A Better Rocker

Robert Bragg is smiling at the intersection of form and function. Photo by Lauren Rutten.

The realtor suggested demolition, but Robert Bragg couldn’t bear to part with the crumbling cabin and barn in Marshall he bought four years ago. Bragg has a fondness for history, and for antique forms.

And yet that hasn’t kept him from building a better rocking chair. Bragg is the creator of a distinctively shaped, ergonomic chair whose fans declare it to be the most comfortable one that was ever rocked.

“After multiple back surgeries, including a multi-level spinal fusion with inserted metal rods, I found most rocking chairs to be too rigid and inflexible for me,” Bragg explains. And thus necessity proved a fruitful mother of invention: “I embarked on a quest to design an original, ergonomic rocking chair with a supportive yet flexible lumbar region.” 

Combining the best of traditional design with a modernist flair, Bragg’s patented rocker represents several years of research drawing on his career in aerospace technology and quality management. The result is a chair with a cantilevered seat and flexible, steam-bent back supports, all painstakingly assembled from native hardwoods — walnut, cherry, ash, and oak — without the use of metal fasteners. The chair is ingenious enough to have been named a finalist in last year’s “Made in NC” awards, administered by Our State magazine.

Bragg’s rockers, which support the small of the back, are typically crafted in cherry, ash, walnut, and oak. Photo by Lauren Rutten.

Retired from his 35-year career in the aerospace industry but still passionate about a childhood love of woodworking — born from a workbench in his father’s Maryland basement —Bragg was acutely sensitive to the way minor flaws in each step of the design process can pile up to produce an end product with major defects. So he set about designing a labor-intensive process that he undertakes for his custom-made chairs. “It’s paramount to me that each rocking chair is handcrafted by me personally,” says Bragg, who uses phrases like “robust joinery” and “optimized customer fit” when talking about his engineering design.

That process begins with an assessment of a client’s specific physical needs. Bragg makes adjustments to his standard model and prefits each chair to allow for hand chiseling any minor joint adjustments. The chair is then taken apart and prepared for final assembly and bonding utilizing fixtures of Bragg’s own design.

“I designed and fabricated these fixtures to apply the necessary clamping force in the precise locations for adequate bonding,” he explains. Once the chair is complete, up to six coats of oil finish are applied. Hand sanding after each application produces a satiny finish.

But Bragg’s rocking chair is only the beginning of a growing line of beautifully designed and finished furniture and wood art. Unique items range from side tables and ergonomic loungers to beds and grandfather clocks.

Ready to rock. Photo by Lauren Rutten.

When Bragg first visited the North Carolina mountains, he was captivated with Madison County and with his future property’s potential as a base for his craft. The dilapidated cabin and barn are now fully restored; the former serves as Bragg’s home and workshop, and the old tobacco barn is undergoing a transformation to become a display space for his crafted pieces.

“My friends and family thought I was crazy to take on these old structures that were in great disrepair,” Bragg remembers. “But I couldn’t bear the thought of tearing down all this history.”

History of a more personal nature plays a part, too, in Bragg’s latest design project. “Less than a year ago, I lost my best friend — my father, the greatest musician I know,” Bragg says. “As a band teacher to thousands of students, my father could play any instrument. He played baritone in the Air Force Band and also enjoyed playing trumpet, double string bass, and acoustic guitar. … I wanted to find a way to honor him and my [guitarist] brother, whose musical influence greatly impacted me, [too]. So I’ve begun prototyping a music stand, which I’m very excited about. 

“My work has always been infused with the history and culture that surrounds me.”

Robert Bragg Handcrafted Wooden Rocking Chairs, Marshall. For more information, including setting up a consultation, call 828-206-3555, e-mail robertbraggdesigns@gmail.com or see robertbragg.com

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