Lynda Hallinan shows how to revitalise a rocking chair
Soothing and therapeutic, a rocking chair is more than just a place to sit, says Lynda Hallinan, who has upcycled three bargain buys into desirable pieces.
What do terry towelling dressing gowns, polar fleece throws, Birkenstocks and rubber Crocs have in common? They’re emblematic of that eternal design conflict between function and form, and comfort and style.
As a cash-strapped student, I once bought the biggest, ugliest couch I’ve ever owned. It took an entire academic year to pay off on lay-by and by the time it was truly mine, I’d succumbed to buyer’s remorse – and not just because it required an engineering degree (when, sadly, I was studying journalism) to work out how to fit it through our flat’s front door.
My first couch wasn’t just big, it was morbidly obese. It was fit to burst with overstuffed arms, corpulent cushions, squat oak cankles and a padded back studded with oversized buttons. Its only saving grace, aside from its inoffensive navy upholstery, was the fact that it was the most comfortable couch I’d ever sat on.
The same is true of my second ugliest furniture purchase, five years ago: the large black La-Z-Boy recliner I bought on the way home from hospital following the birth of my eldest son, Lucas.
Was I off my rocker? No, but I urgently needed a comfortable nursing chair.
Our house is compact and the classic La-Z-Boy recliner is not. But despite its bulkiness, I quickly befriended it, spending many a fractious night quietly rocking my newborn son – and myself – to sleep between its milk-stained armrests.
When Lucas learned to talk, his first word was “digger”. His second and third? “Mummy” and “Daddy”. And his fourth, fifth and sixth: “The
Big Chair”. He considered it his personal throne and when his baby brother, Lachlan, was born he’d throw a tantrum whenever I dared unseat him from it.
When The Big Chair was ultimately retired to my husband’s office, I was surprised to realise how much I missed it. I didn’t miss the way it hogged half our lounge, scuffed the wallpaper behind it or karate-chopped our shins when its footrest was up. I also didn’t miss the conflict it caused as we – me, my husband, both sons and all four cats – fought to claim the prime position in
front of the telly, but I did miss that comforting sensation of gently rocking in it.
Why does swaying backwards and forwards soothe our stresses? Some say it reminds us of being in the womb – which rings true to anyone who has ever cradled a crotchety baby – while others reckon the rocking motion releases a calming hit of happiness hormones or endorphins.
Medical studies suggest that rocking has many therapeutic benefits: a study by the University of Carolina found that rocking chairs can alleviate chronic pain conditions such as fibromyalgia, while some surgeons recommend rocking chairs to reduce recovery times after major operations.
US President John F. Kennedy’s doctor famously prescribed him a rocking chair to relieve back pain. He was so fond of his steambent Appalachian oak rocker that he ordered one for the Oval Office, another for Camp David, and a third for Air Force One. He also gave them to visiting heads of state (compare that to the souvenir Hobbit sword Barack Obama gave John Key when he visited the
White House in 2011).
In the late 1990s, a study by the University of Rochester’s School of Nursing found dementia patients who sat in rocking chairs for at least an hour a day could literally rock their worries away. Daily rocking reduced anxiety and depression symptoms by as much as a third, saw a reduction in medication requested for aches and pains, and improved balance, resulting in fewer debilitating falls.
Though rocking chairs are generally associated with grannies parked on porches, they come in contemporary styles too, from Italian designer Lorenza Bozzoli’s Fedro floor rocker – a legless punk rocker that looks like a shoehorn got it on with a woven plastic shopping basket – to British designer Katie Walker’s stunning Ribbon rocker. A single continuous band of laminated ash with a leather saddle seat, it was dubbed an instant classic by Grand
Designs host Kevin McCloud and the Manchester Art Gallery immediately nabbed one for its permanent collection.
Designer rocking chairs such as David Trubridge’s oiled beech Dondola – it’s Italian for rocker – will set you back a pretty penny, but secondhand rocking chairs go for a song in op shops and on online auction sites (Bob Dylan’s Rock Me Mama, perhaps?). I recently bought three on Trade Me – one big, one medium, one just right – and still had change from $100. That’s what I call a cheap, chic, comforting solution to all our seating arguments.
Left: Lynda picked up this old pink rocking chair for $20 on Trade Me. It was in such good nick that all it needed was a lick of paint. Above left: In a reading nook, contrast a classic rocker with contemporary wallpaper, such as this Cedar pattern by Scion Levande. Above right: Lynda’s son Lachlan, three, in his pine rocker. The Huia print is by Hawke’s Bay artist Rakai Karaitiana.
Above left: Lynda smartened up a wooden rocker for her son Lachlan’s room by giving it painted highlights using Resene ‘Aqua’. The result is fresh and modern. Above right: The original plan for this Trade Me bargain was to reupholster it, but the chair was in such good condition Lynda decided that wasn’t necessary. After painting its woodwork with Resene ‘Pink Panther’ she added a bright, sassy, flamingoprint cushion – and the chair was ready to rock on once more.