Finding Quality And Comfort Outdoors With The Looking Glass Perch
The Looking Glass Perch, Alan Davis, Blue Ridge Chair Works
MRV: The Buzz, Your RV Lifestyle Insider. Written By: Andrew Malo
Quality And Comfort Outdoors : The Looking Glass Perch
A Durable Chair That Lies Completely Flat And Is A Great Piece Of Furniture For Astronomers, Outdoorsmen And Even The Kitchen
The Looking Glass Perch was originally built for astronomers to place out and observe the cosmos. It is durable, made of white ash, and "packs down perfectly flat," according to the website. The chair, like many other portable ones like it, is the brainchild of Alan Davis, owner of Blue Ridge Chair Works. All of their products are made in the USA and made, "within about a hundred mile radius of Asheville, NC," Davis says. The story of the company is as American as America itself.
Davis has always been an outdoorsman, mainly as a white water rafter. He has been all over the country rafting and being near water. His introduction to woodworking came in the 1970s when he was a poor river guide. "Back then, there wasn't any plastic kayaks and you'd make your own gear," Davis recalls. He started apprenticing under the famous Keith Backlund. Backlund was a Finnish paddle maker who had an appreciation for fine wood and craftsmanship. "His time was too valuable to repair and maintain valuable paddles, so that's what I did," Davis says. At this time Davis was "living in a van." Davis humorously recalls, "nowadays it's cool to live in a van, but back then we were social outcasts."
He eventually made his way down to Atlanta, GA and got involved in the t-shirt industry. "I was buying a bed for the first time in my life and didn't realize how expensive they are!" Davis says, "So I bought a table saw instead." He started making his own furniture out of necessity and stayed with the t-shirt industry for 25 years.
In 2000, things began to shift. "During that time, the NAFTA trade deal came into being, and we lost a lot of jobs, t-shirt jobs included, to Mexico and other parts of the world." He decided to concentrate on his woodworking. "The company started as a way to build furniture to use during rafting," Davis explains, "A river trip is a proving ground for equipment. It has to be simple and durable." He was a one-man show for a while, but eventually demand greatly surpassed his ability to make the furniture. Now, "everything is digital," Davis says, "I outsource the work to craftsman near Asheville and I spend my time prototyping."
Davis explains that 150 years ago, western North Carolina was a hub of furniture making and he likes to "keep that alive." "I also like to be conscious of the earth and people. We pay a living wage and keep emissions and waste to a minimum." With the extra wood from the products, he makes bottle openers and coasters.
The Looking Glass Perch is one of their most popular items. “There just isn’t anything else like it,” Davis explains. Davis is an amateur astronomer and he noticed something one day. “I have a friend who made their own chair for watching the stars,” he recalls, “and it was functional, but big and bulky.” Davis goes on to laugh and say that most chairs that astronomers make “are very obviously designed by astronomers, not craftsman.” He took it upon himself to make a durable chair that lies completely flat. This is the Looking Glass Perch Chair. Davis was so impressed by the response that he realized it wasn’t a chair just for astronomers – but all outdoorsman and even as a stool at the kitchen counter.
“I wanted to find a name that doesn’t pigeon hole it,” he says. Looking Glass Falls is a famous waterfall in the Pisgah National Forest. “I thought it a perfect name,” he explains, “and I added perch because that’s what the people are doing – resting and observing like birds.”
Part of the durability factor comes from the kinds of wood – White Ash. Davis explains that White Ash grows all throughout the Appalachians, from Maine to Georgia, but “we use ash from Michigan or Ohio.” The wood from the north is stronger and a lot denser due to going through winters. “The Louisville Slugger and the Ames Axe handles are made from Ash – it is strong!” Davis says.
As a company, Blue Ridge Chair Works is doing really well. “This is the first time in my life I can do something that is a reflection of me,” Davis explains. He says he never wants a big company, but wants a great small company. “The pendulum is shifting towards us in this country,” Davis says. He explains that they get a lot of customers from places like Japan, as the culture there, “likes high quality outdoor gear.” Davis humorously says that Americans used to dream about climbing Mount Everest, “but really like to just sit around a campfire and drink beer.” Now, though, people want more high quality outdoor products. “They are tired of their $8 big box chairs breaking on them.” And USA-made chairs like the Looking Glass Perch are here for a permanent replacement.
A graduate of Northeastern Illinois University in Education, Andrew has
taught for the past decade in Chicago, New Mexico, and Japan. He
enjoys tinkering with trucks and motorcycles, woodworking, reading and