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    

Fine Old Lot Of 4 Chinese Carved Wood Mop Inlay Chairs & Tables Doll Furniture Herman Miller Charles Eames Lcm Lounge Chair Sharp Molded Plywood RareDesign Within Reach Herman Miller Lcm Chair Stamped Signed Dated Mid-century ModPair Alvar Aalto For Artek Mid Century Modern 3 Legged Stools Chair Icf FinlandHans Wegner Pair Of Arm Chairs Carl Hansen & Son Estate As Found Early Solid #2Vintage Brown Herman Miller / Eames Fiberglass Shell Arm ChairMid Century Modern Contour Chair Lounge Chair Vibrating Working Nice ChairVintage Toledo Adjustable Height Metal Drafting Stool Chair Industrial Lab ShopHans Wegner Pair Of Arm Chairs Seal Harbor Maine Estate As Found Early Solid StyVintage Mid-century Charles Eames Herman Miller Lcw Plywood Chair Early Charles And Ray Eames Lcw Lounge Chair Wood.. Herman Miller .. EvansEames Herman Miller Fiberglass Arm Shell Chair Early Mid CenturyDk Charcoal Grey / Black Herman Miller Naugahyde Fiberglass Arm Chair.1957 Koken President Two Tone Club Barber Chair, Mid-century Modern, Rare Piece!Vintage Toledo Swivel Drafting Stool Chair Industrial Lab Shop Seat SteampunkKnoll Charles Pollock 657 Chair Early Model Art Metal - Pair!Vintage Herman Miller Green Armchair Shell Chair!Swan Chairs By Arne Jacobsen For Fritz Hansen, Optical White Leather, PairQuality Antique Art Deco Acorn Oak Leaf Rocker Desk Ink Blotter C1930'sEames Herman Miller Fiberglass Arm Shell Chair Early Mid CenturyAdrian Pearsall Chair And Ottoman Mid Century ModernVintage Herman Miller Fiberglass School Chair Shell OnlyPair 70’s Curved Lounge Chairs Milo Baughman Mid Century ModernAntique Victorian Wooden & Carved Inlay Desktop Rocker Ink Blotter C 1850 - 1900Pair Signed Milo Baughman Thayer Coggin Swivel Plinth Club Lounge Chairs Vtg Mcm5 Herman Miller Zenaloy Fiberglass Stackable Shell Chairs Ultramarine Blue Dss Victorian Vintage Mahogany Children's Chair Couch Set Salesman Sample Doll FurnPair Of Beautiful Mid Century Modern Lounge Chairs | Dunbar FurnitureHerman Miller Eames Art Deco Modern Vintage Fiberglass Chairs White 60's EraMcm Charles Pollock Executive Black Leather Office Chair For Knoll Set Of 3 Vintage Danish Modern Mid Century Eames Teak Or Walnut Dining ChairsVtg Wood Mid-century Modern Lounge/easy Chair, Danish Designer Style Must See #2Herman Miller Charles Eames Girard Signed Dcm Striking Black On WhiteMid Century Modern Danish Style Retro ChairI Antique L Public Works Department Wood Wooden Danish Dining Vintage Chair Original Knoll Barcelona Chairs (2) And Stool Ottoman Black Volo Leather EamesHerman Miller Eames Fiberglass Arm Shell Chair Green Black Aluminum GroupMid Century Vintage Childs Elementary School Metal Chair W/adjustable DeskAntique Primitive Doll Chair Woven Seat Painted Wood Great ConditionStottlemyer Narrow Curved Arm Rocker Rocking ChairSolid Teak Danish Modern Arm Chair Kai Kristiansen Paper Knife Mid CenturySet Of 4 Vintage French Country Provincial Dining Chairs High BacksHollywood Regency/ Deco Style, Asymmetrical Fan/channel Back Chair Plum ChenilleOrange Fiberglass Eames Herman Miller Rolling Bucket Desk ChairVintage Industrial Adjustable Hallowell Standard Pressed Steel Co. Stool/chairOld Miniature Dresden Lace Figurine Porcelain 2.5" Woman Chair Reading VolkstedtVintage Mid Century Blue Industrial Shop Chair Stool SteampunkGustav Stickley New Collectors Book Chair Table Stool Copper Candle Tray Desk Lot 6 Herman Miller Eames Shell Chairs Fiberglass Orange Narrow MountsAntique Queen Anne Set Of Six Dark Mahogany Dining Chairs Circa 1920 FurnitureBelmont Barber Chair Vintage Frank Gehry Carboard Side Chair, Vitra Design First Edition 1972Butterfly Chair Mid Century Modern Black - Original LeatherWonderful 1860s Victorian Child Size Antique Grain Painted Cane Seat ChairVtg Antique Nautical Windsor Ship Captains Tavern Dining Maple Wood Arm ChairVintage Mid Century Cast Iron Swivel Chair Bracket MountVintage American Wooden Folding Rocking Nursery Chair Victorian Floral TapestryOriginal Vtg Plycraft Lounge Chair 3 Cushion Set Headrest Backrest & Seat BottomWood Wooden Rocker Desk Rocking Ink Blotter Antique RepAntique (19th Century) French Piano Stool/chair In Petit-points Style-free Ship

Recent News: Chairs

Source: Google News

Catering to the family dining room's full plate
Chicago Daily Herald, November 27th

I bought fragile antique chairs that have required a ridiculous amount of maintenance. For upholstered dining room chairs (or any upholstered chair that is going to regularly come into contact with food, drink, paint or pen), opt for outdoor fabrics or...Read more

Coffee meets barber shop at new Si Café and Ritual Barbers, November 27th

A pair of antique chairs and a couch double as coffee shop seating and a waiting area for haircuts. A turntable spins in one corner and a Ms. Pac-Man game occupies another, two stools ready for players. The unique spot stems from Ritual Barbers' need...Read more

How we are all being seduced by the SUV
The Globe and Mail, November 26th

But I finally understand North America's love affair with them. Ease, comfort and space for hockey bags and antique chairs can take you a long way. I have experienced the SUV's smooth and roomy seduction first-hand. But I'm still not ready for that tub...Read more

Shawnee salon owner looks to combine high-end with comfort
The Dispatch, November 25th

A waiting area in the corner of the salon evokes a living room setup, with antique chairs, a glass-topped coffee table and flatscreen TV. “We're a higher-end (salon) without it being snooty and feeling like you're walking into someone's conversation...Read more

Rent Control Efforts in San Jose Look at 'Just Cause' Evictions
San Jose Inside (blog), November 24th

The rodents had chewed up her antique chairs and leather sofa, nibbled on nectarines on the kitchen counter and left rat droppings on her just-shampooed beige carpet. “An exterminator could have done the job in a single visit,” Galvan, 53, says...Read more

9 Amazing Tree House Hotels From Around The World
Bustle, November 24th

crafted by hand by the two owners in and around the forest of Eureka Springs. The tree houses are notable for more than just sitting in a picturesque location — they contain stupendous woodwork, from seriously amazing four-poster beds to antique...Read more

From French Doors to Barn Doors Mia Bella Originals
Beckley Register-Herald, November 22nd

The light from a chandelier flickers above. Another bride and groom sit in front of rustic barn doors in antique chairs with carved scrollwork. Wooden barrels are covered with beautiful floral arrangements, as shimmering lights from a wrought-iron...Read more

Historic Iva church becoming mortuary
Washington Times, November 21st

The church was empty when the Sosebee's bought it, but now it is now full of antique chairs, lamps and even has a piano in one of the sitting rooms. Town Clerk Tim Taylor started going to the old church when he was 15 years old. He clearly remembers...Read more