Early Antique Chairs: 1600s and 1700s
Throughout the years, chairs have gone through a variety of design changes. Before the 1700s, most people sat on backless benches or stools, and chairs were reserved for the wealthy. These early chairs were heavy and substantial, befitting the social class of those who could afford them. They tended to be boxy in shape and sometimes featured elaborate carving.
Queen Anne Chairs: Early 1700s through 1900s
In the early 1700s, Queen Anne-style chairs became popular. Some, but not all, had the upholstery built into the chair design, rather than relying on cushions. Wing chairs, upholstered chairs designed for relaxation rather than work and with wings designed to protect the sitter from drafts, first became popular during this period.
Windsor Chairs: Early 1700s Through 1900
The simple Windsor chair, which features a hoop to incorporate arms, very slender, straight spindles, and a straight or curved back was popular for almost two centuries. Early models were made by hand, but in the 19th century, machine-made versions also sold well.
Chippendale Chairs: 1750 Through 1830s
Thomas Chippendale was perhaps the most famous furniture designer of all time. His designs further simplified chair frames, except for open-back chairs, which featured very elegant and light frameworks, such as the famous lyre pattern. The legs ended either in basic geometric shapes or in the form of an animal's paw. Sometimes the carving featured shapes from Chinese design, such as pagodas. Typically, the rear legs of these chairs angled backwards.
Spindle-Back Chairs: 1800s
Spindle-back chairs were popular throughout the 1800s, especially in rural areas. These classic chairs often featured a single horizontal slat at the top of the back and several spindles attaching it to the seat. The spindles were sometimes turned, as in this example.
Victorian Chairs: 1850 through 1900
Victorian chairs ranged in style from upholstered armchairs and elaborately carved and gilded pieces to pressback wooden chairs. One popular style, called the "bustle back," was open in the back to allow women to sit in it while wearing a gown with a large bustle.
Art Deco Chairs: 1915 through 1930s
The Art Deco era was a radical departure from the excess of the Victorian period. Furniture designs were sleek and modern and celebrated geometric shapes and strong lines.
Midcentury Chairs: 1940s through 1960s
The Art Deco era gave way to an even more extreme celebration of modern design, typified by the Eames chair. Sleek metal and space-age plastic chairs sold extremely well during this period of time. These styles, as well as many other antique chair designs, are still very popular with vintage furniture collectors.