By Karen Ott Mayer | Photography courtesy of Blue Ridge Chair Works
Portable, yet sturdy outdoor chairs are the hallmark of a company founded on simple designs that withstand time and the elements.
Alan Davis wore many hats in life prior to founding Blue Ridge Chair Works in 2000. A former river guide and founder of a T-shirt business in his early days, Davis’ world today is steeped in wood, furniture designs, and pushing the limits of simplicity.
“I’ve done a lot in my life but this is the first time I got to start from a clean slate with this company. This work is truly a reflection of me,” he says.
While that statement may imply he’s all about sitting, nothing could be further from the truth. From the time he was in high school, he connected with the outdoors and nature.
“When I graduated from high school, it was the height of the Vietnam War so there was a lot of controversy,” he remembers. “I love nature and sort of disappeared into it for the next 15 years as a white river guide.”
Running many of the big rivers out West in rugged, remote areas, Davis began to appreciate anything that could weather days in the wild. In fact, the idea of Blue Ridge Chair Works began slowly forming on one such trip to Idaho. A few days into a week-long excursion, one guest’s portable chair broke.
“Here we were only two days into the trip and the chair broke,” he recalls. Having always tinkered in woodworking, Davis began to think about simple, durable, utilitarian designs for portable chairs and headed into his workshop. His ultimate design?
“A very simple design. There is a complexity to simplicity,” says Davis. A self-professed mountain guy whose business and life are based in western North Carolina and Appalachia, Davis believes equally in preserving the region’s traditional craft of woodworking.
“When all the jobs left here, the craftsmen were still here. Today, the local mills handle our production,” he says. “It’s our way of keeping the spark of a 150-year heritage alive.”
Blue Ridge Chair Works may have begun with one simple chair design but now offers customers several design options. And while the designs have expanded, they all share a common thread.
“Everything folds up. Each piece is portable, sturdy and durable,” says Davis.
One tour of the website reveals Davis’ vision in full, folding color. Blue Ridge Chair Works offers two main lines for different outdoor pursuits: action and leisure.
“One line is geared for the outdoor action types while the other focuses on the more leisurely porch, deck and RV crowds,” explains Davis.
Dedicated to innovating and tinkering, Davis likes to think about new, practical designs as well as whimsical products that always focus on sustainability and recycling.
“I am an open faucet of clever ideas,” he says with a huge, sarcastic laugh.
What others may see as disposable, he views as redeemable. In fact, the very idea of waste and poor design also played a key part in his drive to create a product designed to last. On a trip to the beach, he left with one clear memory.
“At the end of the day, the garbage can was full of broken chairs.” It’s those pivotal moments that helped define what Davis calls the unchanged “general ethos” of his vision that was born nearly 20 years ago. Over his career, Davis and his team have sold more than 100,000 chairs all with a standard guarantee.
Blue Ridge Chair Works also offers niche products like the Highlands deck chair, and an extra-large deck chair designed to handle up to 500 pounds. “The reality is we’ve become a bigger society and weight is a factor,” says Davis.
Another cool design is the Looking Glass Perch, which is a chair designed with an adjustable seat. “The chair works through sliding mechanics so you can raise the seat depending on what you’re doing. It’s handy for a workbench or kitchen.” Customers can choose from several bright colors for canvas seats and backs for all the chair designs.
Other lines include clever folding tables of different sizes, all designed to make the outdoors just a little more refined. Davis still uses White Ash for all his products, explaining that the wood brought in from Michigan and Ohio is stronger with dense rings due to the colder weather.
As he approaches retirement years, his thoughts turn to how to ensure Blue Ridge Chair Works lives into the future long after he’s gone. “I don’t have a lot of family and I’d like for this company to become a legacy business.”
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