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    

Pair Of Rare 1950’s Cast Iron Coca Cola Bistro Chairs No ReserveOriginal Eames Herman Miller Fiberglass Shell Chair - H Base (3 Avail.)Original Eames Herman Miller Fiberglass Shell Chair - H Base - BlueOriginal Eames Herman Miller Fiberglass Shell Chair - H Base (3 Avail.)Original Eames Herman Miller Fiberglass Shell Chair - H Base (3 Avail.)Original Eames Herman Miller Fiberglass Shell Chair - H Base - Red Vintage Orig Wek Will Kirkpatrick Shorebird Nantucket Rocker Decoy Folk Art YqzVintage 50s Kofod Larsen Selig Danish Mid-century Modern Walnut Lounge Chair-nr!Rare Victorian Brass Sovereign Rocker Balance ScalesVintage Herman Miller Lcw Lounge Chair Eames Aniline BlackRare Vintage 60s Cowhide Leather Safari Lounge Chair And Ottoman Arne Norell EraVtg Eames Dark Olive Army Green Fiberglass Herman Miller Arm Shell Chair VintageVintage Herman Miller Eames Black Leather Chairs With Fabric Seats (set Of 2)Mid-century Danish Modern Ole Wanscher Cado High Back Teak Lounge Chair DenmarkVintage Pair Antique Wooden Carved Spindle Back Children's ChairsPair Mastercraft Hollywood Regency Elegant Modern Faux Bamboo Brass Chairs Vintage Black Herman Miller Fiberglass Shell Arm Chair Antique Bucket Old Yellow Herman Miller Eames Shell Chair Mid Century Modern18th Century Sack Back Windsor Chair With Knuckle ArmsGustav Stickley Arts And Crafts Morris Chair Mission 1/4 Sawn Oak Herman Miller Eames Fiberglass Shell Chair 1958 Eiffel Tower BaseAuthentic Singer Swiveling Stool Chair Factory France Industrial Design2 Antique Embossed Cast Iron One Room Schoolhouse Desk/chair BracketsDanish Modern D-scan Dining Chair Set 4 Mid Century Chairs Teak D Scan Four ModEames Dining Chair Metal, Dcm Herman MillerTwo Fritz Hansen Egg Chairs And Two Little Friend Side TablesHerman Miller ChairsAntique Koken Barber Chair Headrest NrBerninghaus Barber Chair Super Rare Round Bottom No Reserve.Antique Chair Old Oak 17th Century Rush Seated Chair Mario Botta Seconda Metal Chrome Armchair Memphis Vintage ChairSet Of 6 Fan Back Windsor Black Early American Antique Primitive Style Chairs Vtg Antique Miniature Toy Wood Doll Chair Old Red Paint Gold Stencil Folk ArtPair Of Herman Miller Eames Lounge Chair Aluminum Back Braces Vintage Herman Miller Fiberglass Shell Chair Narrow Base Navy BlueModern Danish Design - Teak Chair - Um Furnitures - Panton EraItalian Vintage Mid Century Bellini Amanta 4 P Fiberglass Lounge Chairs 1973 McmDanish Modern Rosewood J.l.moller Ladder Back Dining ChairsPair Vtg Hollywood Regency Black Ebony/peacock Slipper Chairs-nice! Baker Era-nrAntique Vegetable Ivory Chair Pincushion And Thread Winder C. 1870s Herman Miller Eames Chair OriginalVintage Herman Miller Side Chair In Mint Cond-herman Miller Fiberglass ShellAntique Continental Silver Filigree Miniature Chair Settee Dolls House Hanau 800Modern Danish Design - Teak Arm Chair - Panton EraFinn Juhl Dining-accent Chair Baker Danish Modern Wegner EamesVintage Koken Barber ChairDanish Mid-century Dining Chairs (4)Vintage Barber Chair Head Rest ShopLot Of 4 Herman Miller Eames Office Mid Century Style Arm Chairs Brown ShellsVintage Brass Tell City Chair Eagle Finial Topper Lamp Flagpole Furniture ClockBarbara Barry Chairs ( Set Of 2)Rare German Art Deco Bauhaus Chairs (2) Neue Galerie Wertheimers Berlin 1930The Beaver Tail Chair, Steel, Retailed Through Neiman Marcus C1995Mid Century Pair Vtg Danish Modern Chairs - Hans Wegner Style Low SeatingMid Century Danish Modern Rosewood & Brown Leather Westnofa Chair & Ottoman American Renaissance Revival Rocker Carved Lions Rj Horner New YorkDanish Modern Reclining ChairWare Family 5-slat Ladder Back Side Chair Mid 18th C To Mid 19th C Antique Rare4 Red Samsonite Atomic Vintage Mid Century Folding Chairs With Gold FlecksVintage Mid Century Homecrest Swivel Rocking Lounge Patio Wire Chair & Cushion

Recent News: Chairs

Source: Google News

Almost Time to Crawl
Peninsula Pulse, October 16th

Rd. ZZ), will serve Smokin' Chili and apple cider. Stop in to view this Master Pastelist's new works and to register to win a small painting. • Cousin's Walk (11940 Lakeview Rd.) has fun folk art, bowls, antique chairs and tables painted in Marcy's...Read more

Katie Robinson Edwards Writes the Definitive Take on Midcentury Modern Art in ...
The Texas Observer, October 13th

Compounding the disconnect was the fact that the antique chairs, benches and other objects in the Palazzo Cini were cordoned off behind stanchions and signs reading “Do not touch” and “Do not sit,” whereas the prints of Chagas' broken chairs were free...Read more

More Vintage Photos from the Magic of Walt Disney World
MiceChat, October 13th

Etched glass doors, potted palms, comfortable velvet settees and antique chairs set the mood for relaxation and comfort. At the Desk you'll find attractive young girls to answer your questions about the best routes home, the best places to visit in...Read more

Boutique hotels: 30 years of Schrager's blueprint
The Independent, October 3rd

Antique chairs on cubist rugs. Front of house staff with curly earpieces. Noisy brasseries. Clashing fabrics. Haute luxe in small spaces. Mood lighting. And, of course, the re-invention of the word "boutique". Schrager himself hates the idea that the...Read more

Nebraska state Capitol administrator defends $87400 spent to restore antique ...
Daily Journal, October 1st

LINCOLN, Nebraska — The State Capitol administrator is defending the cost of restoring 46 antique statehouse chairs at a cost of nearly $2,000 each. The Omaha World-Herald reports (http://bit.ly/YLSJXZ ) the wood-and-leather chairs are the original ...Read more

Rutgers study shows links between happy marriage, happy life
RU Daily Targum, September 22nd

On a fall afternoon in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 2007, Deborah Carr and Julie Halpert sat perpendicular to one another on uncomfortable antique chairs in the dining room of Halpert's home. These chairs, along with the remaining six, were positioned...Read more

Hong Kong's best new bars
CNN, September 21st

The bar is furnished with antique chairs/tables and vintage baccarat crystals, all obtained from Parisian flea markets. Stockton offers award-winning cocktails, boutique champagne and more than 150 whiskies. The drink menu is loaded with anecdotes ...Read more

Lady Gaga: 'Tony changed my life' with 'Cheek' collaboration
KSDK, September 19th

While recording joint jazz album Cheek to Cheek, out Tuesday, Tony Bennettremembers a particular day when the pop provocateur came into the studio. Upon realizing there were cameras filming inside, she ordered in chandeliers, carpets and antique chairs ...Read more