Yes, You Can Sit In It

Monica Cortright has a knack for turning chairs into masterpieces.

Christianna McCausland - January 2020

Yes, You Can Sit In It

Monica Cortright has a knack for turning chairs into masterpieces.

Christianna McCausland - January 2020

-Photography by Marlayna Demond

If you want a white chair, then do not call Monica Cortright. But if you want a colorful creation that’s as much a work of art as a place to sit, then you’ve found the right woman.

Cortright creates original and custom chair designs in her Annapolis studio that are whimsical, exuberant, colorful—anything but dull.

Born in Alaska, Cortright has lived all over the United States. She was living in California when she decided she “needed a break” and came to Baltimore, where her mother and sister were living. She completed her degree in theater and costume design at Towson University, working her way through school as a salesperson at The Bead, the iconic Baltimore boutique known for its hippie-inspired fashions.

After graduation, she went to New York to create costumes for an off-Broadway production. "I realized, with theater, you have to be completely devoted to it 24 hours a day," she says. "And I realized I wanted to do more than costumes."

Cortright says she always knew she would work in design, but her passion for chairs only began about five years ago.

After leaving costuming, her career included designing jewelry, children’s clothing, and home decorating products. When she inherited two chairs from her father, she found her calling.

“I had more fun doing those chairs than designing anything I’ve ever designed in my life,” she recalls, noting that it wasn’t a far leap from costume design. “Chairs are like characters in a play to me. I treat them as individuals: I name them, I take my time, and give them their own personalities.”

No two chairs are alike, and, if anything, Cortright says she’s gotten more outrageous and creative with time. For her original pieces, she trolls estate sales and auctions to find well-built chairs that simply need Cortright’s touch to give them some pizzaz. Her studio brims with hundreds of fabrics, tassels sourced from Morocco, and trims from Thailand.

Her creations are sought after for their mix of colors, patterns, and texture. She credits her keen design eye to her years attending Grateful Dead shows, where the over-the-top outfits inspired her to put together unusual fabric combinations—a geometric pattern with a floral interspersed with decadent, colorful velvet, for example.

“That’s definitely part of my story, seeing shows and being a part of that counter-culture, wearing a lot of hippie clothes and Indian-inspired patterns that maybe didn’t match but worked together,” she says, “That definitely plays into my sense of putting different fabrics together that most people wouldn’t.”

Music remains a strong influence on her original designs and an important part of her life. Cortright’s husband, Alex, is a radio personality at WTMD, and together they’ve met numerous rock stars and attended countless shows. Her chairs are often named for music, like the “Kashmir” chair inspired by the Led Zeppelin song.

Although many of her creations are her own, she does work with clients on custom pieces. For the founder of the world’s largest Rolling Stones fan club, she was asked to create a chair inspired by the album Beggars Banquet.

“I listened to it over and over and over again, I looked at all the pictures I could find related to the album and read everything I could,” she recalls. “It was a riot, it was super challenging. I had a blast doing it, and it’s a treasure for him, he loves it.”

When she’s not designing chairs, Cortright likes tinkering with interior design and renovation projects in her own home, which she shares with her husband, their children, Sky and Snowy, and two rescue pups, Shakespeare and Shylo. Lately, she’s been working on her meditation practice, creating a center for her otherwise free-spirited, creative life.

“I’m still totally a hippie,” she says with a laugh. “I’m all about nature and peace, love, and happiness.” And chairs.

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