Style At Home

March 2008

campaign furniture

Centuries before Ikea, campaign style popularized the concept flat-packed furniture – and some “some assembly required” By Brett Waltier

the history

In the 18th and 19th centuries, the terms officer and a gentleman were synonymous. The British Army ws led by the upper class – well heeled, highly educated gentlemen who were used to luxury at home, and who had no desire to sacrifice their comfortable and stylish surroundings while on military campaigns abroad. The problem? Georgian and Victorian period furnishings were cumbersome, and would be highly impractical cargo for men on the march through the African and Indian reaches of the British Empire. The solution? Furnishings that were light and easily erected and folded up in a matter of moments yet maintained an air of refinement. Taking design cues from the elements of ultra portable “knock down furniture” that had been used by traveling armies since the time of Julius Caesar but informed by decorating trends dictated by London’s tastemakers, campaign style was born.

the look

Think safari-chic, directed by functionality. Campaign beds, chests, tables and chairs were constructed to collapse or unscrew quickly and easily – a far cry from the rock solid dovetail joints that characterized other furnishings. Cane and teak were often used as frame materials, but also because they were lightweight and suited to humid conditions. Similarly, heavy-duty canvas was ideal for upholstery. Heavier pieces were fitted with handles and lugs sunk into the body of the construction to keep them streamlined, stowable and impervious to breakage.


Modern-day campaign furnishings are a testament to the style’s enduring appeal and practicality: convenient for the modern nomad. The 30 pieces that Long Island City, New York based furniture designer Richard Wrightman has created were inspired by authentic examples he grew up with. “I particularly loved my father’s campaign chair, on which I base my Chatwin chair,” he says. “It’s an homage to the safari, or British officer’s chair of the 1890’s.” Right down to the use of canvas and loose mortise-and-tenon joinery, which allows the legs to adjust to uneven ground and permits quick assembly, Richard’s collection remains true to the originals, albeit with a mid-century modern twist. “My furniture is utilitarian, lightweight and adaptable to different spaces,” he says. “I’m always struck by how well it fits in with traditional as well as contemporary environments.”