Indy's Blog

October 20, 2012   Posted by: Indy

Chairing the Debate – Updated !

Update : Note that the same furniture was used for the Presidential Debate on Monday 22nd October !

Story by Rob Kirkbride, Courtesy of the Monday Morning Quarterback,








As the dust settled on the second debate of this election season Thursday, when Vice President Joe Biden and Congressman Paul Ryan faced off, there was one clear winner: furniture.

That’s according to a few solid sources who claim the furniture was the best part of the vice presidential debate. And as an industry, who are we to argue with that assessment? The first vote of confidence came from Erik Wemple, a Washington Post blogger and editor who said the furniture stole the show at the veep debate in a Friday post on the newspaper’s website entitled “VP debate winner: Furniture.”

“Opinions on who won Thursday night’s vice presidential debate may well line up — not the first time!!! — along ideological lines,” he wrote. “Right-wingers will dwell on Vice President Biden’s demonstrable and annoying personal tics — his laugh, the dismissive smiles that share a border with Al Gore’s smirks of 2000 — and Paul Ryan’s reasoned responses and respectable demeanor. Left-wingers will dwell on the sitting veep’s clear command of policy issues, from A to Z. Which means that the term “tie” will get tossed around quite a bit in the coming news cycles.

“So let’s tip our hats to the debate’s hard surfaces. The adjoining oval-circular table setup provided just the right level of intimacy — and, at the same time, distance — between moderator Martha Raddatz of ABC and the two opponents. When Raddatz needed to intervene, she was right there — her excellent questions couldn’t be ignored. And when she (wisely) on many occasions chose to stay out of the fray, the tables, again, facilitated things.”

Wemple wrote about the “chasm” between the presidential debaters and Jim Lehrer when they went at it last week. “We’re calling this one a blowout for the furniture,” he wrote. So who made the tables used for the vice presidential debate? It was hard to tell from the video and photos from the event held at Centre College in Danville, Ken. (If you know who made the tables, please let us know). But the chairs were easily recognizable.

Raddatz sat in a Steelcase Leap chair with mahogany leather, though chances are she didn’t know the name of her chair or the technology that kept her comfortable as she made the vice presidential candidates squirm in their chairs (we will get to those in a minute). Any Steelcase dealer or chair geek could tell her that four years of research work by 27 scientists and 732 test participants helped create the LiveBack technology that makes Leap adjust to the spine of the user. Though it is hard to tell if it is the real deal or a knockoff, it appears as if Jim Lehrer, who moderated the first presidential debate, was sitting in a Herman Miller Eames Aluminum Group Management Chair.

Sadly, the vice presidential candidates probably didn’t know who made the chairs they were sitting in while they grilled each other, rolled their eyes and smirked as the other attempted to answer questions about Social Security and Iran’s nuclear threat.

The vice presidential debate chairs are veterans in the political arena. The HBF Arlington Chairs have been used in the presidential and vice presidential debates since 2000. According to HBF Brand Manager Sarah Nielsen the chairs date back to the George W. Bush/Al Gore presidential debate in Winston-Salem, N.C. HBF was picked to supply the chairs because one of the facility managers for the debate commission was a fan of the company’s furniture. The commission contacted a salesperson and HBF and the company sold the group the chairs.

Seated debates are a somewhat new phenomenon in politics. The Bush/Gore debate at Wake Forest University was the first ever seated debate. Before such time, height was considered an important factor since it was believed that taller candidates fared better in debates. The debate coordinators were concerned about height while seated as well and asked HBF to produce the chairs without the height adjustability mechanism.

“Though the Arlington came with height adjustability, they didn’t want anyone to be able to move the chairs up or down to make their candidate look taller,” Nielsen said. “So we had to castrate the chairs to make it all be fair. The chairs have been used in the debates ever since.”

Arlington was designed by William Raftery for HBF. But you are out of luck if you’d like an Arlington chair to recreate a debate-like setting in your home or office. HBF stopped making the Arlington chair. “It is no longer being produced,” Nielsen said, “so these debate chairs are truly classics.”

Maybe the first question at the next debate should not be about foreign policy, the economy or healthcare. Let’s petition the moderator to ask the candidates a much simpler question: How does that chair feel?

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