Ah, that’s better, great to get the weight of my feet. How many of us think something similar on a daily basis? This sort of brings us to the means of that relief, the humble chair. They come in all forms, the chairs for special occasions and for special people, down to the most functional and simple. All basically serve the same function, that of allowing one to sit down. The chair has been with us through the eons of time, the ancient Greeks used chairs, as did the Ancient Egyptians. Some of the earliest known pieces of furniture were chairs. These were of course status symbols sat in by monarchs, with the more lowly souls sitting on benches or stools. The importance of the chair is reflected in much of society, with a position of importance being associated with a particular chair. For example, in academia becoming a professor is referred to as acquiring a chair.
Early English chairs were normally of local woods, such as oak and were typically constructed using large solid panels, so one didn’t sit on a chair but in it. These chairs were again status symbols and often carried ornate carved inscriptions and dates identifying the owners. However, by the restoration Period (1660-1665), European influences had been imported along with the restoration of the monarchy in the form of Charles the 2nd. These chairs were still major investments, but were of new exciting woods, walnut being the most popular. The designs were lighter and much more reminiscent of modern chairs (Figure 1A), but more ornately carved, with barley twist front legs inserted into a carved seat frame (Figure 1B) and barley twisted back legs that extended to form a long raking back terminated by finals (Figure 1C) often of an acorn design. The seats were often of cane and cane or rushes and the backs of these chairs were very ornate with a central caned panel surrounded by pierced carvings often depicting floral scenes, sea beasts, cherubs and riders (Figure 3C). The cross stretchers in earlier chairs were purely functional, but by the Restoration period they had acquired a new function, that of ornate decoration.
One problem with these newly developed chairs was the long sweeping back legs extending up to form the long back. The angle of the back meant that they had a natural weakness at the joint between the back legs and the seat frame and the vast majority of remaining examples of the restoration chair have Georgian or earlier repairs, normally with a metal plate wrapped around this weak point (Figure 2). That these chairs were repaired, reflects their value. Their quality was remarkable and it is always a pleasure to find one in a good serviceable condition. They not only carry their history with a certain elegance, but have a real presence in a room or a large hall. Interestingly the style of the restoration chair was mimicked in the Victorian and Edwardian period in the form of the Jacobethan chairs (Figure 3). These much later chairs are very attractive and are easily distinguished from the originals in that the more modern versions are normally in oak, used more modern joints and have an arrangement of stretchers more resembling a modern chair.