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Monadnock Profile: Miniature chairs are now Greenfield resident’s David Bridgewater’s life work

  • Greenfield resident David Bridgewater makes miniature chairs in his home workshop, a skill that resulted in becoming a juried member of the League of N.H. Craftsmen. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • Greenfield resident David Bridgewater makes miniature chairs in his home workshop, a skill that resulted in becoming a juried member of the League of N.H. Craftsmen. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • Greenfield resident David Bridgewater makes miniature chairs in his home workshop, a skill that resulted in becoming a juried member of the League of N.H. Craftsmen. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin

  • Greenfield resident David Bridgewater makes miniature chairs in his home workshop, a skill that resulted in becoming a juried member of the League of N.H. Craftsmen. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • Greenfield resident David Bridgewater makes miniature chairs in his home workshop, a skill that resulted in becoming a juried member of the League of N.H. Craftsmen. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • Greenfield resident David Bridgewater makes miniature chairs in his home workshop, a skill that resulted in becoming a juried member of the League of N.H. Craftsmen. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • The selection of miniature chairs made by Greenfield resident David Bridgewater. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin

  • David Bridgewater. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—



Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Wednesday, October 03, 2018 4:46PM

After years of building kitchens and bathrooms, spiral staircases and cabinets, bank teller stations and what at the time was the longest bar on the East Coast, David Bridgewater just didn’t want to take on projects of that magnitude anymore.

He was a shop teacher in his native England, who after moving to the states in 1979 to help his brother start a business importing British crafts, got the itch to start his own business. The expectation was to do “small, crafty woodwork” but his first job was for his brother’s neighbor to build custom doors and the aforementioned spiral staircase. From there, the jobs were more carpentry work than anything else.

Along the way, he made these two miniature chairs “maybe 20 to 30 years ago,” Bridegwater said. One was a birthday gift for his brother and “I sold one, my wife told me, but I have no recollection,” he said.

“I probably started them because I didn’t have any other work,” he said.

When he decided to get away from the home renovations, he started thinking about what he could do. Then he remembered that chair. He liked smaller, intricate works, so he did some research to see if anyone else was making them.

He found a company, Vitra, in Eastern Europe that specialized in miniatures of chairs created in the late 19th and 20th century chairs, and a few other smaller makers in other parts of Europe – and not even those were the kind of chairs Bridgewater was thinking about. He wanted to make even older chairs. 

“No one was doing the old chairs,” Bridgewater said. “So I'm it.”

Now these aren’t doll house size chairs, which are 3 ½ inches high. The chairs Bridgewater makes are 1/6 scale to the actual chair, and stand at about 7 inches tall.  He makes them true to scale and is precise in his recreation of even the smallest details of construction, material and color.

“You can’t get all the details in,” Bridgewater said of the doll house size.

Currently, he has five design: the Shaker Armchair, Governor Carver Chair, Bow-back Windsor Side Chair, Fan-back Windsor Chair and the Adirondack Chair.

“The first one probably took me a year, but I was doing other stuff in between,” he said.

Each one is meticulously created with the utmost detail in mind, down to the most minute one. Take the legs on the Windsor chairs or the back rest of the Governor Carver as a couple examples. The precision and time it takes to make those grooves and get every last detail (to scale) correct is why he was so easily welcomed into the League of N.H. Craftsmen as a juried member. It can be quite the process to become juried, but “the first guy that walked in said ‘you’re in.’”

“I have lots and lots of interests and it’s paid off,” Bridgewater said.

His chairs are sold at various League stores, and were also available at the annual Craftsmen Fair this summer. But still, Bridgewater is trying to determine what kind of market there is for his chairs. They’re finally crafted and take a lot of time, so the prices (ranging from $195 for the Adirondack to $360 for the Fan-back Windsor) appeal to only a certain line of collectors.

“The question has been: Is there a market in the doll world for my chairs?” he said. “I hope I sell enough that I need to make more.”

Since there is so much detail and exactness and precise angles to his work, Bridgewater has created all sorts of jigs and metal patterns that help cut down the time it takes to create each one. He also works in batches, so he’ll make 10 at a time. For something like the Governor Carver, means 20 back legs and 20 front – and that’s not accounting for mistakes and imperfections, which can easily happen when you’re working with something so small.

“I try to get as close as possible,” he said. “So if I make 10 chairs that’s 40 legs, so I’ll make 60. I do quality control as I go.”

Each new chair, meant more trial and error in his wood shop located in his Greenfield home barn. He takes notes, as each chair has its own journal, and keeps tabs on what worked and what didn’t. There are scale drawings and each jig and metal plate is labeled because there are so many of them.

Bridgewater has just about any hand tool you can imagine in his shop. He even makes the boxes that the chairs are sold in.

“I use various tools to do all the different parts,” he said.

For the Shaker and Governor Carver, he even does all the weaving for the seats.

“I taught myself how to do that, 50 odd years ago,” Bridgewater said.

Bridgewater has more ideas for new chairs, but wants to see how things progress with the ones he has before streamlining another model.

For now, the 74-year-old plans to just keep making his miniature chairs in his home wood shop – one tiny leg, seat and spindle at a time.

For more, visit miniaturechairmaker.com.