MANZANO, Italy - The big chair to end all big chairs looms on the flat horizon in northeast Italy, and it's enough to make a Bay Stater homesick. After all, Gardner, Mass., reputedly started the madness back in 1905 when the town erected a 12-foot Mission chair at the railroad depot as a symbol of its signature industry. Thus began the "Big Chair" wars, as other furniture towns such as Thomasville, N.C., and Morristown, Tenn., built their own big seats. Even Old Avon Village in Connecticut got into the act with a relatively diminutive 9-foot rocking chair. Gardner's current effort is a 20-foot, 7-inch Heywood-Wakefield model.
But the Italians get the last word when it comes to furniture. The Guinness world record for the tallest chair in the world belongs to a 20-meter (65 1/2-foot) wooden chair standing inside a traffic circle on the outskirts of Manzano, a village in the Friuli region near the Slovenian border.
The regional chair-makers' association, Promosedia, commissioned the eye-popping prop in 1995 to promote its local product. Although Manzano and 10 surrounding villages produce 40 million chairs a year from local oak and beech wood - three-quarters of Italy's total and half the chairs made in all of Europe - they've been fighting Chinese knockoffs. In 1996 the wooden replica of Manzano's medieval all-purpose wooden chair, the "Marocca," was set in its permanent home at the edge of town. It's not a driving hazard because it's so tall that drivers can only see the legs from inside the car.
"Marocca" model wooden chair in a traffic circle on the SS56 (Via Udine), Manzano, Italy.