The dining room can be considered the central feature of formal design in the modern home, and there's no better way to bring a touch of the historic to your contemporary aesthetic than by adding a few antique English dining chairs to your space.
Old English Chairs to Send Your Dining Room Back in Time
English furniture is as resolute and refined as its cultural history portrays itself to be; thanks to Britain's colonial expansion, remnants of the country's best and brightest cabinetmakers' designs can be found thousands of miles away from the lonely isle.
While there's certainly an abundance of English furniture out there, and dining chairs to be more specific, there are a few particular styles that've persevered through all of the changing fashions and interior design fads of the past few centuries. Their ever-popular design compositions make them great investments for any modern home.
Windsor Style Chairs
Reportedly, Windsor chairs were first introduced into English society when George III was made aware of his common subject's more provincial-style furniture. Thus, this entirely wooden, unornamented chair was born. By the mid-18th century, the style had spread to the American colonies, and with the waxing and waning of ornamental furniture styles, the Windsor design has remained quite a popular one to this day. Specifically, this chair features a few distinctive characteristics:
- Saddle-shaped seats
- Slender spindles
- Devoid of upholstery
- Circular 'hoop' backs
- Entirely crafted out of wood
Hepplewhite Style Chairs
Hepplewhite style dining chairs were born out of George Hepplewhite's hands. Hepplewhite was an English cabinetmaker in the 18th century, and his chairs were well-known for their more streamlined and shorter shapes in comparison to those of his contemporaries. These finely crafted chairs features a few distinctive characteristics:
- Shield-shaped backs
- Straight legs
- Curvilinear shapes
- Gothic-inspired motifs
Chippendale Style Chairs
Chippendale chairs are quite possibly the most famous English dining chair from history. Created by Thomas Chippendale, an English cabinetmaker, during the 18th century, these chairs were incredibly popular thanks to their interesting mixture of Rococo, Gothic, and Chinese influences. This style is so popular, in fact, that it's continued to be one of the major dining chair styles recreated by contemporary manufacturers today. When you're looking for a Chippendale chair, you're going to look for characteristics like:
- Cabriole legs
- Ball and claw feet
- Fine silk upholstery
- Wooden lattices
Victorian Style Chairs
When it comes to Victorian furniture of all kinds, there's no holding back. If there's an ornamentation or design element that can be added to it, the Victorians definitely tried to. Thus, Victorian dining chairs tend to be a bit gaudier than those from the previous century, due in large part to the ostentatious patterns on the upholstery and overworked carvings, inlays, and decorations. It's highly unlikely that you'd mistake a true Victorian dining chair for anything else, but if it's your first time browsing for these bright items, then you'll want to look for a few telltale signs, including:
- Balloon backs
- Cabriole legs
- Colorful and decorative upholstery
Things to Check Before Buying Antique Furniture
There're numerous places to find antique chairs of all sorts, and one of the first places to check out is out your local thrift shop. If you frequently stop by, you might be surprised to see what pieces come in over time. The same goes for garage sales and especially estate sales. You can also leave your name and number at local antique stores, so that when the owner finds what you're looking for, they can contact you about a potential buy.
If shopping locally, there are some important things to look for when considering antique dining chairs:
- Check for damage - Turn the chairs over and look underneath for cracks, old repairs, or evidence of new staining. Check to make sure the joints are tight and the feet for stability as well.
- Look for inauthenticity - If it's stamped "Made in China" or features joinery with visible glue, it's definitely not an antique.
- Observe the structural integrity - Upholstery can always be changed if it's torn up, but you want to make sure that any damage to the fabric isn't indicating underlying damage to the chairs' structural integrity.
- Ask for the provenance documentation - When it comes to valuable pieces like genuine English dining chairs, it's important to make sure that the pieces of furniture are indeed real, and having the past owner documentation can give you concrete evidence as to the dining set's origins.
Tips for Getting Antique English Chairs for a Good Deal
Most commonly these antique chairs come in sets of four or six, with the occasional rare find of an entire matching dozen. While it's easiest to find these dining sets online, you'll always end up paying a ton in shipping costs, so it's important to factor that into your budget before making any offers.
Generally, 18th and 19th century English dining chairs are the most prevalent on the market right now. Well-preserved sets almost always sell in the low thousands, with a few breaking the $10,000 mark. One major distinction that will increase these sets' prices is by being genuine pieces from one of the major designer's workshops instead of being one of the copies reproduced during the period. A genuine Chippendale is worth far more than a chair made in the Chippendale style, even if it's an antique.
Thus, you should expect to pay around $3,500 and shipping, at least, for a good quality set of antique English dining chairs. These are a few sets that've recently sold for similar prices online:
- Antique Victorian mahogany set of 6 dining chairs - Sold for $3,447.25
- Antique 8-piece chestnut Windsor dining chairs - Listed for $3,480.48
- Antique 10-piece Chippendale style mahogany dining chairs - Listed for $3,656.43
Places to Look for These Chairs Online
If you don't have any luck looking for these chairs in-person, then you should browse a couple of these online retailers to see what inventory they have in stock:
- eBay - As always, eBay is one of the pack leaders for the digital antiques space. While they might not have the highest quality antique furniture (and their seller's shipping costs can be ridiculous), they're super easy to use and have an ever-evolving rotation of new goods.
- Etsy - Very similar to eBay, Etsy is a more modern feeling commerce website. You'll run into the same pros and cons at Etsy that you will at eBay, but Etsy's site and system is much more user-friendly than eBay's.
- 1st Dibs - If you're looking for the highest quality antique furniture out there but you don't want to give up the vast inventories of retailers like eBay, then 1st Dibs is the place for you. As a more formal digital auction site, they might not update their inventory as much as other sites, but their listings are on top of the pile.
- Everything but the House - EBTH operates by gathering inventory from estates, meaning that there's a good chance they'll frequently acquire antique dining sets. However, their inventory tends to get sold quickly, so you'll need to keep a watchful eye on their website for when new inventory drops.
Decorate Your Home With Antique English Dining Room Chairs
Old English dining chairs don't have quite the same camouflaging capabilities that other historic furniture styles do because of their specific - though dated-looking - designs. That being said, there are ways for you to incorporate a set of these dining chairs into your modern kitchens without jarring your guests. Adding a little DIY to these pieces (if you're not too concerned about historic preservation) or keeping an eye on balance can help you find the perfect places for these chairs to go.
Pair Similar Materials Together
Similar woods, fabrics, and designs can bridge the age gap between the different furniture and accessories in whatever space you keep your dining tables in. For instance, Windsor chairs were often crafted out of warm-colored woods and can match with a ton of rustic farmhouse inspired furniture without needing any modifications.
Re-Upholster for a Modern Touch
You can update your old English dining chairs to match your fun and funky modern abode by switching up their upholstery. Victorian chairs were frequently already upholstered, making them an easy fix, but chairs that were devoid of upholstery can be uplifted with some tie-on cushions in a complimentary fabric.
Customize With Home Crafts
Once upon a time, scratch on stencils were all of the rage for wooden furniture, and doing crafty at-home projects like that to your antique dining chairs can personalize your old seats and help them feel lived in.
Mismatch Individual Chairs for an Eclectic Design
If you're not one who likes to settle on any one design, try to settle for a bit of all of them by picking up various old English dining chairs along the way. From short backs to dark woods and everything in-between, you can build a dining room with a lot of character by mismatching your furniture.
Sit in Style Every Night of the Week
The very best thing about antiques is that most of them are meant to be used and enjoyed, not just looked at, and old English dining chairs are just the same. Sit your family down in a 12-piece Victorian set each night for dinner or treat yourself to high tea in a Chippendale quartet; with antique English furniture, the possibilities for combinations and customizations are endless.