The Wicklow man who brought back the boat builders chair

Brendan Lawless

A craftsman who has seen his business saved by reviving a fascinating 19th century Irish chair design will be in the spotlight at Gifted, the Contemporary Craft and Design Fair, at the RDS from November 30 to December 4.

A chance encounter with the Boat Builder’s Chair, based on an old Irish design dating back to 1830, saved Brendan Lawless’ career and set him on a new creative path.

Brendan was is based in Kilmacanogue, worked for 25 years as a furniture maker, gaining a reputation as a skilled and experienced craftsman, before the 2008 recession almost wiped out his business.

With work drying up, others in the same boat might have opted for a career change, but Brendan’s response was to start building and selling reproductions of the Boat Builder’s Chair lying at the back of his workshop.

“Suddenly I had all this free time on my hands, so I tried to make one just like it and it took off from there. People really like its simplicity,” said Brendan.

“I bought an original version of the chair at a 2010 RDS show from a gentleman who referred to it as a Famine Chair.”

“I wanted it so I could make a version as an anniversary present for Martina. It was lying under a pile of blankets, cushions and stuff.

“I researched it and I discovered it had originated on the southern shores of Lough Neagh and had evolved from a boat-builder’s chair.”

The ‘Inishbofin’ Boat builders chair by Brendan Lawless

“The curved arms caught my eye.  It was just so simple, but attractTHe INishboive. All the woodworking joints are traditional, there are no metal fixings.

“When I began work on the Boat Builder’s Chair, I had to hone my skills in steam-bending and woodturning. 

“During the steam-bending process, I began to think about woodworking machines available today and how my predecessors would feel about such progress.

“But some things never change, I am still standing at the lathe turning the legs of the chair by hand and steaming the wood as it was done 200 years ago.”

The chair is particularly popular as a wedding gift and has also been used to seat the bride and groom during marriage ceremonies. 

‘Baidin’ from Brendan Lawless’s Boat Builders Chair Collection

The range includes the Baidin, two chairs that interlock together to make a platform for a Moses basket.

Gifted is the ultimate destination for anyone interested in design, craft and unique independent brands and will attract an expected 35,000 visitors over five days.

Over €5 million will be spent at the traditional opening to the festive season in Dublin, featuring over 400 designers, makers and artisan food producers.

Gifted will also feature Ireland’s largest collection of sustainable Christmas gifts for both adults and children.

The Sustainable Edit is a collection of sustainably produced beauty products, clothing and gift ideas as well as some incredible vintage clothing.

The Fair also features contemporary Irish jewellery, fashion, accessories, ceramics, interiors, art, photography and children’s gifts.

Gifted also hosts over 100 artisan food producers and you can meet experts who can help you source the tastiest festive fare.

It will also host a series of free workshops, presented by Irish makers, where visitors can make their own crafts such as mini-terrariums and weave their own Christmas decoration.

There will also be a series of children’s workshops over the weekend where kids can make their own Christmas decorations. 

There will be 10% off everything at Gifted on the opening day, Wednesday, November 30. 

Gifted, the Contemporary Craft and Design Fair, will take place at Dublin’s RDS from Wednesday, November 30 to Sunday, December 4.   Full details and booking can be found at

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