March 2017

A Garden Stool: The Diminutive Epitome of Transformative

Author: Kitty Bartell

Not a single magazine in my home is without tattered corners. As most magazine addicts will attest (I admit to the moniker without shame), the pleasure of recalling something previously seen or read, and actually finding it a second or third or fourth time amongst the thousands of pages perused in any given month, is sheer joy: food for thought, recipes, a great interview, the best pair of sandals ever, inspiration of all kinds. My fine-tuned system of turning down the corner of magazine pages when inspiration strikes is certainly not revolutionary; it did however, recently reveal a trend worthy of investigation.

Home design magazines and articles are a favorite, and over the past several months I have noticed an inordinate number of pages with tattered, turned-down corners where the inspiration that drew my attention was the deceptively ordinary garden stool. Upon closer look, they are hardly ordinary; the modern incarnation of this ancient, décor-enhancing, drum-shaped, stool stands about a foot-and-a-half tall, and is the diminutive epitome of transformative. Tucked in amongst the beautiful furnishings and flowers of these magazine pages were garden stools in all manner of eye-catching color and style. “Garden stools inject personality into any space,” said Margo Maguire, interior designer. “I bring a lot of color and fun to my designs, and a garden stool makes it into almost every room.”

Dating back to nearly 4,000 BCE, Chinese history revealed that as people desired a way to sit up off the floor or ground, low stools were fashioned out of wood and animal skins for this purpose. By the Song Dynasty (960-1279), and even further refined during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), the garden stool had evolved and became a requisite feature to garden and home. Chinese homes were built around courtyards, where garden and landscape design were emphasized, and where seating was desired. It is believed that the current incarnation of the garden stool came from the Buddhist tradition, where natural elements, like tree stumps and smooth rocks, were used as seats.

Evidenced by the prolific number of magazine layouts (remember those turned-down corners?) where their personalities bring a space to life, garden stools are a hot commodity right now, available on-the-cheap (big box retailers), at elegant home furnishing retailers and refined interior design firms, all the way to up high-value auctions, purchased by serious collectors (think Ming Dynasty).

Rather than stumps and stones, garden stools are now primarily made from glazed stoneware, porcelain, metals, and wood. Used indoors and out, the broad range of materials allows them to function nearly everywhere. As one of the most adaptable décor furnishings, color options are nearly limitless, and given their small stature, these little gems are excellent candidates for placing eye-catching color in any space, large or small.

Usually drum-shaped, garden stools are anything but plain. With hand-painted decoration, fretwork, relief flourishes, and pierced motifs, the mood may be whimsical or refined. Animals, particularly elephants, are sometimes incorporated in the design, or the stool itself may be in the shape of the beast. Garden stools are to the style of a room as throw pillows are to a well-appointed sofa. Their relative economy and unlimited color and style choices, provide mood-changing options for every space. And when ready for an update, they are easily, and economically switched out to reset the vibe.

Garden stools are as equally adaptable to function as they are to style. Of course, the stonework and porcelain variety are suited perfectly to outdoor spaces and changes in the weather—performing beautifully as seating among the flowers and shrubs, as plant stands, and being just the right size on which to set a tall glass of iced tea while reading about the latest fertilizers for your hydrangeas. Imagine a chubby, lavender stool nestled amongst the complementary greenery of your hedgerow, or a pristine, white porcelain piece sharing space with porch rockers and a sunset view.

There is no limit to the garden stool’s ability to function in a space. Acting as end tables, coffee tables, a place to toss keys or set a purse, for towels in the bath, mittens in the mudroom, or stowed under a console to be retrieved for extra seating when the party overflows. The water-resistant variety are fun accents inside walk-in showers to accommodate soaps and shampoos, and at a home’s entrances to play supporting players to potted plants and flowers.

Revisiting all those turned-down corners in all those magazines turned up the volume on my desire to inject some fun and function into my space. And as a bonus, garden stools require no instructions for installation or operation. Find a bit of square footage, and voilà—you’re ready to pose a petunia, rest a martini, or offer a seat to a friend. Looking forward to what the turned down corners reveal next month. 

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