Used for centuries in China, the garden stool design began as a small outdoor seat used in courtyard gardens which were a central part of Chinese homes. The design may possibly date back to the Buddhist tradition of using a tree stump as seating in the garden.
Another possibility is that the garden stool descends from barrel shaped drums. The nail head pattern often seen as a design element in today’s garden stools may be a nod to the pattern of nails on the original drums.
Garden stools come in many shapes, sizes, patterns, and colors. They also are available in a wide range of quality and prices. Today’s garden stools are most often made of porcelain, fired stoneware, or pottery. The typical Chinese designs, including the well-recognized blue and white, are usually porcelain. These are more delicate and not recommended for outdoor use.
Stoneware that has been glazed and fired is the best choice for use outside where their resistance to frost is one less worry in maintaining an outdoor room. Although done in an assembly line, the glazes used can make them look hand made and less cookie cutter perfect.
Pottery garden stools are hand-thrown on a potter’s wheel. These are labor and time intensive and often feature cut out designs or unique designs which are not seen elsewhere. Designs are hand smoothed, glazed, and fired in a wood-fired kiln, a process which may take several days. Pottery-thrown garden seats are generally heavier than the other styles. This process provides more selection of glaze colors and allows for these glazes to have more depth of color and more crazing (crackling) in the glaze. These pieces are one-of-a-kind sculptures which will carry a higher price tag but will represent an investment in a unique piece.
Open any design magazine and you will see garden stools placed in any type of room setting. The garden stool was exported to the west hundreds of years ago and westerners have come to love this little piece that can be used as seating, a table, or simply as an interesting accessory. Portable and small, they fit in anywhere a very small table will fit. Move them from room to room and see how many ways you can find to show off your garden stool.