When shopping for seating there is a seemingly endless array of antique chair types to choose from. It can be truly overwhelming unless you are armed with the right knowledge about the type of chair or set of chairs you are looking for, and have a keen eye for what will work with your current interior style.
A Variety of Antique Chair Types
Although there is a wide variety of antique chairs, there are a few basic types that you will run into time and time again. Below is a brief list of these chairs and some of their defining characteristics. Once you have an idea of what type of chair you want, then you can narrow down your choice by the quality and price.
A French bergère is an armchair with upholstered back and armrests on an upholstered frame. There are a variety of bergères with many different styles of wood, molding and carving. They can also be painted or gilded or finished with a waxy shine. This type of chair, which was designed as a comfortable lounging piece is always fitted with a seat cushion that is loose and tailored to fit. This style first appeared in Paris during the Regency period, 1715-1723 and the style was refined in subsequent periods.
This is one of the most famous types of antique chairs on the market. Although you might not know what the exact hallmarks of a Chippendale chair are, you will be able to recognize it, and its many interpretations almost immediately. The legs are the most revealing aspect, and are usually fashioned in a lion's paw or ball-and-claw form. The legs are always carved into these forms.
A French fauteuil is an open-arm chair with an exposed wooden frame. This style of chair originated in France during the early 18th century and is usually carved with a relief ornament. The seat is usually upholstered, as is the seat back and the arms. Often the exposed wood elements are gilded or painted, making this one of the most popular styles of French antique chairs.
Cabinet maker and chair maker George Hepplewhite was one of the top three furniture makers in England during the 18th century. His style of furniture was light, elegant and extremely fashionable between 1775 and 1800. Some key characteristics of his designs are:
- A shield-shaped chair back
- Slender, curvilinear shapes
- Shorter curved chair arms
- Straight legs
- Free from carving and often painted or inlaid with other materials
Queen Anne style furnishings were crafted in 18th-century England. They are characterized by simple lines and cabriole legs. The seat of the chair is usually a horseshoe shape, and each piece has distinctive carved shell and scroll motifs found most often on the crest and knees of the cabriole legs. This style is considered a continuation of the William and Mary furniture style and was also influenced by French cabinet maker André-Charles Boulle.
Wainscot chairs are often made from a fine grade oak. They are heavy wooden chairs with simple construction, turned front legs, arm supports a simple seat that has no upholstery, and a raked panel back with some decoration. They are sometimes topped with a carved crest. The Wainscot was a popular chair in both England and American during the early 17th-century.
Windsor chairs are crafted from steam bent pieces of pine, poplar, elm, oak, ash or maple. These chairs, which have wooden seats and splayed-angle legs were made during the 16th century. One of the key means of joining the parts of a Windsor chairs is through-holed-and-wedged. A circular hold is bored into the first piece and the matching tapered end is inserted into the hole. This type of joinery made glue unnecessary to hold the chair together.
When You Begin Shopping
Because there are so many different chairs to choose from and because the world of antiques is so complex, here are a few tips to consider before you begin shopping for antique chairs:
- Ask yourself what exactly you will be using the chair for: dining room, living room, entryway, decorative, functional?
- The function of the chair should determine the quality of the piece you are purchasing. For example, a dining room chair needs to be sturdy enough to last through several sittings and with people of many different weights and sizes
- Go to antique shops and look around at the different styles. Decide which style will best complement your interior design style
Finally, remember that you can always reupholster a chair, so look at the lines and the wood grain/color. These are the most important aspects to consider in any antique chair type.