida Schottmuller, New York Brentano's, 1921

Oak Furniture, The British Tradition, by Victor Chinnery, Antique Collectors' Club Ltd., Woodbridge, Suffolk, 1979

The Smithsonian Illustrated Library of Antiques, Furniture 1, by Robert Bishop and Patricia Coblentz, Smithsonian Institution, 1979


Medieval and Renaissance Woodworking, by Gary R. Halstead, 1999 - 2004

The Peacock Chair, by Charles Oakely, 1996

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Photographs and other content are copyright 2005 by John Wilson unless otherwise credited.

* Photograph by Lee Wilson.

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