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.”

27 thoughts on “A.J. Donahue’s ‘Winnipeg Chair’

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  2. I live in Winnipeg. Today my neighbour from across the hall came by and asked if I could help her move a couple things down to the trash for her tomorrow because she is moving out and her husband will be away.

    I said sure, and she mumbled something about there being a small couch and I could have sworn she said ‘Winnipeg chair frame’…we could have them if we wanted them.

    I’ve long known about the Winnipeg chair, I had a friend long ago with 3 or 4 of them, one of them in mint condition and I always wanted one. I’m hoping she said what I think she said, but I’ll have to wait till tomorrow to find out. I don’t care if it is just the chassis, I will re-upholster. Trying not to get my hopes too far up.

      • Darn! Keep looking!!! There is a vintage store here in Vancouver that has a couple of them. Let me know if you are interested in learning more.

        Keep me posted on your quest for the Winnipeg Chair!! Good Luck, Tina

    • Hi there DeeTeeOhBee,

      How exciting! Thanks for telling me about your Winnipeg Chair experience! You can find them every now and then, and I believe there are plans to reintroduce the ‘Chair,’ although it is nice to get an original! Keep an eye on your friends collection. Tina

      • There were thousands of these chairs manufactured. It’s an attractive urban myth that just a couple hundred were made. In fact, the chairs were sold through department stores throughout Canada until the mid-1970s.
        There appear to have been five (5) variations of the chair over the 25-30 years they were made.

        • Hi Tom,

          Perhaps the first prototypes were in a 200 unit batch. I didn’t know that Department stores sold them as well as it does make sense that they would need to get the chairs to the market. I will let my source know! Thanks for reaching out! Tina

  3. How muchnis reasonable to offer for one these? There’s one for sale on my city’s Craigslist and it’s gorgeous. Thanks for your advice.

    • Hi there,
      I am not an expert in pricing these chairs so I called a local shop to seek some advice. Mary has had a number of Donahue chairs go through her shop and is somewhat of an expert. She says it depends on the condition of the chair, what the base is made of, what condition the upholstery is in, whether the rubber balls feet are still in tact, etc. In the end she said she thinks the price range can be between $1000-$2000.

      However, in my opinion if you like the chair, and can see yourself loving it for a long time, it is worth what you can afford to pay. Chairs should be comfortable first, beautiful second, and an investment, a distant third. I’d love to see a photo of your prospective chair! Good luck, Tina

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      • Hi Bo H.
        I personally do not have a chair for sale. However, they do come up once every now and then. I will keep my eyes open for you and will let you know if I come across one! Good Luck! Tina

  6. Hi there

    I was wondering if anyone sold their Winnipeg chairs through this website. What do you look for when pricing these chairs and what if it has been refurbished?
    Thanks guys!

    • Hi there Ayisha,

      I imagine the value of your chairs will depend on the condition they are in. As you probably know, originally there were only a few hundred made. Has the fabric been updated? Or are they in original condition? I know there was talk of these chairs being reintroduced, but i am assuming you have a couple of originals. I am going to guess that a couple of original chairs are probably worth $2000 or so. They are highly collectable. Send me a photo and I will post it! Thanks for your query! Tina

      • Hi Tina

        Thanks for the reply! I will send you the pictures. The fabric has been updated and the wood has been spray painted in kind of beige, like the car champagne color. And yes they are original, there is a slight difference in height as well. but they absolutely spectacular looking and a treat to sit in.

  7. I have two that I am thinking of selling. How much do you think they are worth and how do I sell them?
    Thank you
    I can’t post a pic…

    • Hi Marcus. As I said to Ayisha below, I imagine the value of your chairs will depend on the condition they are in. As you probably know, originally there were only a few hundred made. Has the fabric been updated? Or are they in original condition? I know there was talk of these chairs being reintroduced, but I am assuming you have a couple of originals. I am going to guess that a couple of original chairs are probably worth $2000 or so. They are highly collectable. Send me a photo and I will post it! Thanks for your query! Tina

  8. Hello Tina, lucky to have picked up a winnipeg chair today and am looking for someone with experience to do the re-upholstery…can you recommend? I visit yvr area fairly regularly,
    best regards and much thanks for your time,
    L

    • Hi Laura, I am so sorry! I haven’t checked into this blog in some time so I only just got your message. Did you find someone? If not let me know as I do have a couple of names of upholsters. Tina

  9. I have a Donahue chair in Vancouver. Original, rough condition, needs work. I will be posting it to craigslist. Today December 1 2017.

    • Hi Chalane,

      Thanks for reaching out! I haven’t check this blog in a while so I apologize for the delay in responding. Did you sell your chair? Tina

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