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    

Knoll Bertoia Side Chair White Design Within Reach Dwr Modern6 Dining Wishbone Back Chairs Bent Wood Arms 1960's Mid Century Danish ModernGreat Country Chippendale 18th C Connecticut Side Chair With Carved Spanish FeetProfile Chair Dining Oak Chocolate Set Of 2 Modern Dwr Design Within ReachEmeco 111 Navy Chair Dining White Set Of 2 Modern Dwr Design Within ReachEames Molded Fiberglass 4-leg Side Chair (dfsx) Cadmium Green/chrome Dwr ModernLexmod Stalwart Dining Side Chairs, Dark Walnut/white, Set Of 2Eames Molded Fiberglass Stacking Side Chair (dfss) Cadmium Green Herman MillerHome Life 5pc Dining Dinette Table Chairs & Bench Set Espresso Finish 150236System 1-2-3 Dining Chair Light Grey Set Of 2 Verner Panton Modern Dwr VerpanBaxton Studio Lac Plastic Side Chair Set Of 2Lot Of 2: Aeon Paris White Matte Abs Injected Plastic Shell Side Chair ChromedCounter Height Dining Table Only No Chairs !!Coaster Nelms Side Chair (set Of 2) Formal Dining Room Set: Dark Wood Tone Table With Pads, 8 Chairs, & Hutch Knoll Four Dining Chairs Frank Gehry "hat Trick" Maple Veneers In 2" Wide StripsHome Life 5pc Dining Dinette Table Chairs & Bench Set Espresso Finish 150236William Sheppee Rocket Dining ChairWilliam Sheppee Rocket Dining ChairDinning Table And ChairsHome Life 5pc Dining Dinette Table Chairs & Bench Set Espresso Finish 150236Dinning Room Set 6 ChairsBernhardt Dining Chairs (set Of 6) - Excellent Condition!Hitchcock Table And Chairs 2 Arm And 2 Side ChairsMahogany Double Pedestal Dining Room Table And 6 ChairsHome Life 5pc Dining Dinette Table Chairs & Bench Set Espresso Finish 150236Ultra Modern White Zigzag Dining Table & 6 Chairs Dining Room Furniture Set SaleSet Of 2 Contemporary Burnt Orange Button Tufted Fabric Dining ChairsBar Dining Table With 4 Chairs Model Bjursta / HenriksdalDining Room Table And 6 Chairs. Black And Grey 7 Pieces Oak Wood And GlassDrexel Heritage 4 Chair Cherry Wood Dining Room SetCalvin Klien Dining Room Table And ChairsRetro Kitchen ChairsHome Life 5pc Dining Dinette Table Chairs & Bench Set Espresso Finish 150236Cosco 3-piece Folding Bistro-style Patio Table And Chairs Set, RedBallard Designs Set Of 4 Dining Chairs Brooke Dining Chair With CushionDining Table And 4 ChairsDining Room Table And 6 Chairs. Black And Grey 7 Pieces Oak Wood And GlassBeautiful Dinning Table Set3 Dark Wood Tone Dining Room Or Office Traditional Captains Chairs. Mahogany.Eames Molded Plywood Dining Chair5 Piece Dining Set Wood Breakfast Furniture 4 Chairs And Table Kitchen Dinette 3 Piece Kitchen Table SetSet 6 Mahogany Tradtional Eclectic Round Back Dining ChairsFurniture - Dining Table With Six Chairs And China CabinetDining Room Set, Table&pads, 6 Chairs,server,full 2 Piece HutchSet Of 2 French Design Weathered Oak Dining Chairs Upholstered W/ Tufted VelvetVintage Pennsylvania House Cherry Picket Dining Chairs, Set Of 2Set Of 2 Elegant Design Brown Leather Parsons Dining ChairsDinning Room Table & Chairs Dark Wood ToneMahogany Dinning Table With Chairs (1 Captain's)Ivory Brocade Skirted Parsons Dining Chairs6 Seat Kitchen Table Set1950's Satin Cherry Dining Table & 4 Chairs

Recent News: Dining Chairs

Source: Google News

Furnishings and Decorative Arts, Asian, Jewelry, Coins and Fashion in Rago's ...
ArtfixDaily, March 26th

Included in this portion of the auction are two groups of watercolors and two oil paintings by Estelle Peck Ishigo; watercolors by Nakanishi; jewelry, calligraphy and works on paper; crafts from native found materials; a camp dining chair and multiple...Read more

Ikea faces legal action over alleged copyright infringement
Dezeen, March 25th

American furniture brand Emeco is to sue Ikea for damages for allegedly copying a chair designed by Norman Foster. The American company alleges that Ikea's Melltorp dining chair, by Swedish designer Ola Wihlborg, is similar to its 20-06 Stacking Chair, ...Read more

Sustainable furniture: All style, no guilt
NJ.com, March 25th

Environment Furniture's Fasano dining chair — framed in walnut and upholstered in recycled Army tent cotton canvas (pictured) or linen — makes recycled look refined. Environment Furniture, environmentfurniture.com, $495. 2. See recycled paper in a...Read more

Is Courtney Barnett the Most Exciting New Songwriter in Rock?
LA Weekly, March 16th

Walking into the airy, warehouse-aesthetic studio, guests were greeted by a gallery of Barnett's drawings: quaint illustrations of chairs with captions like "Strange Wooden Chair that Nobody Sits In" and "Dining Chair (Before Upholstery)," as well as...Read more

Design classic: the Windsor dining chair by Ercol
Financial Times, March 13th

The Windsor dining chair by Ercol — still fashionable after 70 years and reappearing in the kitchens of the well-heeled — was designed to be practical and cheap. Its minimalist design looks austere but it is both solid and comfortable...Read more

Shaker Furniture Gets a Makeover
Wall Street Journal, March 6th

Shanghai studio Neri&Hu harked back to earlier, cruder, even more ornament-free versions of the minimalist furniture when creating its Shaker Dining Chair, which debuted in February. “Superficially, it looks like a Shaker chair,” said co-founder Lyndon...Read more

The Furniture Maker Scott McGlasson
New York Times, March 4th

ST. PAUL — What is the value of a dining-room chair? You can't eat it. And you can sit on the floor free, as millions (billions?) of people do. A chair — any chair — is a luxury. But then what would be the right term to describe the real worth of a...Read more

Abby Dining Chair recalled for fall hazard
wtkr.com, January 14th

If you own the Abby Dining Chair, you may want to stop using it now. A recall has been issued for this product due to a fall hazard. It has dark brown wooden legs with seat and back upholstery in either gray or green fabric with black or white edge piping...Read more