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

An overview by the Minneapolis Institute of Arts of the design movements between 1880 and 1940 that comprised Moder… [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    

Vintage Herman Miller Eames Rosewood 670 & 671 Lounge Chair & OttomanVintage Herman Miller Chair By Charles Eames4 Vintage Herman Miller Eames Shell ChairsPair Vintage Knoll Harry Bertoia Childs Wire Chairs W/original Seat PadsHerman Miller Lcw Chair, Red Aniline Stain, SignedToledo Furniture Drafting Drawing Chair Stool Antique Industrial McmMuseum Quality 17th C Carved Wainscot Joined Childs Chair With The Best CarvingVintage Herman Miller Chair, 1980's Retro Draughtmans Chair Architects StoolRare Antique Victorian Ormolu Metal Pin Cushion Half Doll Figure Chair SewingRare 18th C Deerfield Ma Bannister Back Chair In The Best Original Brown PaintAntique 17th Century Stool Early Bertoia For Knoll Diamond Chair Mid Century Original Wow !!!!!!! McmPair Of Herman Miller Fiberglass Shell Chairs Eames Tan Light 1920's Double Round Fluted Koken Barber ChairVtg Decorion Mid-century Modern Tulip Pod Swivel Lounge Chair-saarinen Era Nr!Lounge Chair Mid Century Modern Danish Style Vtg Club WalnutOriginal Eames Herman Miller Mid 50s Fiberglass Rocker Sea Foam GreenVintage Eames Herman Miller Wire Bikini Rocking Chair Rocker 1950s Mid CenturyVtg Goodform Aluminum Swivel Chair Machine Age Mid Century Navy EmecoChrome Tractor Style Seat Lawn Mower Salvage Metal Stool Chair Country VintageHerman Miller Eames Chairs Two Blue Plastic Shell Chairs With VinylPair Of Alvar Aalto Cantilever Lounge Chairs Model 31/42 By ArtekEames Rosewood Lounge Chair Herman Miller Fiberglass Shell Chair Seafoam Green Charles EamesHerman Miller Eames Zenith Rope Edge Chair - Checker LabelAntique Barber ChairAntique Belmont Barber ChairVintage Shell Back Childs Chair Or Salesman Sample ?1954 Osvaldo Borsani For Tecno Arm ChairAntique ChairsKnoll Mies Van Der Rohe Mr Lounge Chair "winged" Chair Danish Modern Juhl Wegner Jacobsen Hvidt Mogensen Vodder Era 18th C. Early American Arm Chair W/ Red Paint And Yellow Seat! L@@k! Aafa NrAntique Sterling Silver Miniature Chair Royal Coronation Throne Gothic Cs&fsHerman Miller Shell Chair *beige*Vintage Herman Miller Shell Chair (fiberglass)Paul Mccobb Planner Group For Winchendon Furn. Side Chair (1of6 To Be Sold) Nr24478: Southwood Inlaid Mahogany Sheraton Chair W/ Silk UpholsteryModern Danish Design - Two X Teak/ Beech Chairs - Wegner EraVintage Hardoy B.f.k. Wrought Iron Butterfly Chair Mid Century Modern KnollMid Century Plycraft Selig Lounge Chair And Ottoman Eames Style NicePair Of Vintage Heman Miller Shell Side Chairs Brown Mid CenturyLincoln In The Chair Bronze-cast Bookends, Philadelphia Mfg., By H. French, NrVtg Industrial Age Steampunk Metal Wood Drafting Bar Kitchen Stool Chair SquareSolid Silver Antique Miniature Corner Chair - Sheffield 1909 Vtg Uhl Toledo Furniture Drafting Drawing Chair Stool Antique Industrial McmRare Color Eames Herman Miller Fiberglass Shell Side Chair Shell Only Antique Claw Foot Swivel Piano Bench Chair Seat Foot Stool Repair RestorationVintage Primitive Farm Chair Braided Rag Rug Seat Pad Cushion Lot Of 6Vintage Mid Century Pair Of Slipper Chairs Chanel Back Super Comfy Strong FramesAntique Windsor Chairs Pair Of 1800's Sack Back Saddle Seat Chairs Pair Miles Van Der Rohe Brno Chairs Design Within Reach Dwr Paul Mccobb Planner Group For Winchendon Furn. Side Chair (2of6 To Be Sold) NrSalesman Sample Of A 1950's-60's Black ChairVintage Vanity Chair Make-up Cosmetic Stool W/padded Seat & BackAntique Telephone Cast Iron 3 Green Vintage Tulip Chair Cushions Knoll Ero SaarinenDanish Rosewood Kai Kristiansen Set Of 4 Chairs, 1960s Mid Century ModernVintage Mid Century Furniture Chinese Chippendale Chinoiserie Lounge Arm ChairSix Hollywood Regency Faux Bamboo Side Chairs Kindel Furniture Caned Seats Nice

Recent News: Chairs

Source: Google News

Gray tones are neutral backdrop for eclectic artwork in Nancy and Dick Bennett ...
The Plain Dealer, April 24th

A small wood table, slatted wood antique chairs and a candelabra were grouped under a large abstract painting by Cleveland artist Sam Roth. “None of this goes together – except that it does,” Nancy said. “We just go into places and come out and figure...Read more

Houston Heights couple's metal home is full of cool art
Chron.com, April 19th

There's also a pair on antique chairs on the piano platform, and the chairs around the glass dining room table are also from India, where a group of artisans created the sunburst caning pattern on the chairs' backs as Sharon watched. In the master...Read more

Theatre review: A Midsummer Night's Dream, Edinburgh
Scotsman, April 18th

Dream – in Edinburgh this week, alongside The Comedy Of Errors – is as lucid, vigorous and hilarious a version of the play as you are ever likely to see, set in a white dreamscape surrounded by a high ledge of whitewashed antique chairs, and...Read more

BOOK REVIEW: 'The Goldfinch'
Washington Times, April 18th

“Through the dusty windows [he] saw Staffordshire dogs and majolica cats, dusty crystal, tarnished silver, antique chairs and settees upholstered in sallow old brocade, an elaborate faience birdcage, miniature marble obelisks atop a marble-topped...Read more

Doors to the 2014 Symphony Designers' Showhouse open Saturday
Kansas City Star, April 17th

An Italian provincial desk and antique chairs are offset by a cowhide rug, a pillow encrusted with Swarovski crystals and a contemporary brass-rimmed ceiling light. “Cowhide was everywhere at the furniture shows this year,” explained Brenda Freeburn, ...Read more

Foodie frenzy: Inside Chef John Rivers' The Coop
Orlando Business Journal (blog), April 14th

I've spent more than one afternoon photographing construction progress at the West Morse Boulevard address, but this was my first time inside. In previous OBJ interviews, Rivers mentioned his Craigslist searches for antique chairs for the restaurant's...Read more

A Bagful of Memories of a Home in Augusta
New York Times, April 9th

Kerr, who is caddying for Vijay Singh this year, once received a scolding from Culpepper after he moved one of her antique chairs outdoors so he could sit on the porch. Another year, Comboy returned from the course and found Culpepper seated in her ...Read more

Cool Spaces: Changing up a historic Midtown home for modern functionality
al.com, April 3rd

For example, she prefers to use modern dining chairs because they hold up better than antique chairs; but vintage armoires and tables, accessorized with modern art or fixtures, combine the warm feeling of antiques with functionality, she said. “We like...Read more