Furniture Glossary: Chairs
Utilitarian in nature, chairs come in a variety of styles and shapes and can add a dramatic statement to any decor.
By: Kerstin Czarra
A chair with a straight back and side structures or arms to support a person's arms and elbows. Image courtesy of Shelly Riehl David.
Despite its name, this design was actually born in Germany. During the International Exposition in 1929, the country offered this entry as an ode to the Expo's host city, Barcelona, Spain. The chair was a collaboration between two great design minds, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and his longtime partner and companion, Lilly Reich, a designer and architect in her own right. It is often cited as an icon of modern design. Its inspiration came from campaign and folding chairs of ancient eras. With a stainless steel frame, and a cushioned, Bovine-leather seat and back, it's a popular choice of design-obsessed homeowners. The chair has been manufactured by Knoll since the 1950s.
Usually associated with the country French style of decorating (Marie Antoinette used them in her rural estate), the Bergere armchair is defined by an upholstered seat and back which is typically an overstuffed cushion. Its frame is a carved, “curvey” wood. They make terrific reading chairs and mix well with many other styles of furniture.
This in-between piece of furniture is larger than a normal armchair but smaller than a loveseat – perfect for those awkward spaces in a home. An armchair, typically upholstered, is ideal for a family room or reading nook setting. It beckons to be sat on for a long movie or a good read.
This armchair typically is a heavily upholstered style with a low back. Often the plus arms are as high as the back of the piece. The modern club chair is based upon the club chairs used by the popular and fashionable urban gentlemen's clubs of 1850s England. Today, they can be found in studies or family rooms – given their sit-back-and-relax nature.
Eames Lounge Chair
The full name of this style is Eames Lounge 670, is usually paired with a matching ottoman (Eames Ottoman 671) — making it a stylish resting place. The chair has a low seat which is permanently at a recline. The seat of the chair swivels on a cast aluminum base, with glides that are threaded so that the chair may remain level. The piece was created by Charles and Ray Eames in the late 1950s for the Herman Miller furniture company. The first high-end piece designed by the duo, it is comprised of molded plywood and leather. The chair has the honor of being part of the permanent collection at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York City. A mark of a smart, stylish character, it has made several famous appearances on television shows such as Mad Men, Frasier and House.
Designed by Arne Jacobsen in 1958, this piece was initially placed exclusively for the Radisson Hotel in Copenhagen, Denmark. Most design expert agree the design was inspired by another chair, the Womb chair designed by Eero Saarinen, though the design may be a bit more baked. The piece was designed as a couch as well, and they share the same traits such as the steel frame and fabric-covered seat. The shape of the piece seems to cradle the seat’s occupant. It’s curves reminiscent of an egg’s shape. The Modernist masterwork was originally created in a green color, but now is manufactured in a number of shades.
Eames Plastic Chair
Another classic style from the Eames design duo, this molded plastic chair has models with or without arms, and a clean style that cradles the body. A metal base supports the chair. The chair – designed in 1948 – is still manufactured today and comes in many colors and base designs.
This open-arm chair has a mostly exposed wood frame. The style was originated in France in the early 1700s. There is often a carved relief designs. The seat, back and arms are upholstered. Often you will see the wood frame painted and sometimes gilded – befitting its original grand settings. A Fauteuil is a great chair to use at a desk or as accent in a formal living space.
Fiddle Back Chair
Modeled on a Queen Anne style, this chair (found in early American Colonial homes) is defined by a back splat shaped much like a violin, fiddle, or curved vase. Typically the seat of the piece is made of rush (a woven pattern made from the leaf of a cattail plant). The legs are turned and carved – often with front and side stretchers to rest your feet.
Aptly named for its see-through color, the piece marries old-world shape with modern materials. Manufactured exclusively by Kartell, the chair was conceived by famed designer Philipe Starck. Made of transparent or dyed polycarbonate, the chair is a light and dramatic addition to a room. Its shape is easily recognizable: a Louis XVI (link to Louis XVI entry). Its versatile plastic material make it an obvious choice for outdoor use as well as an indoor desk chair.
Hoop Back Chair
Designed in a few varying versions, this 18th-century all-wood chair is often called a "sack-back". The chair is defined by the bowed or curved piece that rests atop the spindle back, and stops at the sides of the seat. This style is really a version of the Windsor chair – aptly named after the English town. Early American Windsor styles had carved and turned cylinder and ball legs.
Easily identified by its high back with horizontal slats or spindles, the wooden ladder-back is a utilitarian and rustic style that has a seat that is often caned or rushed. The chair was born out of the Middle Ages but really became common in English homes in the 17th century. The migrated to colonial America after that and are still a common site in many kitchens and dining rooms.
Louis XIV Chair
Named after King Louis XI, (1638-1715) this chair is made of finely hand carved solid walnut. The high back and cushioned seat is larger to accommodate the more ample space required by the fashions of his day. Because the chair was born out of the French Baroque period, the chair is typically covered in a rich tapestry, brocade or large pattern or velvet. It makes a dramatic and sumptuous presence in any space.
Lyre Back Chair
The centerpiece of this chair is the curved, rounded lyre arm which resembles the shape of lyre — an ancient stringed musical instrument. Its origin is from the Greek Classical period (starting circa 1700 AD). A lyre chair features a splat that is made of single lyre scrolls. The wood can be intricate or simple in design. The seats are mostly wood. Design by Darla Blake
Also called a mamasan or bowl chair, this is a large-rounded style with an angle akin to a futon. The bowl shape rests on frame made of rattan, typically. It has also been produced with a wicker or wood base. The papasan was introduced in the US around 1950 and really boomed in the casual and freethinking decade of the 1970s. The cushion is usually made of a thicker cotton or velveteen filled with a cotton fluff. The metal or plastic frame typically folds into itself, allowing for easy transportation and storage. These folding type designs are also called "moon chairs".
Much like the name suggests, the Parsons or Parson's Chair is directly related to the Parsons School of Design in Paris, France. It was created in the 1930s; the mission of the design was to provide comfort and versatility while keeping a clean, non-fussy silhouette. The armless chair has straight lines with a cushioned back and seat. This simple look makes it flexible enough for any room for use as an accent chair.
Queen Anne Chair
Named after the ruler who reigned over England in the 18th century, this style of furniture design is marked by simple features like curvilinear lines, vasiform splats, and cabriole legs (one of four supports shaped in two curves; one convex and the other concave). The seat of a Queen Anne chair is usually horseshoe-shaped. Carved scrolls and shells at the crown and knees of the piece also characterize this design. The seat is typically upholstered.
Certainly the most comfortable of all upholstered armchairs, the classic recliner is defined by a back that can be lowered and a footrest that can be raised — thanks to a lever on the side of the piece. The recliner was created in 1928 in Monroe, Michigan by cousins Edward Knabusch and Edwin Shoemaker. Their company, Floral Furniture was later renamed Lay-Z-Boy — which is a common name for the style.
This style has a straight-back and features no arms. It is typically used as a dining room chair for the sides of the dining room table. It can also be used as an occasional table in a living room or bedroom. The seat of an arm chair can be upholstered or not. Image courtesy of Sarah's House.
The variety of chair is typically small, high-backed and upholstered. It has a low seat and is found in bedrooms. Despite some claims that this chair's low-slung shape resembles that of a shoe, its name comes from its ideal stature for sitting to put on footwear. Its low legs are often concealed with a skirt. Image courtesy of Phillips Collections.
Also called a wing chair, club chair, ear chair or grandfather chair. It's upholstered and has large "wings" mounted to the back reaching down to the arm rest. These were devised to block the head and upper half of the body from drafts and trap heat from a fireplace — where the chairs were often placed. Image courtesy of Jennifer Duneier.