Meet Caroline Ephgrave, the physiotherapist with designs on ending the curse of the 'sitter's slump'
Physiotherapists know that sitting for prolonged periods can trigger a host of musculoskeletal problems, though not many will take the brave step of designing one to improve the sitter’s posture. But that’s what north London-based physio Caroline Ephgrave did, and she’s pleased with the feedback her ephgrave chair is already receiving from those who have been lucky enough to give it a try.
Caroline originally trained as a dancer with the Royal Ballet before studying physiotherapy at King’s College London. She believes her background gave her a unique slant on biomechanics and movement – and instilled her with the confidence and drive to become a designer.
The story of the ephgrave chair’s gestation began in 2016, when a client with long-term back issues challenged Caroline to find a suitable one for him, she told PhysioUpdate.
‘Despite researching the market, I was unable to find a chair that prevented “slump sitting” at work. I set out to analyse why – and provide the solution. I realised I had to find a furniture maker who would take my ideas seriously and, after a few false starts, I found a small, independent design company called WMEO in Hackney. I worked with designers Tom Hildell and Omid Asghari, who normally make one-off pieces for clients. Initially, they were not in the market for designing functional furniture, but I persuaded them of the merits of the concept, and we worked on prototypes to test for function.
‘We produced the first chair from cast aluminium and my client who set me the original challenge loved it. We made four others and trialled them in various offices. It worked so well that we decided to find a manufacturer who could translate the design into an industry-standard product that could be mass-produced.’
New version created
Caroline happily acknowledges she had no track record in designing and manufacturing furniture and that there were some inevitable false starts, but she finally found a company – RGE in Cambridgeshire – that had relevant experience and liked the concept.
The new version of the chair uses glass-filled nylon (which passes safety and strength regulations) and foam moulding for the seat and back cushion. It’s been a time-consuming process, she recalls, especially as the Covid-19 pandemic struck during this period and everything had to be done remotely.
‘I trialled several different back cushion shapes to find the optimum curve and density to provide the right level of support and uplift. I then patented the chair and registered and trademarked the design.’
What makes the ephgrave chair different?
The ephgrave chair has three simple controls: height of seat; depth of seat; and height of back cushion, Caroline explains.
‘The seat is shorter (body weight is stacked over the pelvis in sitting): a deep seat is unwieldy to pull in so users often perch on the edge and may as well be sitting on a stool. There are no arms as these prevent the user from pulling the chair in close enough to the desk to use the back support and they also block the swivel action of the seat.
‘The back cushion is dome-shaped so the user can mobilise and arch their upper back over the cushion during the day. If they rotate in their seat. they will rotate around the cushion through their stiffer middle back as the weight is lifted out of the lower back.’
'Steep learning curve'
I have been driven by my desire to improve how people sit and to promote their comfort and wellbeing at work. Though it’s my first foray into design, this experience has definitely sparked an interest in what else can be done [Caroline Ephgrave]
In recent years, Caroline cut back on her physiotherapy work in order to devote more time to the chair’s development. She still runs a clinic on a part-time basis in Highgate, though most are regular clients or are referred by her former employers (PhysioRemedies in Mayfair or Six Physio in Harley Street).
It’s been a steep learning curve, Caroline says: one priority was to design an attractive and informative website. This features animations illustrating how the chair works and what differentiates it from rivals in a crowded market.
‘I have been driven by my desire to improve how people sit and to promote their comfort and wellbeing at work,’ says Caroline. ‘Though it’s my first foray into design, this experience has definitely sparked an interest in what else can be done.’
Caroline has sent chairs to a number of physiotherapy clinics on a trial basis, her ‘early adopters’. ‘People are hesitant to buy a product if they have not tried it out – especially from an unknown brand. They have all felt the benefits and bought the chair. I offered a trial chair to an office in Mayfair who have just purchased one for an employee who had back and neck pain for years – he actually forgot to take his tramadol when using the chair as his back felt so good.
‘I also showed it to a GP in south Kensington and left a trial chair – now the two receptionists fight over who will get the chair each day as they like it so much!'
Home working boom
Does the growing trend in people working from home (fuelled, to some extent, by the Covid-19 pandemic) offer Caroline another potential marketing avenue? ‘Yes,' says Caroline. 'The chair fits well into small spaces, is adaptable to each user and has a simple, minimalist design. It is also modular – if you change your decor, you will eventually be able to return the cushion pads and have them re-upholstered as we want to be sustainable.
‘But wherever you work, the chair will improve your posture and prevent bad habits from becoming ingrained. If you don't get muscle/ligament tightening through sustained poor sitting posture, you will also stand better and move more efficiently, with optimal joint loading (the chair has a corrective and a preventative function).'
Benefits for employees and employers alike
‘I would like the ephgrave chair to become the one of choice for offices: it can be adapted to suit each person (useful in these new times of split working and hot desking) and if you sit well, you stand well and move well – it therefore impacts on all aspects of daily life and prevents those faulty movement patterns from occurring, which will save money in terms of treatment costs and sick leave down the road. This is surely a benefit to employees and employers alike.’
The ephgrave chair will be exhibited during Clerkenwell Design Week in London from 24-26 May. See: https://www.clerkenwelldesignweek.com/
Caroline says she would like to offer trial chairs to offices/gym spaces and give presentations to spread awareness. To contact Caroline, email: email@example.com
To find out more about the ephgrave chair, which is currently for sale at an early bird' price of £499, visit: https://ephgravechair.comAuthor: Ian A McMillan