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    

1950s Vintage Danish Modern Teak Stool Chair Ottoman Mid Century Wegner Juhl EraVintage Factory Industrial Cast Iron Swing Out Drafting Stool Seat Chair Superb Set Of 6 Matching Walnut Victorian Balloon Back Dining ChairsVintage Mid Century Mcm Herman Miller Eames Shell Zenith Rope Chair Fiberglass Vtg Mid Century Modern Lounge Chair Danish Style No ReserveVintage Mid Century Rattan / Wicker Ottoman StoolVintage Danish Modern Mid-century Walnut Lounge Chair Selig/eames Era No ReserveVintage Mid Century Mcm Herman Miller Eames Shell Chair Fiberglass Wire Base4 Vintage Herman Miller Side Fiberglass Side Chairs Bright Yellow Mid Century1930's Antique Belmont Barber Chair With StrapEames Herman Miller Lounge Chair Black Leather Arm Rests2 Danish Teak Mid Century Mobler Chairs By Folke Palsson Denmark Two Vintage 1960’s Herman Miller Eames Shell Chairs In Good ConditionSet Of 8 Vintage Hans Wegner Style Mid Century Modern Rope Seat Folding ChairsOriginal Green Mid Century Herman Miller Fiberglass Eames Era Shell Arm Chair 50's Herman Miller Eames Sea Foam Green Side Chair Eiffel Wire BaseArne Jacobsen Fritz Hansen 1953 Ant Chair Eames Era Danish Modern Molded PlywoodWonderful Civil War Era Officer's Carpet Seat Folding Rocking Chair -exc CondVictorian Antique Parlor Chair, Unique Vintage PieceVintage Vermont Tubbs Snowshoe Folding Chair Signed Tubbs Wallingford VtMid-century Modern Eames Era Scoop Chair Molded Plywood Lounge ChairVintage Mid Century Kofod Larsen Selig Walnut Danish Modern Lounge Club ChairVintage Hand Embroidered Chair Back Cover Flowers Hollyhocks/bluebells Etc Vtg Duncan Phyfe Style Rose Carved Wood 22" Childs Chair, Salesman Sample DiningOriginal Parchment Color Herman Miller Mid-century Fiberglass ChairVintage Belmont Barber Shop Hydraulic Reclining Chair W/ Booster Salon TattooSet Of 4 Original Herman Miller Orange Fiberglass Eames Shell ChairsEero Saarinen Knoll Pair Of Executive Chairs Classic Ibm BlueOriginal Herman Miller Eames Lounge Chair In Ebony Vintage Ekornes Stressless Leather Lounge Chair And OttomanPair Of Mid Century Russell Woodard Patio Sculptura Metal Mesh Iron Chairs McmNuchu (uchu) Kuna Woman In Chair 65+ Years Old Healing, Kuna Medicine Doll, MolaTwo Hunzinger American Victorian Chairs Tiffany Studios Bronze Rocker Blotter ++ For American Indian Desk SetMid Century Danish Modern Teak Wood Lounge Chair Made In Denmark By RotexEames Herman Miller Chrome/black Swivel Chair Base Exc. Cond. Spins Smooth(2) Vintage Herman Miller Alexander Girard La Fonda Shell Chair Mid Century ModVintage Danish Modern Folding Chair Rope Hans Wegner Wels EraAntique Walnut Victorian Old Arm Chair Needlepoint Motto Sampler Picture FrameVintage Mid Century Lion Brand Aluminum 189y 190y Gazelle Style Chair ModernTheo-a-kochs Barber Chair (burgundy)Herman Miller Eames Zenith Seafoam Green Rope Edge Shell Chair X Base 1st GenVintage Taylor Chair Company Banker's Chairs 1900-1950 Antique Old Hickory Chair Co. Martinville Foot StoolDesigns By Milo Baughman Eames Inc Lounge Octagonal Chair No: 97Eames/herman Miller Dcm (dining Chair Metal) Chairs In Great Condition. 4 Avail.Koken Barber Chair Foot Rest With Brackets & Backing PlateVintage Folding Two-seater Wood Bench/theater Seats/school Seats With SlatsEero Saarinen Knoll Executive Side ChairVintage Milo Baughman / Thayer Coggin Modern Style Lounge~club Swivel ReclinerBeautiful Vintage 60's Rattan Hanging Egg ChairVintage Office Desk Chair ( Great Smoky Mountains Estate Sale )Vintage Mid Century Modern Danish Viko By Baumritter Chair Eames Era Vintage 50s Cole Steel Machine Age Industrial Mid Century Eames Era Office ChairVtg Mid-century Ottoman/footstool For Lounge Chair Possibly Plycraft Eames EraSet Of 4 Vintage Round Ball Shepard Chair Furniture Casters Wheels W/insertsRare Original 1911 Old Hickory Chair Catalog Original Mailing Envelope & Letter Circa 1960's Vintage Solid Wood Rocking Chair Gold Design Walnut Finished ChairPair Of Vintage Steelcase Arm Chairs, Industrial Tanker, Mid Century ModernVintage Hitchcock Black Harvest Stenciled Arm Chair, Rush Seat

Recent News: Chairs

Source: Google News

Suzy Menkes at Milan Fashion Week: day six part two
Vogue Australia (blog), March 3rd

From the strains of Schubert produced by a piano player's hands, through to a spread of all-different antique chairs from his native Vienna, Arthur Arbesser knows how to set a scene for his storytelling. It was a visual leap from art pieces in an...Read more

Going With The Grain: Young Couple Builds Their Own Furniture For Their Home
Champlain Valley Voice, March 3rd

The couple is currently looking at a rather ambitious project of a large farmhouse dining table with matching bench on one side and antique chairs on the other. The piece will have generous dimensions and antiqued white legs with a darker wood top...Read more

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

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