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 Orig 40s 50s Charles Eames Dcw Evans Herman Miller Plywood Lounge Chairs NrGreat 18th C William & Mary 3 Slat Ladderback Armchair Mushroom Hands Bold ChairPair Orig 40s 50s Charles Eames Lcw Evans Herman Miller Plywood Lounge Chairs NrRare Eames Lounge Chair For Herman Miller,zenith Elephant Grey Rope Edge C00lA Very Rare 18th C Boston Ma Chippendale Chair Owl's Eye Splat Best Surface 1Rare C1890 Victorian Furniture Store Miniature Advertising Chair Sign St Paul MnAntique Austria Viennese Painted Kiln Fired Enamel Miniature Doll Chair OttomanA Very Rare 18th C Boston Ma Chippendale Chair Owl's Eye Splat Best Surface 2Vintage Eames Herman Miller Aluminum Group Management Soft Pad ChairRare Sol Bloom Iron Mesh Scoop Chair Mid Century ModernMid Century Danish Modern Jens Risom Walnut Arm ChairFranco Albini Knoll Drake Dining Chair Mid Century Modern Circa 1959Theo A Koch Barber ChairOld Factory Industrial Drafting Metal Stool/chair/bar Wooden & MetalVtg Hand Crafted Child Table & 2 Chairs Salesman Sample? Great Quality C1950sVintage Herman Miller Eames Era Fiberglass Arm Chair Yellow No Legs Great ShapeFrance & Son Danish Modern Teak Adjustable Chair Frame OnlyAntique Industrial Sikes Oak Adjustable Swivel Office Desk Bankers Chair VintageAntique Miniature Chinese Silver Model Of A Sedan Chair Marked 11.5cm LongVintage Herman Miller Eames Era Fiberglass Arm Chair Yellow No Legs Great ShapeVictorian, Chesterfield, Antique, Vintage, Chair, Restored!Aviation Brown Leather & Metal Chair - Dining / Office - Adjustable Height2007 Herman Miller Eames Aluminum Group Chair Zinc Cygnus Mesh Clean! NrAntique Handmade Early Ri Ma Salesman Fanback Windsor Chair Great Splay DollVintage Solid Silver 800/000 Chair Miniature - No Job Lot Or ScrapEames Mid Century Modern Danish Plycraft Rare Office ChairAntique Koken Barber Chair Head RestVintage Solid Silver 800/000 Rocking Chair Miniature - No Job Lot Or ScrapVintage Hans Wegner Valet Tailors Chair Wooden Folding Storage Seat RareMid Century Modern Eames Era Sofa Danish Scandinavian Sofa & ChairVintage Belmont Barber Chair Headrest With Paper Roll BarBarbershop Chair Headrest, Universal, Patent 1909, 1910, W/ Paper CutterVtg/antique 1930s Art Deco Inlay Wooden Vanity Chair4!! Vge Tell City, In Chair Co. Furniture Brass Drawer Pulls Hardware & 4 ScrewsEarly 1900's Theo A. Koch Chicago Barber Chair!!Barber Chair Foot Rest ArmsPaidar Barber Chair HeadrestBlack Herman Miller Eames Fiberglass Swivel ChairBarber Chair Congress Pedestal Hydraulic3 1957 Herman Miller Eames Shell Chairs1910 Koken Barber Chair, Antique Dresden Woman Lace Chair Figurine German Blue Crown Porcelain VintageAntique Koken Barber Chair Swivel FootrestKoken Barber Chair Calf RestRare Pair Of Joaquim's Tenreiro U Chair In Solid Rosewood - Circa 19603 Broyhill Brasilia Chairs 2 Arm And 1 Side C. 1962 Gorgeous Vintage French Gilt Accent Display Chair~ornate Details~louis Xvi StyleSet 6 Thonet Bentwood Chairs Upholstered Mcm Eames Knoll Thayer Baughman NrAntique Vintage Wood Carved Chair Back Part 22 3/4" Wide Vintage Barber/beauticians Pneumatic Lift Styling Chair By Raymond UsaAntique Stamped Brass Button Mother Feeding Young Girl In ChairEero Saarinen Knoll Midcentury Ibm Executive Office Chair Stationary LegsKoken Barber Chair Foot RestAntique Koken Barber Chair Armrests Professionally Restored MintWood Wooden Rocker Desk Rocking Ink Blotter Antique RepHand Carved Solid Teak Antique Front Room Furniture Set,4chairs,1couch & 3tablesPair Of Art Deco, Early 1930's, Wolfgang Hoffman Chrome/leather Lounge ChairsHans Wegner ChairsSet 4 Heywood Wakefield Stingray Dining Chair Chairs - Wheat - M555 - No ResHollywood Regency Faux Bamboo Armchair Top Quality Accent Desk Vintage Chair

Recent News: Chairs

Source: Google News

Coming of Age: My Fortune Teller Experience
Uloop News, February 4th

Every inch of space on the shelves surrounding the room was covered with tiny dolls and other random knick-knacks. In the center of the room was a circular table with a delicate lace table cloth, and two antique chairs. There was a deck of tarot cards...Read more

BC News Friends to follow
Bryan County News, February 3rd

There are also 19th-century antique chairs from England that were donated by Smith's family. “It connects elements of the past with elements of the present,” he said. The pews are made of Canadian red oak from a company in Nebraska that also made other ...Read more

Feast of Flavours sets pace for Armchair Auction
Montgomery Advertiser, January 31st

Alison and Michael Ingram were among those admiring the treasure of loot placed at the bard's feet, where Armchair Auction's donations included antique chairs, chests and tables; exquisite necklaces, a Hank Williams print, and several one-of-a-kind...Read more

Upholstery Unlimited is a one-stop shop for customers' convenience
Lancaster Bee, January 27th

Maureen and Brian Zawacki, top, stand in the showroom of Upholstery Unlimited at its new location. Mike McHerrin, right, works with an electric stapler on a chair at Upholstery Unlimited. Maureen describes the business as a one-stop shop. Photos by...Read more

Faux Taxidermy Sculptures Are Kill-Free Surrealism
The Creators Project (blog), January 26th

I would go to flea markets and garage sales and come home with antique chairs that needed a little TLC, and taught myself how to do simple upholstery. Later, when I was putting together my undergraduate senior show UW-Stevens Point, I finally made my ...Read more

Think the field is crowded? The media horde is about to land
DesMoinesRegister.com, January 21st

Short doesn't expect the reporters and crew to buy many souvenirs — antique chairs are hard to pack — but he doesn't mind the fuss, even if it means he won't be able to caucus himself. “As much as I'd like to give 100 people keys to the store, I...Read more

Robert Carradine Divorce Turns Nasty She Took My Guitars!!!
TMZ.com, January 18th

He claims Edith and the dude made off with 3 antique chairs he got from his grandpa, valued at $5k a piece. She also took his collection of Pentax cameras ... which has sentimental valuable because his late brother and actor David got him interested in...Read more

How to Keep Your Antiques Fresh
Wall Street Journal, January 13th

Antique chairs are often not so comfortable, and this was a desk I was going to sit at a lot,” she says. Before fully committing to a piece, Ms. Cullman suggests asking the dealer or seller if you can have the piece in your home for a short while...Read more