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Antique Armchairs for Sale: Understand Your Options

An armchair makes for a remarkable accent piece in a living room, a bedroom or a hall. It is not surprising if you think that armchairs have been a symbol of status and power for the longest time — technically speaking, a throne is an armchair. Over centuries, they have evolved from a pure display of grandeur to a source of daily comfort.

The term ‘armchair’ encompasses multiple types depending on the period and country of origin. To understand what kind of antique armchair you can buy, let’s go over the possibilities in an organized fashion, starting with a basic definition: an armchair is a chair with armrests. Simple, isn’t it? Indeed. Yet, it is worth mentioning because, certainly by force of habit and since ‘chair’ is shorter to say than ‘armchair’, some armchairs are commonly referred to as chairs, which may bring some confusion. Let’s now define the main armchair categories broken down in two families, easy to grasp and remember.

Antique Armchairs With Open Sides

Curule (Savonarola chair is a close relative): It is originally a folding chair with an X frame that emerged in Ancient Rome as a transportable seat for magistrates, an unequivocal symbol of their power. Such a ‘faldistōl’ (‘foldstool’ in Old German) evolved to ‘faudestuel’ in Old French, the ancestor of ‘fauteuil’.

Fauteuil: It is the French name for an upholstered and padded armchair with a high back. The armrests can also be padded, but altogether, the wood frame is largely apparent, especially for the fauteuils with stretchers during Louis XIII and Louis XIV reigns (17th century, approximately). A common example is the ‘fauteuil à os de mouton’ (literally meaning ‘mutton bone armchair’) with sinuous and round stretchers, legs, and armrests. Example(s) of fauteuil armchair

Gainsborough chair: This English armchair was developed in the second half of the 18th century under the influence of the French fauteuil. As a matter of fact, Chippendale was calling it the ‘French chair’. As it was popular under the reigns of George II and George III under which Thomas Gainsborough painted, it was later called a ‘Gainsborough chair’. Example(s) of Gainsborough chair

Wainscot chair (also known as panel chair or joined chair): It is a wooden armchair (usually in oak) popular in the 17th century in England and colonial America. It has absolutely no upholstery. The straight wood back panels are often carved as well as the top rail (commonly crested with a double-S scroll design). The front legs are usually turned and the back legs plain rectangular.

Windsor chair: Some of the iconic Windsor chairs have armrests. If they originate from England, they have also been widely popular in the American colonies right from the 18th century. There are multiple variations, but the basics of this chair are a saddle-shaped seat with spindles for the back and turned outward legs with stretchers. The Windsor armchairs usually are of these four types: a comb back, a sack back, with a continuous bow, or a captain’s chair with a low back. Example(s) of Windsor chair

Antique Armchairs With Closed Sides

All the armchairs described below are upholstered and can be considered as easy chairs.

Bergère: It is basically a fauteuil with upholstered closed sides. It emerged in France around 1720 under the Régence and became really fashionable with Louis XV. The aristocrats and well-to-do wanted more comfortable chairs, which led to deeper seat cushions. You can also find cane bergere chairs as the discovery and use of rattan for furniture in France coincides with the expansion of bergères. There are four main categories of bergère chairs: bergère à la reine with a straight back, bergère with ears (also called ‘en confessional’ in French), bergère en cabriolet with a curved back, bergère marquise with their generous proportions and lower curved back to accommodate voluminous dresses. Example(s) of Bergères

Wing chair (also known as wingback chair): It displays a high back with panels sticking out on each side. The wings are also known as lugs or cheeks. They are originally meant to protect from drafts. At first, such a chair was used in front of a fireplace to trap warmth. Example(s) of wing chair

Tub chair (closely related to a bucket chair or barrel chair): It is an armchair with the low semicircular back of a tub. It is designed with comfort in mind and often involves heavy padding on the seat and around the lower back. They were a staple of Empire and Victorian designs, i.e. 19th century. Example(s) of barrel armchair

Club chair: Push comfort and padding even further, and you get the club chair. With usually heavy arms and a low seat, this chair calls for relaxation. Although these chairs seem to come from France in the late 1920s, they are emblematic of the British gentlemens’ clubs, hence their name. Do we even need to mention it? The traditional club chair is in leather.

Chesterfield chair: It is a sibling of the so-recognizable British Chesterfield sofa. Its features the distinctive button-tufted leather, rolled arms and back of the same height, and frequently sports a nailhead trim. Example(s) of Chesterfield armchair and sofa

Another term that you may often encounter is library chair: It is a very loose category for a comfortable armchair to snuggle in with a good book. They are often associated with leather upholstery, and a frame in mahogany or oak. They usually are of the Gainsborough, bergère, or tub chair type.

Any preference after all these explanations and examples of armchairs? Maybe you’d rather explore other types of chairs and sofas?

More options of antique chairs and sofas

Lounge Chairs | Dining Chairs | Sofas | Other Seating