Antique chair styles and how to find them
Just as history is long, there are endless amounts of antique chairs and antique chair styles. It would be impossible to cover every type of antique chair, however we’ll cover some of the most iconic and eclectic. In addition, we’ll also touch on a few common antique chair designers whose iconic antique style have influenced modern day furniture design.
How to tell the age of an antique chair
It might feel like finding out how to tell the age of a chair is a complete and utter mystery but it doesn’t have to be. There are many different ways to tell the age of a chair.
Markings of an antique chair
You can get an indication of when a piece was made by looking at the markings of the manufacturer on antique chairs. Furthermore, there may even be dates indicating what year a piece was manufactured. Many antique furniture makers would use paper or metal labels on their finished pieces. Finding them can be hard, as the markings may wear with time. In addition, furniture makers may have also hidden them away so as not to distract from the beauty of the finished piece. In any case, you may be able to find makers markings at the bottom of the seat, or along the frame of the seat. Similarly, you might find markings could be on the lower edges of the furniture, particularly the back and sides.
Check the construction of a piece
The constructions of pieces are also very useful in identifying the age of an antique and also its validity. It would be very unlikely to find modern day screws in an antique piece! It is much more likely to find complex hand made joints. In addition, another clue in construction is symmetry. After the industrial revolution symmetrical furniture became more common thanks to precision cut pieces being machine manufactured. Handmade pieces would have an asymmetry, and this would give you a better indication that the piece is older.
Checking materials to identify an antique chair
We can often tell the age of a chair by the materials used. Depending on the you make find an abundance of furniture being made in a specific type of wood.
Before the advent of import and trade, furniture makers were limited to their local resources. Using this logic, it is possible to identify the age of an antique chair by identifying which materials were used, and its prominence within a specific era. Other indicators can be materials in seat fillings, coverings, and finishing materials.
Antique chair style identification
To identify antique chair styles, it is important to notice their visual characteristics. Style characteristics are a good way of identifying how old an antique chair is. Carving styles specific to common antique chair designers can help you to pinpoint the period of manufacture. Stylistic influences are also important indicators, for example, a Rococo style piece could direct you to 1730 and onwards, or a Windsor style antique chair could be dated between 1725 to 1860.
Common antique chair designers
Colloquially known as “The Big Three”, Thomas Chippendale, Thomas Sheraton, and George Hepplewhite are a few common antique chair designers. Below are some of the key characteristics of these designers.
Thomas Chippendale is lauded as a significant figure in antique furniture design. His iconic publication, ‘The Gentleman and Cabinet-Makers’ Director’, allowed many people to commission pieces of his furniture. In addition, it was a template for carpenters to replicate his works. Chippendale chairs remain a favourite amongst antique chair styles. His influence on furniture design held into the late Victorian and Early Edwardian periods. Characteristics specific to Chippendale’s antique chairs include:
- Gothic, Chinese, or Rococo influences
- Claw and ball footing on legs
- Use of deep mahogany wood
Sheraton’s work inspired many 18th century designs. He trained as a cabinet maker and sought inspiration from the Louis XVI style of furnishings. Sheraton also developed his own publications, most notably his first, The Cabinet-Maker and Upholsterer’s Drawing-Book.
Characteristics specific to Sheraton’s antique chair designs include:
- Neoclassical style
- Slim tapered column legs
- Lightweight form
George Hepplewhite’s furniture design focuses on the figuring of wood as opposed to intricate carving. An example of this is the distinctive wide shaping in the backs of the chairs. Hepplewhite’s name is attributed to a specific style of elegant furniture design, which contrasted the heavier and more ornate styles prior.
Characteristics specific to Hepplewhite’s antique chair designs include:
- Ornate shield shaped chair backs
- Neoclassical influences
- Straight legs
- Curved or circular shapes
Types of Antique Chair Styles
When we think of antiques, there tends to be some specific types of chairs that come to mind. Of these old style chairs, there are some synonymous with antiques, and some a bit more unconventional. Let’s look at some styles associated with antique chairs.
The slipper chair first appeared in the 18th century. One would commonly find this chair in lady’s quarters. Born out of necessity, women used it to assist with everyday dressing due to the heavy dressing of the period. However, American interior designer Billy Baldwin brought them into living rooms with a redesign and saw their popularity rise again. Its initial designs saw it adorned with plush materials and ornate carvings, but more modern interpretations see it appear more streamlined.
Originating in 16th century France, the Porter’s Chair was functional seating for porters or sentries keeping watch outside affluent homes. For that reason, the design consisted of an high back chair that encased the sitter in leather padding to shield from the cold. In addition, some designs had a small cupboard at the base of the seat for storage. The chair became redundant by the early 20th century, however we still see echoes of the seat today. The large balloon-shaped silhouette has been adopted, being made with luxurious materials. In light of this, today it can be seen within many high status establishments, as opposed to outside of them. Certainly a turn around from its origins.
In 18th century France, the silhouette of the tub chair already existed. Although it was made of wood, with no upholstery, this style of chair was available to all classes. However, the antique tub chairs that we are familiar with today have very expensive upholstery to increase the comfort of seating. It is known that King Louis XV of France used one of the first incarnations of this upholstered tub chair to hold court. Due to this, the upper classes used this chair as a marker of importance and affluence. The name tub chair is subject to contention. For instance the name probably came from the visual similarities between the chair and bath tubs, or the word just being a variation on the already existing club chair. Nonetheless, the tub chair has remained a visual symbol of luxury for centuries.
Savonarola or X-Chair or Dante Chair
Developed in late 15th century Italy, the Savonarola Chair took its name from Friar Girolamo Savonarola. The Curule seat used in Ancient Rome was an inspiration for the Savonarola’s shape, becoming a symbol of political power and social status. Political figures used it as a practical and portable chair. In the middle ages, the users switched from political to religious. Following this, we now have the faldistolium or folding stool. It was a similar style of portable seat that bishops used outside of cathedrals. Towards the end, the chair moved away from its core focus of functionality and included more embellishments and lavish decorations.
Yoke Back Chair
The Yoke back or Official’s Hat chair came into existence in the late Ming and early Qing dynasties in China. In general, they were traditionally crafted out of a type of rosewood called huanghuali, favoured in traditional Chinese furniture. As can be seen, elements of the chair’s design signified the importance of the sitter. For example, the stretchers on the chairs were each placed at different heights; this is referred to as bubugao or ‘step higher’. The chair’s design has varied throughout its history in ancient China. A lift on the trade ban in China would allow craftsmen to work with different types of wood and form new shapes compared to older designs. Subsequently, we have now sleeker, intricate designs from the imported woods and we still see them in modern homes today.
Lambert Hitchcock was an American inventor who popularised the Hitchcock side chair or ‘Fancy’ chair. Initially, Hitchcock began manufacturing chair parts after opening a factory in 1818. Later, Hitchcock began to mass produce cheap affordable chairs, using newer techniques of stencilling as opposed to painting for the decoration. All things considered, this was an innovative move at the time. Subsequently, tens of thousands of affordable but fashionable side chairs made their way into American homes each year.
The style of the Klismos chair hasn’t really changed since its conception in Ancient Greece. The chair first appearing during 8th century, and would reach perfection during the 5th century. As a result, the Klismos chair had a truly timeless design with the distinctive curved back and curved legs. Modern versions of this chair rarely seem to stray from its initial design. It kept its trademark features whilst materials and decoration developed over time. The Klismos chair reappeared the through French Directoire, the English Regency, and the Empire styles and we still see the Klismos silhouette today adapted to suit modern tastes.
This style of antique corner chair was extremely functional, becoming quite popular in the early 18th century. Gentlemen of the period mostly used them in their private quarters. Without a doubt its shape and design was quite unique – a curved back and arms, with corner at the centre front of the seat, supported by a foot at the front. Often called writing chairs, reading chairs, or desk chairs, they were convenient for the sitter in those capacities. Owing to its practical design, it was also convenient space saver.
The world of antique chairs is one that holds many treasures. By using some of these tips, you can identify old styles. Here’s to finding intriguing antique pieces with years of exciting history.