George Doukoff: The man behind the ‘Volkschair’.

Image
George Doukoff and his ‘Volkschair’. (image: National Library of Australia).

A chair can be many things to many people, but can a chair actually improve
your wellbeing? According to Bulgarian born designer George Doukoff,
who in 1958 designed the “Volkschair”, the answer is a resounding ‘yes’.
Doukoff had learnt his furniture making skills as a youth living in Sofia,
Bulgaria before moving to Hungary where he practiced his trade between
1936-1945. He then moved to Belguim and later migrated to Australia in
1951, taking with him his wife, a Hungarian chemist whom he had met
in Germany.

Doukoff spent four years working as a tram driver in Brisbane before
opening a small furniture manufacturing business specialising in the design
and production of chairs. By 1956, Doukoff’s moved his growing business,
along with his nine employees, to a newly established store and workshops
in Brisbane, where he developed new designs for easy chairs, dining chairs,
kitchen chairs, and bedroom chairs. But according to Doukoff, he was
“always searching for THE chair. It had to be
 comfortable and
adaptable for use in schools, hospitals 
and public transport
as well as in homes…
 And its price had to be right”.

Image
The ‘Volkschair’ also known as the ‘Health line chair’.

After dozens of experiments, the ‘Volkschair’ (also referred to by
Doukoff as the ‘Health line chair’) was designed and produced to
meet the requirements of both government institutions and the
everyday home. Like Australian designer Grant Featherston who
had considered the nexus between the comfort and the human
form when he designed his ‘contour’ range of chairs, it may be
said that Doukoff also strived to design a chair that would reduce
stress and strain on the user whilst providing high levels of comfort.

The chair features a single piece of upholstered moulded plywood
to form the back and seat, set off by timber armrests. Produced in
two models, customers could choose from timber or steel legs.
A feature of the chair is the ability to unscrew the entire frame,
arms, legs and base, making it easy to remove the seat from the
solid maple frame for cleaning or recovering. The one-piece
plywood back, made from gluing and pressing three pieces
of 3/16 inch plywood, is covered with a half inch foam rubber
which is then upholstered in ‘plastic hide’, or fabric.

The chair, designed for use in hospitals, schools, and domestic
dwellings received high praise from both Commonwealth and
Queensland State health authorities. According to an article
published in The Cumberland Argus in 1958, ‘Doukoff and Co’,
the Brisbane based manufacturer, were producing one hundred
Volkschairs a week but planned to mass-produce the chair for
use in schools and hospitals. Doukoff’s use of “new methods” to
inform the development and production of a chair design that
was comfortable, affordable and easily dismantled for cleaning
and/or recovering is a great example of the innovation and creativity
exhibited by so many émigré designers, artists and craftspeople who
found themselves producing furniture during the post-war period in
Australia. People like Fred Lowen, Schulim Krimper, Steven Kalmar,
George Korody and Dario Zoureff to name but a few.

Today you can still find examples of George Doukoff’s beautiful ‘Volkschair’,
and I think its fair to say that the chair still continues to deliver comfort
and a feeling of wellbeing. Thank you George.

References:

  1. The Cumberland Argus (Parramatta, NSW : 1950 – 1962), Wednesday 5 February 1958, page 6
  2. The Cumberland Argus (Parramatta, NSW : 1950 – 1962), Wednesday 17 September 1958, page 5
  3. Destination Australia: Sharing our Post-war Migrant Stories
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