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    

Antique Authentic Chinese Huanghuali Exotic Wood & Brass Folding Hunting ChairAntique 19thc Hand Carved Eagle, Lion & Griffin, Gothic Walnut Chair Throne, NrHerman Miller Charles Eames Fiberglass Side Chairs - 4 Orange Original Rare Original 50s Herman Miller/zenith/eames Arm Chair Shell-rope Edge-nr!Vintage Danish Modern Folding Chair Rope Hans Wegner Wels Era Mid CenturyVintage Orange Herman Miller Eames Shell Chair Original With Legs No Reserve NrAntique Circa-1900 Boudoir Chair W/ French Romantic Oil Painting ... NrVry Fine Quality English Sterling Silver Doll House Miniature Kitty Cat On ChairAntique 'majestic' Revolving Rocker Pressing Fluter Sad Iron Carver PatentEames Herman Miller Chair Mid Century Modern Naugahyde Burgundy And Grey No. 1Emil Paidar Vintage Barber Chair Headrest 1930sOriginal Harry Bertoia Diamond Chair By Knoll Fabric Upholstery Vintage Dux Danish Modern Airplane Style Recliner Easy Chair & Ottoman Nice WoodFinnish Mid-century Design Stool By Lisa Johansson-pape For Stockmann Ab, 1960sVintage Folding Chairs 40's Beech Dining Chairs Rustic Chic Retro Camper PicnicSuperb 1901 English Sterling Silver Doll House Mini Lion Figural Throne Chair2 Salterini Orange Slice Patio Chairs & 2 Tables Mid Century Modern Vintage Antique Industrial Wood & Iron Bar Stool Barber Shoe Shine Chair Soda ShopHerman Miller Mid Century Upholstered Fiberglass Shell Arm ChairsMcm Mid Century Modern Solair Chair Designer Fabiano & Panzini Orange Vintage Authentic Knoll Eero Saarinen Tulip Side Chair Mid Century Modern Vintage Pair Vtg Mid Century Modern Folding Rope Lounge Chairs Gio Ponti Hans Wegner StlAntque 1909 Levi & Salaman Sterling Silver Doll House Miniature Dining Arm ChairAuthentic Herman Miller Executive Black Chrome Chair Mid Century Modern Vintage Very Nice Antique Chinese Sterling Silver Doll House Miniature Throne ChairVintage Wwii Eames Molded Plywood Leg Splint S2-1790 Early 1940's Evans Antique 18th C. (1700-1720) Bold Tiger Maple New England Ladder Back Arm ChairVintage Emeco Navy Mid Century Industrial Chair Modern Brushed AluminumVintage Looking Small Push Chair Unusual Display Item Old Dolls Pram Odd FindFine Estate Coll. 3 Antique Dutch Solid Silver & Sterling Doll House Mini Chairs4 Orange Eames Herman Miller Side Shell Chairs Mid Century DanishRare Estate Fresh Sterling Silver & Baltic Amber Doll House Miniature Arm ChairMid Century Modern Herman Miller Fiberglass Shell Chair Yellow Vintage Vintage 20s Art Deco Heywood Wakefeild Fisher Mayan Theatre Seat End SculptureLot 3 Continental Sterling & 800 Grade Solid Silver Doll House Miniature ChairsPrimitive 19th Cent.tole Painted Ladder Back Folk Art Wooden Child Or Doll ChairVery Fine Estate Fresh Sterling Silver Doll House Miniature Windsor Arm ChairHerman Miller Eames 1950's Covered Fiberglass Side Shell Chairs Girard BlueBelmont Ventage Barber Chair HeadrestHollywood Regency Meyer Gunther Martini French Arm ChairSet 4 Antique/vintage Hooked Rug Folk Art Chair Seat Covers~rooster~chicken YqzSuperb Dutch Solid Silver Doll House Miniature Spinning Wheel & Rocking ChairEstate Coll. 3 Fine Sterling Silver Doll House Miniature Upholstered Seat ChairsMid Century Modern Milo Baughman Chrome Chairs Eames DanishEstate Lot Dutch & English Sterling Silver Doll House Miniature Repousse ChairsSet Of 6 Antique French Renaissance Dining Chairs Vintage Standing Seat Made In EnglandEstate Collection 4 Italian 800 Grade Solid Silver Doll House Miniature Chairs3 Dutch & English Sterling & 800 Grade Solid Silver Doll House Miniature ChairsHeavy Vintage Italian 800 Grade Solid Silver Doll House Miniature Rocking ChairAntique C1890 French Normandy Lace Victorian Boudoir Vanity Chair Seat CoverEstate Lot 3 Italian 800 Solid Silver & American Sterling Doll House Mini Chairs1950s Contour Reclining ChairEstate Lot 4 Continental Sterling & 800 Solid Silver Doll House Miniature ChairsAntique Sofa And Arm ChairChromcraft Sculpta "star Trek" Swivel ChairsPair Of Lillian August For Drexel Heritage Club ChairsVintage Shabby Cottage Chic Pink Wooden Wood Childs Doll Chair~pink & AdorablePair Bertoia Knoll Or Knoll Style Mid Century Stool Chair Bench Ottoman Bases 1920's Era Barber Chair Theo A Koch

Recent News: Chairs

Source: Google News

Dubious impression
Morning Star Online, April 22nd

The gallery's first room reconstructs part of the dealer's luxurious Paris apartment with a recreation of its door panels commissioned from Claude Monet, along with two antique chairs and a life-size photograph of its lavishly appointed grand salon...Read more

On this day in history in The Citizen: April 17, 2015
Auburn Citizen, April 17th

Seward House executive director Peter Wisbey spoke Saturday to a group of antique enthusiasts about antique chairs. Referring to various chairs in the home of former U.S. Secretary of State William Seward, Wisby explained that upon Seward's death, his ...Read more

The Singular Worlds of Artists' Personal Collections
Hyperallergic, April 14th

He was eventually confined to living in a couple of rooms in his five-story townhouse, as the rest of the space was too crammed with stuff to be habitable. Warhol collected Fiestaware, watch pieces, wigs, Polaroids, antique chairs, and so on: the list...Read more

Jimmy Cohrssen's spellbinding new book brings the magic of Saint James Paris ..., April 13th

Sloan's clever use of carpeting resembling herringbone parquet flooring or leopard skin, petite ballerina shoes on the front legs of a set of antique chairs and custom-made hot air balloon wallpaper for one of the hotel's main staircases are just some...Read more

Get the best range of Commercial Upholstery in Australia at perfection upholstery
PRWire (press release), April 9th

Commercial Upholstery: Being an owner of reputable hotel or a small restaurant they understand the value of keeping your distinguished and beautiful furnishings cleaned. So from sofas to antique chairs, they work tirelessly just to get the job done...Read more

Sale Friday at St. Paul's
Orillia Packet & Times, April 9th

Drop into St. Paul's Centre, 62 Peter St. N., Friday between 1 and 9 p.m. for a sale organized by centre volunteers. For sale will be antique and donated furnishings and household items at bargain prices, including several pews, antique chairs, wood...Read more

South Bend woman's antique chairs find new life in Lincoln project
South Bend Tribune, January 11th

Lincoln Train volunteer Ainsley Wonderling, left, and South Bend resident Marybeth Saunders sit in the pair of chairs Saunders is donating to the 150th Anniversary Lincoln Train on Saturday in South Bend. The chairs, will be used as representations of...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