The Rocking Chair
The Sugarbush Rocker by Nichols & Stone
In the 1950s and 60s, there were two predominant design styles for the American housewife; Midcentury Modern, and Early American. My mother liked the Early American aesthetic. She had picked up plenty of antiques at farm auctions and sales, and balanced them with modern reproductions. Mom only liked “really good” pieces.
She also sold furniture for a time, so she developed strong brand loyalties based on quality. One brand she admired was Nichols and Stone. Over her life, she had five pieces from this time-honored company, including a Sugarbush rocker she bought in the early 1970s.
The Sugarbush rocker had a very thick white pine seat with deeply carved indentations for a comfortable sit. The rest of the rocker was made of birch, including the high back with curved slats. It was usually offered in a dark oak finish, and stenciled in the best tradition of Early Americana with gold lines and a cornucopia across the headrest.
The Sugarbush starts to Spread
Mom was proud of this rocker. It sat nicely in her living room on the huge oval braided rug that was our carpet for my early teen years. It wasn’t just Mom, though. We all loved that chair. My teenage boyfriend really loved it. I suspect (no—I am dead certain) that he was on the spectrum, so maybe that’s why he loved it. Rocking, etc.
When we married in 1978, he received a large check ($150.00!) from someone on his side of the family. This huge sum demanded to be invested. We always rented furnished places, but we decided buy our very own Sugarbush. Off we went to the furniture store in Missoula, where for $165.00, we had our own. It had a lighter colored finish, possibly intended to be maple-like, and it was distressed (fancy!). This meant some knicks and dents, one of which had a little wood filler in it.
I thought this was fantastic. My then-husband was delighted to have his own rocker. He would come home from work, sit down, and fire up his bong. After he was sufficiently toasted, he would slurp down several bowls of cereal while I made dinner. Good times.
When he wasn’t sitting in it, our dilute calico, Shasta, would hop up into the seat and ask me to rock her. When I obliged, she’d slip and slide herself into a happy, writhing trance. The harder I rocked, the happier she was. Shasta was a tense, neurotic cat, but in that rocker? She was loopy and hilarious.
So Long, Sugarbush
When I left Montana, I took the cats, but I had to leave the rocker. No more Sugarbush for me. My loss was all the more poignant because a year earlier, when my sister married for the first time, my parents bought one for her, too. Hers had the dark oak finish without the stenciling. The women in my family had all owned giant microwaves and Sugarbush rockers. Now, I was just down to the microwave.
Scant years later, when I was pregnant, Mom loaned me hers. That rocker was where I rocked my first baby, the generous arm the perfect height for mine, where I cradled her head while nursing. My second child seemed to hate being rocked. She was a little goer, a mover and a shaker, and the rocker didn’t do a thing for her. So my parents reclaimed their rocker, and my household was without for a few years.
Luckily, by the time I had my third baby, my sister had fully embraced vintage Mid-century. Her house was a trove of the streamlined and atomic. “Do you want this?” she asked one day, pointing to her rocker. I sure did.
One More Round
It looked out of place with my own décor, which was pink and khaki, very southwest-inspired. I didn’t have a print of a howling coyote on the wall, but I had a print of a cactus. I’m not apologizing, as this describes many 1990 living rooms. That dark rocker didn’t fit in at all, but there was no other chair that could hold me so comfortably as I nursed my last baby.
Eventually, my parents unloaded theirs. They might have given it to my older brother, or sold it, I’m not sure. It disappeared at some point. I kept my sister’s rocker. It moved from one room of my house to another. It was perfect for watching TV or reading alone in my room. It even served as a desk chair for a while. Eventually, after much wear and tear, it was demoted to the garage.
Where it Sat for Decades
When my last baby grew up and was pregnant with my first grandchild, I offered the old rocker to her. We went out to take a look at it. Scarred, one arm wobbly, creaky, it looked pretty rough. I realized it was at fifty years old. She politely declined and I didn’t blame her.
It was like when I offered my mom’s wedding rings to my middle daughter when she was getting married. She popped into my room, found the ring, took a look, and politely declined. I had a mental image of that elegant white gold set with its knife-edge detail. Mom wore that set every day for thirty-five years, and it showed. The prongs were dangerously worn and the knife edge was smoothed. I had no idea. My mental image, formed when I was nine years old, hadn’t aged a bit. My oldest daughter wanted a very fine, rounded white gold band when she got married, so she took the band, and I recently had the diamond reset.
BUT I DIGRESS. AS I ALWAYS DO. This is about rockers. And one Nichols and Stone Sugarbrush is still out there in my garage. It needs repair, refinishing, it’s Early American. But maybe someday it will rock me again. Maybe on a front porch, or a back porch, and it will render me quaint. I will take up knitting, and quote the Bible. Or perhaps I’ll subvert gendered expectations and whittle charming hickory animals for my grandchildren and drink shine from a jug perched on my shoulder. Perhaps a banjo will be involved, or a fiddle.
Who knows what the future holds.
It’s the last Sugarbush in the family, and I’m not giving it up.
More info/if you want your own
Nichols and Stone went out of business in 2008 after 151 years in business. My Google searches mostly found some scraped together AI crap. “Pine seat” became “Pine seed” and so on. This reader comment at CollectorsWeekly.com seems to have the best information:
The 546 Sugarbush Rocker was introduced into the Nichols & Stone line circa 1970. The thick seat is made of White Pine and the structural members of the chair are made of Birch. The design continued in production through the 1980’s. This design was finished in a solid wood tone color stain and an optional stenciling application could be applied for an upcharge. The Sugarbush Rocker was the most popular selling item for Nichols & Stone in the 1970’s. It was named after Sugarbush Mountain in Warren VT.
You’d think if it was that most popular item they sold, the secondhand market would be swarming with them. These are completely out of fashion and basically indestructible! And yet, I found exactly one for sale. There might be some out there on Marketplace or Craigslist. I’m not sure. But here is one on Mercari:
1st Dibs has nice photos, but does not have one for sale, which is fine because their prices tend to be unrealistic:
Anyway, I’ll keep looking. Maybe I’ll find one like my wedding rocker.