Guide Chairs - A History

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It helped that wealthy Romans had servants. The first chair Rybczynski was able to identify in the historical record was not a physical chair but a sculpture of one from the Cycladic islands in the Aegean Sea, dated to the period 2, - 2, B.

Chairs through history: Evolution of seating weaves a tale – The Denver Post

The figurine depicts a musician playing a harp while sitting in what looks like a typical kitchen chair, with a straight back and four legs. By the time of the ancient Egyptians, sitting was a matter of status: Everyone sat on stools or on the ground, but chairs with backs or armrests were reserved for the elite.

In the fifth century B. The klismos is also mysterious: It appeared out of nowhere, with a design that was original rather than a variation on a past style, and then disappeared for millennia, only to reemerge as part of the Greek Revival movement in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. In the Middle Ages, sitting was once again socially stratified.


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This back-and-forth between democratic and hierarchical sitting customs has been occurring throughout history. Ordinary people tended to possess little furniture and sat on whatever was available—a bench, a barrel, the ground. Chairs with arms and backs were reserved for Very Important People. The 16th-century Flemish painter Pieter Bruegel the Elder captured these dynamics in his many depictions of peasant life. The latter can be mass-produced and sold cheaply, and has therefore spread rapidly around the world , becoming perhaps the most widely used chair on the planet.

The chairs are a reminder of the homogenizing effect of globalization, but they also subtly testify to local innovation, according to Rybczynski. It may be the color of the chair.

Cockfighting chair

Often the backs are decorated in ways you might not find if you just go down to Home Depot. In a classic study of human posture around the world [in the s], the anthropologist Gordon W. Hewes identified no fewer than one hundred common sitting positions. Deep squatting is favored by people in Southeast Asia, Africa, and Latin America, but sitting cross-legged on the floor is almost as common. Many South Asians cook, dine, work, and relax in that position.

Sedentary kneeling, that is, sitting on the heels with the knees on the floor, is practiced by Japanese, Koreans, and Eurasians, and also used by Muslims at prayer. But the Japanese, who endure frigid winters , have traditionally sat on floor mats, while the ancient Egyptians, who lived in a warm, dry climate, are thought to have invented the folding stool.

Nor is it always a product of economic or technological advancement; the prosperous Japanese were long aware that people in other parts of the world sat on chairs—they just chose not to. Some societies, like China, have transitioned from being predominantly floor-sitting cultures to being predominantly chair-sitting cultures.

Others, like India, idiosyncratically mix the two approaches. Chair backs became higher and had curved tops, arms were sometimes upholstered, seats were wider, and woodwork was finely carved and gilded or painted. In England the Restoration brought a similar trend toward more luxurious living, but the exuberant styles imported by large numbers of immigrant Continental craftsmen had to be modified for English tastes.

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A finely carved front stretcher became fashionable but was abandoned at the end of the 17th century with the introduction of the cabriole leg. The gently curved back and cabriole legs of chairs first used in the Queen Anne period in England remained popular for half a century. American furniture makers sometimes adapted simplified versions of English styles from the late 17th century.

Windsor chairs were particularly popular in the late 18th century and were developed to a greater degree than in England. The Neoclassical movement in the s led a return to straight but more delicate lines, with England and France setting the fashion for Europe. Straight tapering and reeded legs and square, oval, or shield-shaped backs were the mode.

The most elegant English chairs of the Regency period and French chairs of the Empire period adapted the sabre leg of the Greek klismos.

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French chairs after the Revolution of were much simpler and more austere. England and France continued to dominate chair fashions throughout most of the 19th century, but styles were largely adaptations of those of previous eras. After World War I the architect and designer Marcel Breuer developed the first tubular steel chair, a cantilevered form with a frame made from a continuous tubular strip. Le Corbusier , a Swiss-born architect, experimented with laminated bentwood chairs, as did the Finn Alvar Aalto.

Among the developments of the late 20th century were the beanbag chair and an inflatable plastic chair. See also ladder-back chair ; wainscot chair. Article Media. Info Print Cite.

Submit Feedback. Thank you for your feedback. See Article History. Read More on This Topic. Of all furniture forms, the chair may be the most important.

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History of Chairs

Learn More in these related Britannica articles:. While most other forms except the bed are intended to support objects, the chair supports the human form.