In Europe, chairs were relatively uncommon until the 17th century. Before that time, kings, queens, and even clergymen enjoyed elaborate thrones, but, for commoners, chair backs were considered a luxury. Regular folk had to make due with stools and benches at mealtime.

Even in 17th-century America, houses had only a few chairs, reserved for the most senior members of the family. It wasn’t until the end of the 18th century that homes in America had a separate dining room, which would necessitate a nice dining set with a table and matching chairs.

As the French monarchy of the 1600s and 1700s grew increasingly self-indulgent and frivolous, French chairs became symbols of royal excess and vehicles for flaunting material wealth. During the Baroque and Rococo eras, the French nobility brought in the finest artisans from all over Europe to hand-carve fanciful furniture designs, often gilded, with ornate embellishments that swooped and swirled.

These particular influences spread across Europe and eventually to the American colonies in 1690, when heavy, sturdy, rectilinear chairs were abandoned in favor of William and Mary style chairs, a version of the Baroque style named after English royalty. These richly embellished chairs, with tall, narrow backs, featured caned or leather-upholstered seats, scrolling Spanish feet, and cresting rails carved with scrolls or spirals set on turned stiles.

Rococo came to the United States around 1725 in the Queen Anne style, named after the late ruler. This style emphasized great delicacy and sophistication, as the chairs had down-curving, yoke-shaped top rails, solid vase-shaped splats, and horseshoe-shaped seats. Thanks to French innovations, these chairs also sported curved cabriole legs, inspired by animal hind quarters, which looked elegant and also supported the seat without stretchers.

Taking inspiration from London cabinet-maker Thomas Chippendale, American Rococo chairs got even more airy and ornamental with claw-and-ball feet, carved pierced splats, and yoke-shaped top rails with upturned ears. Another popular Chippendale chair called the ladder-back had a series of scrolled horizontal slats on the back.

Families in the U.S. that were less well-to-do were more likely to have simpler, less-embellished versions of Queen Anne and Chippendale chairs, which were still hand-crafted by ...

One of the most enduring chairs from this period is the Windsor chair, a country chair based on an English design. These cage-like, all-wood chairs are made of turned or whittled spindles, contained by a curving or straight rail on seats shaped to fit the body. The Shaker religious sect also produced high-quality country furniture like Windsor chairs, whose sparse design emphasized function.

After the American Revolution, the florid excesses of Rococo Europe were rejected for a Neoclassical style, which was also favored by Napoleon. These Federal style chairs had backs shaped like ovals or shields with splats carved into a classical motif like urns or feathers. Federal style also included a heavier chair modeled after Egyptian klismos, with a thick, curved top rail and one carved horizontal slat.

During the Victorian era, as manufacturing technologies progressed by leaps and bounds, factories churned out dining chairs that were mostly throwbacks to previous styles. Around 1840, Gothic Revival style chairs were carved with quartrefoils and trefoils, with cathedral-type embellishments like rose window patterns and pointed arches incorporated into the backs.

Meanwhile, Rococo Revival chairs, inspired by Louis XV, featured those curved cabriole legs and upholstered seats and backs with rails featuring roses, leaves, grapes, scrolls, and shells carved in high relief. Renaissance Revival chairs had straighter lines and motifs taken from Louis XVI’s Neoclassicism, which employed architectural elements like columns and arches even though they served no structural purpose.

The 19th century wasn’t totally devoid of creativity, though. German designer Michael Thonet revolutionized chair design in 1830 when he figured out how to bend light, strong wood into curved shapes. With this new technique, he made his simple, lightweight bentwood dining chairs with comfortable, elegantly arching backs. These chairs are still popular around dining tables today. Some artists also made chairs of bark-covered tree stumps, branches, and even animal horn in response to industrialization, while designers influenced by the late-century Art Nouveau movement produced hand-crafted furnishings with more sleek, naturalistic lines.

By the dawn of the 20th century, a full-on rebellion against mass-produced furniture was underway. Led in the U.S. by furniture maker Gustav Stickley, who also published an influential magazine called “The Craftsman,” the Arts & Crafts movement advocated for simpler, hand-crafted furniture.

The most popular of these styles was known as Mission style, based on the furnishings of old Franciscan missions in California. Its rectilinear Mission dining chairs, usually made of oak, were constructed with mortise and tenon joints and featured a series of flat vertical or horizontal bands on the back. Ironically, Mission style furniture was so popular that shoddy versions were soon cheaply manufactured.

With the help of Stickley and his brothers, architect Frank Lloyd Wright designed high-quality Mission style chairs, with high backs made of vertical wooden spindles. He said he liked to come up with his own furniture for his houses because he believed that the interior of the home could affect his clients’ well-being, prompting the House Beautiful movement. The tall Mission style dining chairs he created for his own Oak Park home in 1895 were intended to create a cozy room-within-a-room effect when positioned around the table.

In the 1920s, the Arts & Crafts movement gave way to the Art Deco style coming from France, which favored dramatically streamlined geometric forms. The Bauhaus school took the commentary on industrialization one step further, making chairs out of tubular steel and other factory-made materials.

By the middle of the century, Americans were focused on the future, as they furnished their homes with Space Age-looking dining chairs in bright molded fiberglass. Husband-and-wife team Charles and Ray Eames were responsible for some of the most innovative chair designs of this era, if not the century as a whole.

The Eames’ first chair design in 1945 was a sleek, modern child’s chair, made out of molded birch plywood—only 5,000 of these were produced. The adult version of this chair, known as the Lounge Chair Wood, featured molded plywood that curved to the body and was produced in a limited run of 1,000 by Evans Products before the couple teamed up with Herman Miller. While at Miller, the Eames team put their curved plywood seat and back on a metal frame to create the Dining Chair Metal. This model sold at a rate of 2,000 per month.

Perhaps the Eames’ most famous design, though, is their molded fiberglass chairs, which resembled futuristic eggshells and came in a rainbow of colors. The most sought-after of these were produced from 1950 to 1953 and labeled “Miller-Zenith” on their undersides.

On the other side of the pond, Danish designers, influenced by early innovator Kaare Klint, were coming up with their own Danish Modern takes on the streamlined Modernist style. Hans Wegner and others made delicate curved-back chairs out of woods like teak, his most famous being the Round Chair, also known as “The Chair.” In the ’50s, Arne Jacobsen created his Ant Chair and Model 3107 as riffs on the Dining Chair Metal, while his upholstered Egg Chair was clearly a more luxe spin on the Eames’ molded fiberglass models.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

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]

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]

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    

Eames Molded Plastic Dowel-leg Side Chair (dsw) Sparrow Herman Miller DwrCorner Table Set Breakfast Nook Bench Kitchen Dinette Storage Lunch Espresso Herman Miller Eames Molded Plywood Dining ChairsJuliana Armchair Dining Chair Modern Dwr Design Within ReachSafavieh American Home Collection Cherry Wood Side Chair, Set Of 2, CreamCharles Eames Dcm Dining ChairSofa And 2 Side Chairs60s Mid Century Modern Coffee & Side Table Set Walnut Danish Forms PearsallDining Room Table And ChairsSix Brown Elegant Traditional Wood Dining Room Chairs Luxurious Mango Wood Dining Table With Matching Chairs And BenchesTwo Mid Century Vtg, Retro Chrome Vinyl Atomic Chairs Kitchen Dining Modern Glass Kitchen Table And 4 ChairsAntique/vintage/old Round Oak Dining Table With Leaf And 2 ChairsCustom Built Silver Leaf Trim Lacquer Dining Set With 6 Chairs, Buffet And Hutch7 Pc Rattan Elizabethan Rectangular Table W/ 6 Chairs Dining SetDining Set & Hutch, Contemporary, 6 Chairs, Glass Top Table, Light Wood Tone4 Tell City Rose Mahogany Chairs 4526 27 650 Duncan Phyfe Side VintageAmerican Maple 1800s Medium Wood Tone Windsor Dining Step Down Rod Back ChairsExpandable Wood Dining Table And 4 ChairsLocal Pickup Only Ashley Kitchen Table And 6 Chairs Solid WoodWood Kitchen Table With Leaf And 4 Oak ChairsUnique Dining Table And ChairsSet Of 2 Teal Blue Leather Dining Chairs W/ Button Tufted AccentsDining Chairs- Baker- Set Of 4Set Of 2 French Design Weathered Oak Dining Chairs Upholstered W/ Tufted Velvet Set Of 2 Curved Shape Tufted Leather Dining/accent ChairsSet Of 2 Elegant Design Ivory Linen Upholstered Parsons Dining ChairsSet Of 2 Elegant Ivory White Leather Dining Room Chairs With Tufted BackrestSolid Oak Dining Table & 6 Solid Oak ChairsBrown &black Wood/leather 3-piece Dining Table SetHomcom Modern Brown Pu Leather Contemporary Parson Dining Room Seat Dinner ChairRoundhill Blended Leather Parson Dining Side Chairs With Espresso Legs, Black,Set Of 2 Elegant Design Brown Leather Parsons Dining ChairsSet Of 2 Elegant Design Linen Upholstered Parsons Dining Chairs With Tufted BackSet Of 2 Modern Mid Century Design White Leather Dining ChairsDining Room Set 6 Chairs & Table & CabinetAntique Vintage Set Of 4 Metal + Chrome Kitchen Dining Chairs Art Deco Mod RetroGlass Top Table & Chairs Dining Set Solid PineDining Table Set With 6-8 ChairsDining Room Table And ChairsLexmod Insect Side Chair In WhiteAntique Spanish Iron & Glass Dining Set Pedestal W/4 Matching Chairs & Glass TopVintage Mid Century Office Desk Library Side Chairs- Set Of FourDinning Table 6 Chairs 2 Leafs Sturdy BeautifulIron Ice Cream Kitchen Patio Chairs Set Of 4 Cottage Country FrenchVintage Dining Room Chairs - Set Of 4Rectangular Dining Table With Four Leather ChairsVireo Accent Chair 12939 Living Room Side Chair Fabric Wood Classic Traditional Set Of 2 Champagne Fabric Dining Chairs W/ Tufted AccentsMid Century Danish Modern Dining Arm Chair By Arne Hovmand-olsen Eames Era 1950s Vintage Antique Chrome Kitchen Table Set Yellow Retro Kuehne Pickup OnlyKitchen Table SetBeautiful Deep Teal Needlepoint Floral Side Chair Metal Wheels Carved Wood XlntSmall Wood Dining Table And 4 Chairs Long Beach, CaCustom Dining Table And Chairs, 2010 VintageDinner Table SetMainstays 5 Piece Card Table And Chair Set Black Furniture Folding Patio KitchenAntique Side Chair

Recent News: Dining Chairs

Source: Google News

Skinner's Andrews Sale Sets Unanticipated Records
Maine Antique Digest, September 2nd

Russell bought one low-back dining chair with tilters for $246. Schorsch, bidding by phone, bought a tin sconce for $5535 and a pottery jug with wonderfully shaped wooden lid for $5166 (est. $600/800). Hamel chased a red-painted loom bench with curved ...Read more

Give An Ugly Dining Room Chair A Makeover In 15 Minutes
Huffington Post, September 1st

The idea of reupholstering a chair is an intimidating one, but not if you're starting with an ordinary dining room chair. You see, the seat pops right off, so half of the battle is already fought. Watch the video above to find out the incredibly simple...Read more

Modern Furniture Store in Los Angeles Announcing Labor Day Sale On All ...
GTN News, August 28th

The iconic NEW YORK dining chair has undergone a facelift this season. Frames are now available in the classic chrome, new black nickel as well as sky blue and red. This adds a funky new twist on this ever popular, incredibly comfortable dining chair...Read more

Poppy Hills' Porter's pleases
The Salinas Californian, August 27th

You can see people with first tee jitters and, at the same time, see who is finishing with a strong approach toward the final green — all from the comfort of your dining chair. Just when I forget how hungry I am as I gaze at deer crossing a fairway...Read more

Midcentury-style dining chair from French Connection
Retro To Go, August 26th

French Connection may not be the first place you think of when looking for pieces for the home. But they're well worth keeping in mind, with pieces such as this dining chair appearing in their latest collection. We'd encourage you to take a look at the...Read more

A dining room table that won't cramp your style
Chicago Daily Herald, August 21st

IKEA's Tobias dining chair ($79) and LexMod's Casper dining armchair ($99) are inexpensive alternatives to Philippe Starck's classic Louis Ghost chair ($450), which is sold at Design Within Reach. Of course, perhaps the most popular solution to small...Read more

Tips on refurbishing old furniture to give it a new lease on life
Los Angeles Daily News, August 18th

A seat on a dining chair is a good first, she says. “That's totally manageable,” she says. “But most people lose interest because they've bitten off more than they can chew. They start with the project they want done, like a sofa. There are things you...Read more

Office Chair Re-work
Altoona Mirror (blog), August 8th

She gave us our table, which has a glossy zebra wood top and thin tapered legs. I love the shape and look of the table, and always imagined pairing white, wood or metal dining chairs with rounded backs with it. Have you ever priced dining room chairs?...Read more