Antiques & Collecting: Chairs
PUBLISHED: 13:44 25 March 2011 | UPDATED: 19:05 20 February 2013
Are you sitting comfortably? A look at the development of chairs through the ages by Peter Bunting
Youre probably sitting down to read this magazine but have you ever thought why we sit on what is in essence an elevated platform, or how chairs have developed through the ages?
The history of the word chair can be traced back through Old English (chaere) and Old French (chaiere) to the Greeks, who contracted the words kata (down) and hedra (to sit) to form kathedra. In Roman times the word became cathedra from which cathedral is derived (a further contraction from ecclesia cathedralis, the church of the bishops seat).
Its likely that our ancestors saw the sense in elevating their bodies from the damp, cold floor, but for many centuries the basic design of the wooden chair remained largely unchanged. The most famous chair in our country is probably the Coronation Chair in Westminster Abbey, which was first used for Edward IIs coronation in 1308. Since then almost every monarch has been crowned in it.
By the 15th century society was becoming more settled and the ruling elite were establishing permanent homesteads that required furniture, including chairs. Detail on furniture became more ornate, a visible sign of the wealth of its owner, and regional differences in design started to emerge.
During Cromwells reign the only comfort would have been old coats and cloth draped over wainscot chairs, but with the demise of Puritanism and the Restoration of Charles II in 1660, there was a new age of flamboyance indulgence and comfort were in. Although the craft of upholstering chairs dates back at least to 1258 (the Worshipful Company of Upholders was founded in 1360), the process of caning the backs and seats of chairs to form a structure onto which the upholsterer could work was introduced and in more rural areas rushes were used to improve comfort.
Similarly in France, the court of Louis XIV (1638-1715) replaced the formal bolt-upright chairs with semi-reclining, upholstered Rococo chairs. This was in keeping with an age of conspicuous consumption. A theme that continued through the reigns of Louis XV and Louis XVI, until brought to a somewhat abrupt end by the French Revolution.