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    

Mid Century Modern Herman Miller Charles Eames Vintage Shell Arm Chair EggshellAntique Early Rhode Island Primitive Bow Back Windsor Side Chair, No Reserve!Mid Century Danish Modern Design Swan Chair By Fritz Hansen The Real Thing 2006Vintage Embru 'mid Century Modern Retro Plywood Armchairs From SwitzerlandA Rare Original 17th C Pilgrim Carver Type Armchair In Red Oak Circa 1670-168018thc Antique 1791 Pennsylvania Moravian Primitive Walnut Chair Signed SchileHerman Miller Eames Lounge Chair Cushions - Black Leather - Great ShapeArne Jacobsen Swan Sofa With Egg Footstool Fritz Hansen Eames Knoll Vitra ChairEames Herman Miller Lounge Chair Black Leather Arm RestsVintage Fold Up Chairs Metal 50's Chairs Classic Car Vw Camper Retro Chairs ChicMuseum Quality William & Mary 18th C "chelmsford Ma" Bannister Back Chair PaintHand Carved Antique Oak Wood Miniature Monks Bench Chair Music Box Treen C1900sOriginal Charles Eames Fiberglass Arm Chair Shell 'parchment' By Herman Miller Leather Geiger Herman Miller Modern Leather Chair Goes Around Chair 2pcs Arne Jacobsen Fritz Hansen 1953 Ant Chairs Danish Mid Century Modern 3 LegC 1850 Antique Primitive Miniature Wooden Doll Child Chair Salesman Sample YqzEames Herman Miller Lounge Chair & Ottomon Cherry Shells - Chair And OttomanStickley Era Mission Oak Arts & Crafts V-back Side Chair Leather SeatFour Vintage Dunbar Mid Century Modern Red Armchairs Chairs Ex! Nr!Vintage Eames Herman Miller Chair Base Zinc Coated Cat’s Cradle Lar For Repair Post 1950's Vintage Mcguire Bamboo Dinette Set. Vintage Koken Barber Chair, Working Hydraulic Lift, Recliner, HeadrestEames Herman Miller Lounge Chair Base - OriginalVintage Dunbar Janus Armchair Mid-century Modern Chair Gio Ponti Era Ex! Nr!Eames Herman Miller Lounge Chair Ottoman Base - OriginalSigned Herman Miller Rosewood Lounge Chair & Ottoman Eames Mid Century MintVintage Red & White Mid Century Metal Cosco Folding Kitchen Step Stool ChairVintage Modern Knoll Saarinen Executive Side Chair Green Chrome DwrVintage Barber Chair Head Rest. Emil. J. Paidar .nice. Original.paper Holder.Antique Salesman Sample Old Hickory Adirondak Chair Split Ash SeatEarly Child's Chair - Doll Chair - Late 1800'sEames Herman Miller Lounge Chair Black Leather Arm RestsWhite Mcguire Bamboo Dining Set W/ 5/8 In Bev. Glass And 6 Chairs Post 1950Eames Herman Miller Lounge Chair Metal Arm BracketsLarge Floral Green Vintage Finished Chair Seat Petit Point Tapestry NeedlepointSet Of 8 Vintage Hans Wegner Style Mid Century Modern Rope Seat Folding Chairs6 New Original Arne Jacobsen Seven Chairs Fritz Hansen Nwt Eames Knoll Danish McVintage Dunbar Mid Century Modern Furniture Catalog 1972 Danish Swedish ChairTraditional Orkney Chairs Kirkness Information Booklet & Price List 1960s/70sTwo Hunzinger American Victorian Chairs Vintage Dunbar Lounge Armchair Mid-century Modern Eames/knoll Era Chair Ex! Nr!Rare Antique Set 4 Texas Brandt Ranch Oak Cowboy Carved Oak Cactus Chairs 1930Signed 19th C. Hogscraper Candlestick W/chair Hook In Early PaintVintage Vermont Tubbs Snowshoe Folding Chair Signed Tubbs Wallingford VtVintage Art Deco Brass Ashtray Stand 1920's Club Chair Smokers Stand Unique ChicAntique Eastlake Folding Campaign ChairVery Fine Miniature Sterling Silver Chair. John George Smith.Knoll Bertoia Diamond Chair Full Cover In Classic Boucle, Neutral - Authentic Miniature Chair - SilverVintage Pair Solid Silver 800 Miniature Dolls House Chairs C1950sPercival Lafer Earth Chair & Ottoman, Mid Century ModernTiffany Studios Bronze Rocker Blotter ++ For American Indian Desk SetSilver Miniature Chair.Set Of 4 Mid Century Modern "casalino" Child Stacking Chairs By Alexander Begge!Antique Victorian Eastlake 3 Piece Blue Parlor Set - Loveseat & ChairsAntique 1800 C French Regency Caned Armchair, Mellion-scaife Estate, NantucketAntique Late Victorian Leather Photo FrameAntique Pin Cushion Ornate Metal Chair Made In FranceWooden Antique Rocking ChairVictorian Antique Parlor Chair, Unique Vintage Piece

Recent News: Chairs

Source: Google News

Watch Maddie and Tae's Gravity-Defying 'Fly' Video
RollingStone.com, 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

A museum's money pit: Effort afoot to halt Historic Northampton's long slide ...
GazetteNET, February 13th

In a structurally deficient attic held together with cargo strapping, piles of antique chairs caked in dust and grime fill the entire space. Only the Damon House, home to the main museum, administrative offices and gift shop, remains open to the public...Read more

Independence man says repairing furniture keeps him young
KSHB, January 28th

"All over the state, other states, everywhere, Arkansas, Colorado," said Lee. "Anybody that wants a chair caned." Lee works seven days a week, eight hours a day bringing these antique chairs back to life. And he does it all by feel. He can't see. "When...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