No piece of antique or vintage furniture conveys as much personality and says as much about its owner as a chair, whether it’s a side chair in a hallway, a set of matching chairs in the dining room, or a unique rocking chair on the front porch.

The chair is as old as recorded history itself. The ancient Egyptians had stools, and even wooden folding chairs, with leather seats and fine joinery techniques. The Greeks and Romans came up with chair designs that are still in use today. And in China, fine woodworking and increasingly sophisticated joinery was the norm. The wooden chairs of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) were especially beautiful, with curved pieces carved from a single piece of wood to avoid seams.

At around the same time in Europe, Renaissance craftsmen were producing chairs with open arms and seats to accommodate the billowing women’s fashions of the day. Hard, wooden seats were still the rule, but upholstery was gaining in popularity.

By the 17th century, the chair was becoming something of a small throne, with open arms and legs (called a fanteuil in France), a high padded back (the arms and seat were often also padded), and lots of gilt wood. Wing chairs first appeared in France; intricately carved wooden chairs featuring cane backs and seats made their debut in the Netherlands.

With a taller back, designers turned their collective attention to the chair’s splat, the vertical piece that runs up the center. Woodworkers used the splat for carving, while artisans used it as a canvas for japanning, which was a European variation on Asian lacquerwork.

Chair designers went positively crazy in 18th century England and France. Chair backs featured elaborate scenes stitched into tapestries or stamped into leather. Chair legs were given a cabriole shape, resembling the hind leg of an animal, whose knees were ornately decorated and whose feet often ended in a claw clasping a ball. Upholstered armchairs were on the rise, thanks to the arrival on the scene of a London furniture designer named Thomas Chippendale.

Indeed, 18th-century England produced much of the furniture vocabulary that we still use today. Relatively simple Queen Anne side chairs, wing chairs, and armchairs were popular ...

Meanwhile, in the Colonies, Pilgrim chairs and William and Mary chairs sported lots of turned arms and legs (the sausage style was especially popular), as well as spindle backs. There were even chairs with wainscot. Queen Anne and Chippendale chairs in walnut, cherry, and maple echoed the prevailing winds in England. As America gained its independence, a newfound interest in classicism morphed into the Federal style, championed by furniture maker Duncan Phyfe.

The 19th century brought Victorian furniture to American shores, but there were indigenous designs, too. Chief among them were the Shakers, whose ladder-back, cane-seat rockers are contemporary classics. Windsor chairs were a British invention, but dispensing with the splat and building a low-back Windsor was a purely stateside contribution to the form.

Another 19th-century style of note was Biedermeier of Germany. Biedermeier chairs combined the klismos-style legs of the ancient Greeks with mahogany veneers and caned seats. It was also the century of Thonet, whose bentwood furniture designs have changed little in the 150 years since they were first introduced, and Stickley, whose Mission Oak chairs were a hallmark of the budding Arts and Crafts movement that greeted the 20th century.

Chairs evolved yet again with the arrival of Art Deco. Now manufacturing processes permitted designers to shape woods and materials to fit the prevailing aesthetic. Key designers included Émile-Jacques Ruhlmann and Maurice Jallot, who produced chairs upholstered in leather and fine fabric accented by exotic hardwoods.

Molded laminates, steel framing, and chrome also begin to enter the vernacular, as designers from Finland’s Alvar Aalto to the Bauhaus’s Marcel Breuer moved furniture design from Streamline Moderne to pure Modern. Other pre-war designers include Ludwig Mies van de Rohe, Jean Prouvé, and Eileen Gray, whose Bibendum chair is a cocoon of padded rings on a base of chrome-plated steel.

At mid-century, the husband-and-wife team of Charles and Ray Eames produced chairs of molded plywood and fiberglass for the Herman Miller Furniture Company. Some of these chairs were mounted to static metal legs, others were fitted to be compact rockers. A few years later, Scandinavian Arne Jacobsen designed the Series 7 Chair, whose single piece of molded plywood on a steel-tube base is a wonder of economy and style.

But perhaps the most influential chair designer of the mid-century-modern period was Hans Wegner. His JH 501, a low-backed teak-and-cane number, was so iconic (and imitated), it became known simply as The Chair.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)



This beautiful site showcases the collection of Stanley and Polly Stone of Fox Point, Wisconsin, consisting of earl… [read review or visit site]

Steven Cabella's personal homage to Charles and Ray Eames. This site is as clean and visually appealing as the Eame… [read review or visit site]

Work of Charles and Ray Eames

Work of Charles and Ray Eames

This Library of Congress microsite is an overview of the postwar modern design work of Charles (1907-78) and Ray (1… [read review or visit site]

Herman Miller Consortium Collection

Herman Miller Consortium Collection

This website showcases several hundred pieces of furniture, held by thirteen museums, that were designed for Herman… [read review or visit site]



This archived overview produced by the Minneapolis Institute of Arts offers thumbnail sketches of the design moveme… [read review or visit site]

Buffalo Architecture and History

Buffalo Architecture and History

Chuck LaChiusa's wonderful guide to the architecture and history of Buffalo, NY, also happens to host an impressive… [read review or visit site]

Kentucky Online Arts Resource

Kentucky Online Arts Resource

This huge online database from the Speed Art Museum is a rich trove of beautiful photos and reference information o… [read review or visit site]

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Arne Jacobsen Swan Sofa With Egg Footstool Fritz Hansen Eames Knoll Vitra Chair1950s Vintage Danish Modern Teak Stool Chair Ottoman Mid Century Wegner Juhl EraSuperb Set Of 6 Matching Walnut Victorian Balloon Back Dining ChairsStickley Era Mission Oak Arts & Crafts V-back Side Chair Leather SeatVintage Mid Century Rattan / Wicker Ottoman Stool6 New Original Arne Jacobsen Seven Chairs Fritz Hansen Nwt Eames Knoll Danish McEames Herman Miller Lounge Chair Black Leather Arm Rests1930's Antique Belmont Barber Chair With StrapTwo Vintage 1960’s Herman Miller Eames Shell Chairs In Good Condition2 Danish Teak Mid Century Mobler Chairs By Folke Palsson Denmark Original Green Mid Century Herman Miller Fiberglass Eames Era Shell Arm Chair Set Of 8 Vintage Hans Wegner Style Mid Century Modern Rope Seat Folding ChairsVtg Mid Century Modern Lounge Chair Danish Style No ReserveSigned Herman Miller Rosewood Lounge Chair & Ottoman Eames Mid Century MintVtg Duncan Phyfe Style Rose Carved Wood 22" Childs Chair, Salesman Sample DiningArne Jacobsen Fritz Hansen 1953 Ant Chair Eames Era Danish Modern Molded PlywoodVintage Vermont Tubbs Snowshoe Folding Chair Signed Tubbs Wallingford VtVintage Pair Solid Silver 800 Miniature Dolls House Chairs C1950sOriginal Parchment Color Herman Miller Mid-century Fiberglass ChairVintage Hand Embroidered Chair Back Cover Flowers Hollyhocks/bluebells Etc Vintage Mid Century Kofod Larsen Selig Walnut Danish Modern Lounge Club ChairEero Saarinen Knoll Pair Of Executive Chairs Classic Ibm BlueWonderful Civil War Era Officer's Carpet Seat Folding Rocking Chair -exc CondMid Century Danish Modern Kevi Rabami Stole Ash Chair Eames Era Jorgen RasmussenOriginal Herman Miller Eames Lounge Chair In Ebony Victorian Antique Parlor Chair, Unique Vintage PieceMid-century Modern Eames Era Scoop Chair Molded Plywood Lounge ChairTiffany Studios "bookmark" Rocker BlotterNuchu (uchu) Kuna Woman In Chair 65+ Years Old Healing, Kuna Medicine Doll, MolaTwo Hunzinger American Victorian Chairs Pair Of Mid Century Russell Woodard Patio Sculptura Metal Mesh Iron Chairs McmRed Westnofa Mid Century Scandinavian Danish Modern Teak Rocking Chair RockerHerman Miller Red Naugahyde Shell Chair Eames Mid Century Furniture Free ShipTiffany Studios Bronze Rocker Blotter ++ For American Indian Desk SetVintage Ekornes Stressless Leather Lounge Chair And Ottoman50's Herman Miller Eames Sea Foam Green Side Chair Eiffel Wire BaseVintage Danish Modern Folding Chair Rope Hans Wegner Wels EraEames Herman Miller Chrome/black Swivel Chair Base Exc. Cond. Spins Smooth4 Vintage Herman Miller Side Fiberglass Side Chairs Bright Yellow Mid Century- Antique Louis Xv Bergere Barrel Back Cabriole Carved Claw Leg Original 1890'sVintage Belmont Barber Shop Hydraulic Reclining Chair W/ Booster Salon TattooAntique Barber Chair HeadrestAntique Barber Chair FootrestVintage Mid Century Lion Brand Aluminum 189y 190y Gazelle Style Chair ModernHerman Miller Eames Zenith Seafoam Green Rope Edge Shell Chair X Base 1st GenEero Saarinen Knoll Executive Side ChairVintage Taylor Chair Company Banker's Chairs 1900-1950Vintage Hitchcock Style Spinning Wheel ChairAntique Walnut Victorian Old Arm Chair Needlepoint Motto Sampler Picture FrameSet Of 4 Vintage Round Ball Shepard Chair Furniture Casters Wheels W/insertsTheo-a-kochs Barber Chair (burgundy)55191 Bernhardt Mohair Mid Century Modern Sofa Couch W/ Chair Designs By Milo Baughman Eames Inc Lounge Octagonal Chair No: 97Kem Weber Design Lloyd's Mfg. Spring Steel Chair Mid-century ModernKoken Barber Chair Foot Rest With Brackets & Backing Plate4 Silver Vintage Retro Stools Deli Ice Cream Parlor Salon Chairs Bar Pub DinerRare Original 1911 Old Hickory Chair Catalog Original Mailing Envelope & Letter Hercules Barber ChairBeautiful Vintage 60's Rattan Hanging Egg ChairSet Of 4 Antique Vintage Wood Swivel Casters Wooden Furniture Chair Trunk Wheels

Recent News: Chairs

Source: Google News

Arthur Arbesser, February 28th

Antique chairs shipped in from Austria, a family friend at the grand piano playing Schubert, contemporary art on the walls—Arthur Arbesser's salon-style presentation was quite a production. "My ideal is to tell a bit more of a story," he said. "All of...Read more

Watch Maddie and Tae's Gravity-Defying 'Fly' Video, February 25th

Maddie and Tae's newly-released video for "Fly" could easily be taken as the duo's response to hurdles they've had to jump to make country music history. The Oklahoma and Texas-born singers were 17 years old when they were granted emancipation from ...Read more

Delfina Delettrez Opens London Shop
Women's Wear Daily, February 23rd

The ground floor is her showcase and everyday business space, and has low petrol-colored velvet stools tucked under the display cases, a hanging Giò Ponti light that resembles a milky semi-precious stone, and antique chairs — small and spindly, with a ...Read more

The Journey: Meet Beverly Collins
PA home page, February 20th

In her 25 years as a barber , Beverly has had a variety of customers in her antique chairs .. from famous athletes like heavyweight champion & international hall of fame inductee Larry Holmes to members of the Harlem Globe Trotters. "I like being able...Read more

'Hipster' barbershop trend arrives in Detroit
Detroit Free Press, February 14th

This shop is a throwback to an even earlier period of American barbering, complete with antique chairs, spinning barber poles, combs in blue fluid and a staff decked out in ties and vests. Standard Barber is owned by longtime friends Matthew Temkin and ...Read more

Fantastic: The Genesis of the TARDIS Console Room & Interior
Doctor Who UK Webzine, February 3rd

The early 1960s set had that same feeling of space and eclecticism; the vast control room with its roundels and occasional Perspex walls glowing with light, dotted with antique chairs, Ormolu clocks and old wooden chests. True, the large hexagonal...Read more

Antique chairs add the finishing touches to US barbers
Christian Davies Antiques (blog), January 22nd

A newly opened business in Dover, New Hampshire, is offering all of the services that you would have expected to receive from a 1950s barber, including shoe shines and hot towel shaves. American Josh Hynes recently opened the Best of Times Barber ...Read more

Antique chairs auctioned to preserve 'old, old jail'
The Tennessean, November 8th

Add some Civil War furniture to your home in an effort to preserve the “Old, Old Jail.” Historian Rick Warwick will auction off 40 chairs created by Franklin residents in the 19th and early 20th centuries to support the Heritage Foundation's campaign...Read more