Wooden furniture is a trend that never seems to fall out of fashion; and antique wooden chairs are one type of furniture that allow you to honor this age-old trend. Antique wooden chairs encompass a vast array of styles, shapes and designs that span centuries of workmanship across several continents. While it's practically impossible to collect all the cool wooden chairs from the past, adding any one of these to your collection will make your neighbors and friends jealous.
Wooden Furniture of the Past and Its Role in the Present
Domestic goods like fixtures and furniture can give people a tangible sense of what life in the past was like by letting people experience it for themselves. Trying to read a book by candlelight and relaxing by rocking in a wooden antique rocking chair can tell you so much about how your ancestors lived; but the past doesn't have to stay in the past. In fact, you can bring the past to the present by adding a few antique wooden chairs to your favorite spaces. Perfect for book nooks, nursing stations, and breakfast alcoves, all of these wooden chairs hold up to the test of time.
Wooden Chairs of the 18th Century
The 18th century is a period often associated with refinement, softness, and a pastel color palette. Marie Antoinette and Jean-Honoré Fragonard's painting The Swing comes to mind for so many when they think of the 18th century. However, there were many other unique styles to come out of the century that modern furniture manufacturers replicate to this day. If you want a taste of that elegant and revolutionary time, then these wooden chairs are the ones for you:
Windsor chairs came in both a sedentary and rocking style, known best for their iconic tall, hooped backs, and angled spindles. This angling was a new ergonomic design that focused the construction on the chair's seat rather than a series of right angles, as was previously common. These chairs came with and without the armrests, and were simply, but finely, crafted out of woods like cherry in the English valley during the early 18th century. Quickly, these chairs grew in popularity both in the country and in metropolitan circles, and haven't really waned since.
The Chippendale style came out of English cabinetmaker Thomas Chippendale's workshop in an interesting amalgamation of Gothic, Rococo, and Chinese influences. Generally, these wooden chairs have padded seats, and feature an array of design accoutrements. For example, one of his most popular historic designs is his Chinese-inspired pagoda chair, which has a beautiful lattice-work cutout in the back of the chair to resemble Eastern pagoda screens. Additionally, you can usually find curved, cabriole legs, and beautiful upholstery on these chairs.
George Hepplewhite was an English cabinetmaker and contemporary of Thomas Chippendale's, but his quainter chairs are distinctive in their own right. Typically, these chairs were made with a shorter back than other chairs of the period, resting in the low-back rather than at the shoulders, and were well-known for their shield-shaped back designs. Similarly to Chippendale chairs, they were also typically upholstered with silks or brocades, and reflected more strong Gothic imagery than Chippendale's works.
Shaker chairs were a modest-styled wooden chair, often featuring a tall ladder-back that came out of the Shaking Quaker community in the 1770s. This furniture was exquisitely handcrafted and incredibly durable, meaning that many of their 18th and 19th century chairs remain intact today. You can find these chairs in various paints and stains and typically made out of woods native to North America. Thanks to their square, symmetrical design, and handcrafted look, they work really well in farmhouse and cottage interiors.
Wooden Chairs of the 19th Century
Spanning the Regency period to the Victorian era, the 19th century was overflowing with innovative and unique furniture designs. Many of the early Victorian chairs of the 19th century still bear a strong resemblance to those from the previous century, but as the 1840s and 1850s neared, furniture makers took a hard left turn to creating some bold, new pieces for the masses to enjoy. Although it's impossible to encapsulate an entire century's worth of chair designs into a single space, these are some of the most popular:
An early 19th century style, Hitchcock chairs were envisioned by master woodworker Lambert Hitchcock. Upon first glance, these simple rectangular wooden chairs don't immediately catch the eye; however, what makes these chairs so special is that they're not decked out with inlays or carvings. Rather, these chairs are known for the stenciled designs on the arms, backs, and legs that unveil the light-colored woods beneath the dark stains.
Bentwood furniture is one of the many iconic furniture styles to come out of the 19th century. Devised and perfected by Michael Thonet in the 1860s, this furniture technology molds the raw wood using heat and moisture into delicate curves. Thus, this light and airy wooden furniture was a true breath of fresh air to the more resolute and heavy wooden furniture of the prior decades, and provides the inspiration for a lot of today's patio/outdoor furniture.
Jenny Lind Chairs
Jenny Lind furniture was named after a famous opera singer of the mid-19th century. This wooden furniture style wasn't limited to chairs only, but spread into bed frames, cabinetry, and the like. Its most defining characteristic is its spooling, which refers to the turning of a straight piece of wood, creating a look resembling a row of sewing machine spools. Typically, Jenny Lind chairs were made of birch or maple, and they were generally stained or painted a dark color to resemble black walnut and rosewood.
Morris chairs are anachronistic feeling, in the same way that Tiffany being a common name during the Medieval period seems outrageous. These precursors to the modern recliner resemble something much closer to the low-seated wooden furniture of midcentury modern design than they do of something from the late-1800s. Typically, these chairs featured a hinge-back that allowed them to recline, and combined leather padded backs and seats with unpadded, geometric arms and legs.
Charles Eastlake took a departure in the late-19th century from the ornate, plush stylings of the Victorian period and responded with a simple and sturdy furniture style that would later fall into a broad movement at the turn of the century called Arts and Crafts. Generally, Eastlake furniture was made out of cherry, oak, rosewood, or walnut hardwoods, and would feature embellishments relating to the natural world. This limited decorative styling contrasted the common heavily designed, velvet Victorian chairs and marked a shift in design aesthetics for the coming aughts.
Tips for Identifying What Kind of Antique Wooden Chairs You Might Have
While the only reliable way to confirm what time period your furniture is from is to have it assessed by an appraiser, there are a few things that you can look for on your own to rule out any imitations or revival pieces from the antique:
- Look for imperfections - Even the most finely crafted pieces by master woodworkers are going to show some type of imperfection from the handmade crafting process. Things like scratches, sanding marks, pencil marks, and so on can indicate that you have a real antique piece rather than one that was manufactured.
- Check underneath for maker's marks - It's always a good idea to look for the maker's marks on your older furniture, as certain cabinetmakers and artisans' pieces are worth substantially more than those made in designs inspired by their style.
- Look at the joinery - The way that furniture makers connected pieces of furniture together (i.e., legs and arms to bases and so on) varied throughout history. Glued-in dovetail joints began being used in the early 18th century and machine made joints (like the Knapp joint) came in the mid to late-19th century.
Give Your Home an Antique Upgrade
Humans have been repurposing natural materials for thousands of years, so it's only natural that wooden furniture would never fall out of fashion. When it comes to decorating your home, you don't always have to pick out the newest pieces to get the best deal, and most antique wooden chairs were so heartily made that they should last far longer than many contemporary selections.