Made by Hand…Made with Pride - Troutman Chair CompanyJun 07, 2022 08:59AM ● By Kristie Darling
Feature photo: Jean Land. Photo by Adam Whitlow
The signs of a great design are lasting beauty and consistency in quality. Troutman Chairs have been handcrafted with the finest woods by experienced, skilled craftsmen, using designs and techniques that have withstood not only the test of time, but also the up-close-and-personal testing of thousands of satisfied chair-sitters since 1924.
“We’re about to celebrate 100 years —100! Our story has had many twists and turns, but our chairs have always been among the finest hand-made chairs you can buy,” owner Jean Land says. “No one knows exactly when Troutman Chairs actually started up as a business—rumor is the Murdock family got it started, but when we bought it 22 years ago from Phillip Brown, after a succession of Browns had been operating here for some time, our banker said we’d found a ‘diamond in the rough.’ I felt our job was to take care of it like you would a diamond and keep it shiny for years to come. And here we are...”
Jean says she has always loved wood and crafts. “I got this business right from the start—what a fine product this is and how families cherish our chairs. They don’t just put them on the porch to decorate, they sit in them and watch the world go by with someone they love, they rock and rest in them, nurse their babies in them, eat meals together at the dining table…our chairs become treasured heirlooms.” Indeed, when thinking about buying a wooden chair, people do their research and discover that Troutman chairs have traditional, fine features and details that make them uniquely exceptional.
The Kennedy Rocker
“We can pretty much make anything you might want in a chair, a child’s chair, rocker, bench or stool, and lots of other handcrafted wooden items, like tables, butcher blocks, bowls and cups, candle sticks, and the list goes on,” Jean explained. “We’re especially known for our rockers, and most people don’t realize that 14 years ago, we bought P&P Chair Company. P&P built John Kennedy’s iconic Oval Office rocker, the one prescribed by his doctor for his chronically aching back.” Years ago, ergonomics was a thing, but it wasn’t being used in products. Today, because of its user-friendly comfort features, a Kennedy rocker is specifically recommended for back pain and stress by physical therapists, surgeons, cardiologists, chiropractors, even counselors. Rocking chair therapy is a real thing…how can you not relax when you’re gently rocking in such a comfortable chair, put together piece-by-piece with heart?
Troutman Chairs holds the trademark on the Official Kennedy Rocker. There are 11 hand-turned dowels in five different lengths in the base of every rocker, and 37 pieces in total, each hand-produced to fit the human shape. “More individual pieces and more user-friendly design elements, like curves in the seat and back to align with your body, make them more comfortable than the chairs you’ll find at big box stores. And, of course, wood, not resin, make all the difference,” Jean says. “They give you respite.”
Crafting Chairs with Heart
Troutman chairs are passed down through families as treasured pieces from the household. “Wood holds energy,” Jean shared. “We’re able to take natural trees, provided by God, and put that character, energy, and beauty into furniture for people to enjoy all their lives…Wood is a living thing until it’s burned.”
The 22 craftsmen who work the wood with Jean and her son, Cam, know there’s a story in each chair. They make and finish about 400 a week. Every piece that goes into the construction of a Troutman chair is cut, turned, sanded, pressed, steam-bent, and assembled—without glue—totally by hand, start to finish. A traditional Shaker method is used…swelled joint construction. Woodworkers closely monitor moisture in the lumber, and only when it's at the right level, do they make the base boards for the front and back posts. Smaller posts swell as they absorb moisture and larger posts shrink as they lose moisture…it all gets tighter as it ages.
Interlocking joinery, where the fronts and backs are assembled separately also ensures the chair last for a lifetime. “When the front and back frames are clamped together, the boring on each notches the front and back post dowels. That makes it just about impossible for a chair to be pulled apart,” Jean explained.
Jean and her team express their pride in each chair. “It feels good knowing we’re continuing a truly Southern tradition—handcrafting furniture in the old-fashioned, handed-down ways for front porch rocking.” Iced tea anyone?
Throughout the shop, stacks of partially put-together chairs are surrounded by more stacks—boards, dowels, seat and back slats, legs, armrests, runners. Machinery that looks as old as some trees, are interspersed throughout the aisles and piles. Power tools, old and new, and lots of hand tools line benches and shelves. There’s some sawdust. Huge flat-bed dollies move materials from one work area to the next.
There’s a small sawmill out back. Oak comes in from local loggers to be cut, stacked, dried. “Our employees are true craftsmen in every sense of the word. They are precise and meticulous…they need to be when creating a chair piece that must match up, fit perfectly, and be smooth to the touch, as well,” Jean said. “In fact, a lot of our customers get to meet the makers of their chairs or pick out the boards for their table when they come in to order or pickup. We have a small showroom and a tour can be arranged.”
Elegant, Simple, Understated
It’s quite possible you’ve sat in a Troutman chair without even realizing it. The most well-known collection in our area is at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport. Have you seen them and thought…Wow! What a cool idea is that?
“In 2000, smart folks at the Airport went looking for a North Carolina company who could build and supply them with rockers for the atrium, and they found us,” Jean said with a smile. “The first order was 100, and then they needed more for the upper level and new concourse. We still get orders…and people are still surprised to see them and very glad to have a beautiful, comfortable rocking chair to sit in and rest their feet.” What was once just a rushing around place, Charlotte’s public spaces are now more like a front porch where you can people-watch, plane-watch, and take a breather. Charlotte started a trend for comfy rockers at airports…who knew?
Not far west, in Black Mountain, is the YMCA’s famous Blue Ridge Assembly, where the mission is to impact lives, develop youth, and shape leaders…obviously a place for rocking chairs! Green Kennedy rockers fill the front portico that faces Black Mountain…what a view! They are the most comfortable experience at Blue Ridge—kids and adults know it’s the best place to sit!
Troutman chairs have multiple purposes. The Green Rocker Society is the Assembly’s largest philanthropic endeavor. With a pledge, you can support the program of your choice, and in turn, receive a limited-edition green rocker watercolor painting, as well as a custom-made plaque on the back of a chair overlooking the mountains. It’s a win-win.
Want One of Your Own?
The good news is, you don’t have to go anywhere but your front porch, bedroom, living room, kitchen, or dining room to enjoy a Troutman chair. With this beautifully crafted, practical, and lovingly created chair in your own home, you’ll be physically comforted, pleasingly rested, sitting up to a fine meal with family, or passing down an heirloom to future generations. Pull up your chair—and enjoy life!