How often do you sit down during the course of the day? Whether you’re at a desk, in the car, on public transport, at home or in a park, chances are at some point, you will settle down into some sort of seat. But have you ever thought about the origins of the chair? How did it come about? When did it come about? And what journey did it take as it evolved over the years?
This is exactly what we will be exploring in this post, and we start our investigation right back in the 16th century.
A Chair Fit for a King (but definitely NOT a princess)
Before the 16th century, chairs would only be used by the reigning king, the church hierarchy and other VIPs. Everyone else would sit on benches or stools. From the 16th century onwards, regular timber chairs became commonplace for the everyday classes, but there was still a lot of etiquette involved in sitting down when it came to the upper levels of society and the aristocracy who would be acknowledged for their standing in society by the height of their chair back and extravagance of the decorative finishing.
Before the 16th century, chairs would only be used by the reigning king, the church hierarchy and other VIPs. Everyone else would sit on stools, or benches like this one.
Monarchs would seat themselves on upholstered armchairs of ornate design and gilded crafting. Their blood princes would sit on upholstered stools, but the princesses would have to stand, even if they were with child, or sick.
Until the 16th century, a shortage of wood meant that chairs were lacquered, painted or gilded so as to hide the mishmash of timber offcuts that lay beneath.
The Dawn of the Furniture Shop
Things started to look up, however, from the early 18th century, when mahogany became widely available, and very affordable. This was a pivotal era in the history of the chair: it was the time when furniture shops started to appear, and batch commissioning was introduced.
By the Victorian era, chintz had well and truly taken hold of the interior design scene. Chairs would be covered in flowery upholstery, with feet hidden in case they resembled ladies’ ankles and took the gentlemen’s attention. Now there would be a chair for every person at the dinner table, and chairs started being sold in matching sets.
The Era of Innovation
By the late 19th century, fresh ideas would spurn unusual designs, and innovations such as folding, reclining or swivelling chairs, or chairs that would convert into beds. There were chairs that would fit neatly into corners, and purpose designed chairs for offices, barbers, dentists and children, and for relaxing on the beach.
Up until the 20th century, wood was the material of choice for chair makers, but this was the era of innovation, and metal framed chairs would find their way into people’s homes, as well as other materials such as plastic, plywood and even cardboard.
Nowadays chairs can take any shape, size or structure. Some are created just for the sake of design, whilst others, thankfully, focus on comfort.
So the earliest chairs were all about status. Later came comfort, and then quirkiness. Luckily today we have a wide choice in chairs, a choice in fact that suits all needs, tastes and budgets. We wonder how the chair will evolve over the next few hundred years … ?