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]



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    

Superb Set Of 6 Matching Walnut Victorian Balloon Back Dining ChairsKnoll Saarinen Executive Side Chair Metal Legs Ivory Set Of 2design Within ReachEames Aluminum Group Side Chair Grey Emerald Dark Hopsak Design Within Reach DwrMoller Model 78 Side Chair Teak Natural Woven Seat Modern Design Within ReachEmeco 1006 Navy Side Chair Polished Modern Dwr Design Within ReachEames Molded Plywood Dining Chair (dcw) Palisander Herman Miller Mid Century DwrEames Molded Fiberglass Wire-base Side Chair (dfsr) Red Orange Herman MillerEames Molded Wood Side Chair Walnut/white Set Of 2 Herman Miller DwrEames Molded Plywood Dining Chair (dcm) Palisander/black Herman Miller DwrEames Molded Fiberglass Dowel-leg Side Chair (dfsw) Lemon Yellow Walnut Dwr4 Vintage Herman Miller Side Fiberglass Side Chairs Bright Yellow Mid CenturyEames Molded Fiberglass Wire-base Side Chair (dfsr) Green/black Base Dwr Modern50's Herman Miller Eames Sea Foam Green Side Chair Eiffel Wire BaseChintaly Imports Gun Metal Galvanized Steel Side Chairs, Set Of 4Cosco 5-piece Card Table Set, BlackSafavieh Mercer Collection Danni Side Chair W/nail Head, Beige And Antiqued OakKendall Dark Cherry Finish Dining Chairs (set Of 2)Kendall Dark Cherry Finish Dining Chairs (set Of 2)Furniture Of America Cm3100ac-dk-2pk Central Park Arm Dining Chairs (set Of 2)Antica Side Chair Black Leather Set Of 2 Modern Dwr Design Within ReachWicker Dining Room Chairs, Set Of 6Leisuremod Modern Delmar Dining Chair Set Of 2Ashley Furniture Signature Design Tripton Dining Uph Side Chair, LinenSet Of 2 Elegant Design Linen Upholstered Parsons Dining Chairs With Tufted BackSilvana Tufted Dark Purple Fabric Dining Chairs (set Of 2)Home Life 5pc Dining Dinette Table Chairs & Bench Set Espresso Finish 150236Eero Saarinen Knoll Executive Side ChairSaddle Dining Chairs - Cushioned Dining Chair - West Elm, Wood & FabricLouis Rattan Side ChairAntica Side Chair White Leather Set Of 2 Modern Dwr Design Within ReachCirca 1940-50's Mahogany Dining Room Table W/ 4 Chairs Upholstered Carved ChairsMahogany Dining Room Table With 6 Chairs Upholstered Chippendale ChairsKoefoeds Hornslet Teak Dining Chair Set - Ladderback "liz" Mid-century ModernHome Life 5pc Dining Dinette Table Chairs & Bench Set Espresso Finish 150236Kitchen Table And ChairsEero Saarinen Knoll Executive Side ChairSide ChairModern Black Dining Table 2 Chairs Wooden Canterbury Breakfast Kitchen Set RoomDining Room Table And Chairs/buffetModern Glass Dining Room Table With 4 Black ChairsVintage Walnut Stained Dining ChairMid Century Dining Chairs White 6 ChairsVintage Rattan Gossip Bench Chair Attached Glass Top Side Table Phone Book ShelfIvory Table And Leather Chairs Dining SetVintage Retro Cosco 1940's Bar Stool Chair Stool Kitchen ShopBaker Mahogany Shield Back Formal Dining Room Chairs 8 Charleston CollectionUltra Modern White Zigzag Dining Table & 6 Chairs Dining Room Furniture Set SaleAshley Brown Dining Room Table, Chairs, And Dish HutchWooden Kitchen Table And ChairsDrexel, Medium Wood Tone, 12 Piece, Oak, Traditional Dining Room Table & ChairsDining Table W/ 6 Chairs Table Base Is Made Of StoneCounter Height Dining Chairs - Set Of 4 (dark Brown)Brown 7 Piece Traditional Dining Table/6 Chairs/no Scratches, Dings Or DamageSet Of 3 Vintage Ash Windsor Spindle Back Side ChairsBernhardt Dining Chairs (set Of 6) - Excellent Condition!Solid Oak Traditional Windsor Arm Chairs-set Of 6 Dining Room-in Great ConditionEight Solid Cherry Chairs (2 Arm Chairs, 6 Additional) For Dining, TraditionalClassic Traditional Glass Dining Room Table Set 3x5 W/ Six Padded Chairs 7 PieceMichael Amini Torino Collection Dining Table/chairs / Curiocabinet / SidetableDining Table And Chair

Recent News: Dining Chairs

Source: Google News

Small space decorating tricks by Karl Lohnes
CTV News, March 5th

Furnishings should be double-duty. Any investment furniture piece should provide at least two services: the console table that acts a desk, the ottoman offers storage, using a comfy dining chair as additional seating...Read more

In Court: Cases heard at Central Devon Magistrates' Court
Exeter Express and Echo, March 4th

On the same date he destroyed a dining chair, to an unknown value, in Exeter. The community order required him to participate in an alcohol specified activity for 12 days and a Building Better Relationships programme for 29 days. It also required him...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

Boy, 12, who died in Barnsley blaze with brother and father told police 'my ...
The Star, March 4th

The court heard a dining chair was found wedged behind the door to the kitchen and stairs to stop his sons from escaping. More chairs blocking the front door were found by fire crews. Jack Sykes was found at the bottom of the loft ladder by fire crews...Read more

How Common Ground Builds Small To House NYC's Homeless
Curbed NY, February 27th

Another one has an Eames DCM, with the wood back and seat and metal frame. That's a $700 dining chair. $700 for one chair. I'm all for helping the needy, but perhaps we could spend that money more efficiently than extraordinarily expensive mid-century ...Read more

Sharon Randall: Sittin' down on the job
Salisbury Post, February 14th

She sat in all sorts of places: In a rocker on the porch. On a metal lawn chair in the yard. In an overstuffed armchair in her living room. On a ladder-back dining chair at her kitchen table. And while she sat, she yelled: “Don't you run out in that...Read more

Sharon Randall: About being a grandparent
Muncie Star Press, February 10th

In an overstuffed armchair in her living room. On a ladder-back dining chair at her kitchen table. And while she sat, she yelled: “Don't you run out in that road and get killed by a car!” “Get out of those weeds or you'll get bit by a snake!” “Spit...Read more

Abby Dining Chair recalled for fall hazard, 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