A.J. Donahue’s ‘Winnipeg Chair’

My husband, Graham, and I have always had an affinity for chair collecting.  Over the years we have found and gone through many chairs.  Usually we think we will recover them but often we don’t.  Eventually we give them away or ‘store’ them in friends’ cabins. Graham found this chair at our local ‘Sellution’ consignment store.  He was immediately drawn to its design.  We did some research and found out it had a name and a very interesting history.

The ‘Winnipeg Chair’, also known as, the Canadian Coconut Chair, was designed by an Architect by the name of A.J. Donahue.   A.J. studied at Harvard with Marcel Breuer in the 1940s and explored techniques of bent wood furniture construction. After Harvard, Donahue settled in Winnipeg to teach architecture. Donahue developed his lounge chair, according to Rachel Gottlieb’s book Design in Canada (Design Exchange, 2001), in the late 1940’s in his basement with the assistance of his students. Donahue only produced about 200 examples of the chairs and we happen to have one of them.

The Winnipeg chair bears some resemblance to George Nelson’s Coconut chair—which actually wasn’t introduced until much later, in 1955.  According to Tim Borys, founder of the new furniture company HutJ, which is reissuing the Winnipeg chair, “That’s a classic Canadian story. Here’s a great design that gets swept under the rug and then it gets knocked off five years later,” Borys says, before remembering his Canadian manners. “I’ll be careful where I push that story. I don’t want to offend anyone.”