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”)

Chipstone

Chipstone

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

EamesCollector.com

EamesCollector.com

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]

Modernism

Modernism

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    

Mies V Der Rohe Leather Brno Chair For Knoll Art Deco Bauhaus Barcelona VintageEarly Herman Miller Charles Eames Lcm Chair Mid Cenury Modern Danish WegnerSuperb Rare English Antique 1903 Solid Silver Novelty Sedan Chair Tea Caddy Box5 Early Iron Push Up Hogscraper Candlestick With Chair Hook 5.5"h Aafa NrMid Century Modern Thonet Club Loung Chair Art Deco Mcm StreamlineBruno Mathsson Lounge Chair Machine Age Mid Century Modern Side Chair Furniture19thc Antique Victorian Era Lady Bust Old Barley Twist Wood Carved Salvage ChairAntique Solid Silver Hallmarked Miniature Settle Dolls Chair Hallmarked S 1896Vintage Set 4 Danish Mid Century Modern Findahls Teak Dining Chairs19thc Antique Victorian Era Chair Wood Carved Lady Bust & Barley Twist FurnitureLot X4 Antique Solid Silver Miniature Dolls House Furniture Settle Settee ChairsMid Century Modern Danish Pair Lounge Chairs Ib Kofod Larsen SeligVintage Plycraft Norman Cherner Chairs Set Of FiveEames Eiffel Tower Herman Miller Fiberglass Arm Shell Chair, Pale YellowAntique Solid Silver Hallmarked Miniature Dolls House Chair Hallmarked Lon. 1899Antique Edwardian Solid .925 Continental Silver Miniature Chair3x Folding Campaign Stools Camp Chairs Canvas And Steel C1920-30sAntique Solid Silver Unusual Miniature Dolls House X Chair Hallmarked Lon. 1904Vintage Toledo Drafting Chair Stool Industrial Wood & Metal Adjustable SeatAntique Edwardian Solid .925 Continental Silver Miniature ChairAntique Indian/tibetan Chair Two Original Herman Miller Eames Fiberglass Shell Chairs Blue, ParchmentVintage Mid Century Modern Danish Russell Wright For Conant Ball Lounge ChairAntique Solid .925 Continental Silver Miniature Chair Back Engraved JaniePair Of Takara Belmont Barber/dental ChairsAntique Arts Crafts Egyptian Rev Thebes Stool Chair Turned Leg Mahogany Liberty?Fine Edwardian Hanau Silver Miniature Corner Chair C.1903 Industrial, Machinists Swivel Chair, By TansadMid Century Modern Danish Vtg Hans Wegner Style Folding Rope Chair 1975 Herman Miller Rosewood Eames ChairLot Of 4 Danish Modern J.l. Moller Models #71 Teak Upholstered Seat Side ChairsKnoll #72 Eero Saarinen Side Chair Eames Era Drafting Table Chair Marble Sikes Steampunk Industrial19th Century Metal Hogscraper Candle Stick With Push Up And Chair Tab AafaVintage Solid Silver Miniature Dolls House Salon Chair Hallmarked London 1979Genuine America Alligator Parsons Chair Eric Brand For Mulholland Bros Cognac A1Baker Stately Homes Irish Mahogany Wing Chair 418Original Shaker Chair Rare RareAntique Hall Chair Solid Oak Arts & Crafts Chair Church Chapel Chair Rustic ChicLuba Hemba Stool With Male Figure, African Tribal Chair, Not Mask - No ReserveFour (4) Vintage Paul Mccobb Planner Group Dining Chairs Mid Century ModernVintage Aero Saarinen Executive Arm ChairsRare Koken Barber Chair Headrest Two Post With Notches Vintage Danish Mid Century Modern Pair Teak Chairs Erik Buck Eames Dining ChairsVintage Directors Chairs By 'x-frame' 1940's Ww2 Period Campaign Chairs Rustic1930's ? Antique Emil J. Paidar Barber Chair Headrest Old Antique Vintage PartFine Antique Hanau Silver Miniature Chair C.1900 Antique Juan Clara Solid Bronze Little Girl On Chair 12" Vtg Sculpture FigureHerman Miller Shell Chair With Blue Vinyl InsertFine Victorian Hanau '930' Silver Miniature Chair C.1893 Antique French Petit Point Former Chair Seat Cover Wool 23" X 15" Aubusson RosesAntique Theo A. Kochs Barber Chair Head RestAntique 1800's Needlework Upholstery Tapestry Large Chair Panel Textile Cover1881 Barber Chair Co. Letter W/amazing Letterhead Content & Calling Card AdTheo A Kochs Barber Chair Break Pads $150 EachMid-century Wassily Type Pair Of Black Leather/chrome ChairsVintage Authentic Hitchcock Black/harvest Wood Chair With Floral DetailHerman Miller Charles Eames Fiberglass Side Chairs 4 Mixed Brown Ochre Yellow WtMorris ChairAntique Edwardian Sterling Silver Coronation Chair / Throne 1901

Recent News: Chairs

Source: Google News

Craftsman specializes in antique chair-weaving
The Tribune, July 27th

And although Dick knew he would probably never make a living repairing the weaving on antique chairs, the Paris, Illinois, native decided that keeping up that skill would provide him some relaxation from his work as an anesthesiologist. This story...Read more

Outdoor rooms with not-so-secret gardens
Chicago Daily Herald, July 27th

"I like the baby antique chairs under the weeping cherry. It's like a little wonderland," Sofia said. "What matters, what's really important when working outdoors is to create a sense of quiet, understated drama with a view of beauty," Ritzert said...Read more

Shopping the globe for daring decor
Independent Online, July 23rd

Other great finds were antique chairs from China, where he bypassed the main cities to visit a place close to one of the most revered mountains of Taoism in the province of Shandong. The chairs were shaped by hand and have grown old gracefully through ...Read more

Kid Trips: Summer 'Edventures' come to Deepwood
Statesman Journal, July 20th

We moved into the parlor and joined a handful of kids sitting on antique chairs in their own silence. When the teacher of the class, Executive Director Lynne Richardson, asked if everyone was there for the India class, she was met with blank stares...Read more

Landscaping designed to create outdoor 'rooms'
Lewiston Sun Journal, July 18th

Christopher D. Ritzert's quarter-acre garden behind his 1930s stone Colonial in Washington started out as an unremarkable back yard with a jumble of weeds and neighboring homes in full view...Read more

More sex please, but just don't tell us to do it
The Guardian, July 17th

This is why you should think carefully before following the popular path of turning your “passion” – reupholstering antique chairs, say – into a career. Once you've absolutely got to do it, at 9am on a rainy Thursday, you could find yourself worse off...Read more

Atlanta's best restaurants for business meetings
Access Atlanta, July 16th

Exposed brick walls combine with antique chairs and the original ornately carved bar from the famed Peabody Hotel to create an intimate space with true Southern flair. Best overall: STK Atlanta– From the time you start to woo a client over drinks from...Read more

Mountain Brook decorator fills her home with charming antiques, unique collections
AL.com, July 13th

A custom-made banquette provides comfortable seating, along with three antique chairs she found while antiquing in Atlanta. More of Thorpe's treasured collections can be found in the study. There she displays her antique horn cups, as well as countless...Read more