When identifying antique chairs, it's important to have a basic knowledge of the significant design periods and the important types of chairs. A good place to start when identifying furniture is often to figure out what period it's from.
Significant Furniture Design Periods
- Elizabethan (1520–1620)
- Early American Style (1640–1700)
- Carolean/Restoration (1660–1685)
- Queen Anne Style (1720–1760)
- Rococo (1730–1770)
- Chippendale (1750–1780s)
- Shaker Style (1787–1860s)
- Sheraton (1790–1820)
- American Empire Style (1805–1830)
- Victorian (1830–1900)
- Arts and Crafts Style (1880–1910)
- Art Nouveau Style (1880–1910)
- Edwardian (1901–1910)
- Art Deco Style (1925–1940s)
- Mid-Century Modern Style (1933–1965)
You might not be able to tell what period the chair is from, but you can get a sense of what kind of chair it is and when it was made by identifying what chair type category it fits into. This in turn might help you trace it back to its period of origin.
Types of Antique Chairs
- Chaise Longue
- Corner Chair
- Side Chair
Read on to see photo examples of each of these chair types. This article can be used as a cheat sheet; match up your furniture with these photos so you know what it is that you're buying or selling.
The fauteuil is a style of armchair originating in France. It is usually an upholstered armchair with open sides. This style of chair became lighter, more graceful, and more ornate as it developed during the reigns of Louis XIV and Louis XV.
The Bergère is an early style of upholstered armchair that has enclosed sides. The seat is often large, cushioned, and comfortable. The shape of the back varies. The wooden parts can be left natural, painted, or gilded.
The Morris chair has a large, deep seat and a high back that is adjustable, which is why it's often considered the predecessor of the modern recliner. It usually has bow arms with slatted sides. This chair is named after the influential designer William Morris, and it was first produced by Morris & Co. in the late 1800s.
Unique Chair Styles
These armchairs typically have square seats that are situated diagonally, such that the chair can be smoothly tucked into a corner. The three legs at the sides and back rise past the seat to become part of the back and arm support, ending in a curved top rail.
Chaise longue literally means "long chair" in French, and it's exactly what it sounds like. It first became popular during the 16th Century in France, with varieties including the duchesse brisée, the récamier, and the méridienne. However, furniture following the general concept of a "long chair" or "day bed" can be seen depicted by ancient civilizations, such as the Egyptians and Greeks.
The Savonarola has the silhouette of a wavy X. It was originally intended to be a folding version of the curule chair, and it can be considered a variation of that type. Over time, this type of chair grew to be less portable, often without a folding mechanism, and relatively large and heavy.
A curule is a cross-based chair or stool with curved legs in the shape of two U's. It is derived from Roman styles of the 6th century BC. It has influenced modern chair styles as well, such as the American Empire style.
This is a light chair whose front and back sets of legs flare away from each other. It dates back to 5th-century Greece, but the style experienced a comeback during the late 18th-century Neoclassical furniture movement. Klismos chairs typically have an open back divided by a supportive and decorative horizontal panel.
A wingback chair is a tall-backed, upholstered armchair. Angled side panels flank the sides of the chair's high back. The arms are closed and often in a classic rolled shaped. The wingback style as it is known today developed in in late 17th-century England as a comfortable and insulating easy chair.
Shaker chairs are named after a Protestant sect called the Shakers, also known as the United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing. The most widely recognized type of Shaker chair would be a slat-back side chair or the famous Shaker rocking chair. Much of Shaker furniture styles originated in America in the mid-1800s.
This chair originated in Windsor, England, in the early 1700s. Windsor chairs are not strictly side chairs since some have arms and some don't; however, Windsors do resemble certain other side chair styles. Most prominently, they are made entirely of wood. The back consists of multiple thin spindles that connect to a solid, sculpted wooden seat and an arched or straight top piece. The back tilts in a slightly reclined shape, and the straight legs splay outwards from one another.