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    

Vintage Mid-century Modern Paul Mccobb Fiberglass Origami Arm Chair-eames Era-nrHerman Miller Eames Lounge Chair & Ottoman Rosewood Mid Century VintageOriginal Rare 1954 Knoll Bertoia Bird Chair & Ottoman Set / Mcm / Eames EraPair Of Perfect Gerard Van Den Berg Montis Loge Armchairs & Stool RrpMuseum Quality W & M 18th C New York Bannister Back Armchair In Old Black PaintVintage Adrian Pearsall Mid Century Danish Modern Eames Era Lounge Lolling ChairMcm Danish Burnt Orange Papa Bear Lounge Chair Ottoman Risom Eames Wegner MccobbSet Of 4 Herman Miller Eames Shell Chairs Hunter Green (shells Only)Best 18th C Connecticut Signed "a D Allen" "tracy" School Windsor SidechairPair Antique Carved White Alabaster Sculptures, Children W/ Books, Bronze ChairsVtg Herman Miller Eames Rope Edge Chair 1st Generation Checkerboard Zenith LabelRare Pair Fine Chinese Antique Famille Rose Wall Pockets Sedan Chair Vases 1900sVtg 50's Herman Miller Eames Rar Fiberglass Chair Bucket Rocker Base Mid CenturyRare Early 18th C Ct Queen Anne Chair Bold Spanish Feet & Best Carved CrestHerman Miller Eames Wire Side Chair - Black With H Base - Original, Mint@!!!Pair Of Chinese Chippendale Asian Arm Chair Rattan Bamboo Wicker Brighton ChairsEames Elephant By Vitra In MapleVtg Herman Miller Eames Fiberglass Chair Bucket Eiffel Tower Base Mid CenturyDanish Mcm Wegner Inspired Papa Bear Lounge Chair And Ottoman Eames Turquoise1 Of 2 Art Deco Mid Century Modern Thonet Bentwood Camp Style Folding Chair 1938Mission Oak Cabinet Stickley Era Michigan Chair Co Attribution Mullioned GlassRare Child's 3 Slat Ladderback Mushroom Armchair In Great Color And ConditionVtg 1953 Herman Miller Eames Dat-1 Tilt Swivel Fiberglass Desk Chair Bucket RareVintage Mid-century Danish Modern Ekornes Stressless Recliner Chair & Ottoman NrFine Quality Antique Chinese Export Silver Filigree Sudan Chair Miniature Toy Beautiful Eames Chair And OttomanRare Early Yngve Ekstrom "lamino" Easy Chair + Ottoman 1956 Swedese Mathsson EraVintage Adrian Pearsall High Back Chair Mid Century Danish Modern Antique English Arts & Crafts Ebonised Folding Childs Chair, William MorrisGustav Stickley Craftsman #398 H-back Oak Side/vanity Chair Arts Crafts Mission Mid Century Modern Handsome Pair Salterini Radar Hoop Lounge Patio Metal ChairsVictorian Carved Oak Hall Chair C.1880 [9556]Eames Lounge ChairSet 4 Danish Mid Century Teak Dining Chairs Rug Vintage Navajo Serape SouthwestHerman Miller Eames Wire Chair Fabric Cover - Original 1950's - Gold CoverSuperb 19thc Ceramic Porcelain Begging Pug Dog On Decorative Chair C1890Herman Miller Modern Eames Vintage Fiberglass Orange Shell Arm Chairs 60's EraKnoll Barcelona Chairs With Matching Stools AuthenticKnoll Vintage Bertoia Diamond Chair / Platner / Saarinen / Eames EraCollectible Book The Eames Lounge Chair Martin Eidelberg Mid-century ModernismVintage Herman Miller Fiberglass Shell Arm Chair Yellow Mid Century Modern Herman Miller White Shell Daf Nelson Swag Leg Eames Arm Shell ChairEarly H-base With Domes Of Silence For Herman Miller Eames Shell ChairModern Danish Design - Oak Chair Design By Kai KristiansenEkornes Recliner Ottoman Leather Chrome Lounge Chair Mid Century Modern DanishRare Art Deco P&o Ferries Deck Chair 1930's Barn Find Beach Hut Chalet Quality.Nice Mid Century Modern Chair FrameVtg 50's Herman Miller Eames Dax Wide Shock Mount X-base Fiberglass Bucket Chair4 X Vintage Original Tolix Armchair Chair Pauchard Loft Industrial DesignPair Of Mcm Dux Scissor Chairs, By Folke OhlssonPair 50's Mid Century Modern Occasional Chairs Jens Risom EraKnoll Mies Van Der Rohe Mr Lounge Chair Vintage Knoll Saarinen Mid-century Conference Arm Chair Tilt-swivel Brown Tweed4 Vintage Mid-century Leg-o-matic Folding Chairs Airstream / Camper Jack Lenor Larsen Chairs Milo Baughman Karl Springer Eames Mid Century Art DecoHerman Miller Eames Wire Chair Fabric Cover - Original 1950's - Gold CoverTwo Vintage Leg-o-matic Folding Chairs Airstream Trailer Antique Circa 1900-1920 High Chair Solid Wood Antique Chair Antique White ChairVtg 50's Herman Miller Eames Dax Fiberglass Chair Bucket Zinc X-base Mid CenturyMid Century Modern Milo Baughman Chrome Lounge Cube Chair

Recent News: Chairs

Source: Google News

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

'Storage Wars' witnesses 'The Education of Miss Profit' on A&E, September 17th

She spotted two antique chairs that nobody else wanted. She found antique marionettes and took them to the Bob Baker Marionette Theater to have them checked out, and they were worth at least $500. In the end, Mary Padian's unit paid her $1,010, thanks...Read more

October 2014 Issue Product Guide
House Beautiful (blog), September 16th

Fabric on Roman shades, Dragon Flower in Original on Beige Linen—Bennison (T); Towel over chair—Nickey Kehoe; Table, antique. Chairs—Crate & Barrel; Stove—Viking; more

New lecture at Art Center
Albert Lea Tribune, September 16th

When Jill acquired two antique chairs from her great aunt, she decided it was time to learn how to cane so she could repair the chairs herself. Caning has become a lost art as most furniture today is machine manufactured and the hand crafted techniques...Read more

Police want help finding trailer with dead teen's mementos
Lincoln Journal Star, September 10th

It also held furniture, Christmas decorations, a TV and antique chairs, but Koby's stuff was what mattered — and they were things that wouldn't sell. “There were a lot of mementos in there,” Hruza said. “It'd be awesome to have those things back, but...Read more

New life for old furniture: Reupholstering isn't a breeze, but it's not ...
Chattanooga Times Free Press, September 8th

"I've done a couple of just basic antique chairs that I find at thrift stores," she says. Coleman, who once worked at a La-Z-Boy, has taught upholstering at Chattanooga State Community College in the past. DIY upholstering is a great way to dress up a...Read more

LeRaysville Labor Day outlasts raindrops
Towanda Daily Review, September 1st

Prize tables fill much of the fire hall, holding a variety of things like antique chairs, a set of ratchet tie-downs, a Disney princess lunch pail, a Cabbage Patch doll, an Amish comforter, a five-piece cheese set, brown and blue "Wyalusing" jackets...Read more

Blount thefts for Aug. 30, 2014
The Daily Times, August 29th

• Jana R. Mihalko, Mimosa Heights, Dr., Louisville, reported at 6 a.m. Aug. 28, someone took a Party Lite Candle kit consisting of Party Lite candles and scent sticks in a black case with wheels and handles, valued at $150, from her vehicle in the...Read more