An Essential Guide to Antique Chair Styles

antique chair with upholstery

When is a chair not a chair? When it’s referred to as a ‘Windsor’, a ‘Gainsborough’ or a ‘Wainscot’. Maybe you’d like to be a bit more clued up about the chairs in your home. Or perhaps you’re in the market for a single or set of antique chairs. Of course, the real appeal of an antique chair is the story that it has to tell. Owners over the years may have reupholstered or refinished. You may want to restore a chair to its former glory or give it an edge. But it’s a great idea to know what it is first! When it comes to understanding chairs it can be helpful to think of them in terms of their function in the home.

Dining Room

Most famously, sets of these chairs are found in the Chippendale style of the mid 18th Century. You will recognise this style by its cabriole legs and feet fashioned in a lion’s paw or ball-and-claw form. Dining chairs can also be known as side chairs as they would most often be lined along walls, rather than around a table. A dining chair will have an upholstered seat and a wooden back often of mahogany or walnut.

Chairs to fit a hall tended to be rather more hard than other chair types. Ranging in style depending on the period they were produced, the one thing these chairs hold in common is that they are not designed for comfort! These chairs will feature a narrow back and solid seat, often adorned with a family crest. This is because they were designed to be placed decoratively along the hall in a grand house.
Drawing Room

Armchairs first appeared in the Middle Ages; the more ornate features would reflect the status of the feudal lord. Examples from the mid 17th Century are known as Wainscot chairs. They are most often constructed from a fine grade oak, so were heavy and of a relatively simple construction. They are not upholstered and will sometimes be adorned with a carved crest.

As the 17th Century segued to the 18th, drawing room chairs featured winged arms and became more about comfort. So we find the tasselled and cushioned Queen Anne style increasing in popularity. The seat is usually a horseshoe shape and the legs cabriole which feature scroll or shell motifs.

Alternatively known as Country style chairs, these antique pieces are basic but appealing. This style of chair is notable by its steam bent hoop back of pine, poplar, elm, oak, ash or maple. The upright sticks and splayed legs are fitted to the wooden seats with holed and wedged methods. So there was no requirement for fixings such as glue. Most popular are Windsor chairs, which can be with or without arms, and the category can even encompass antique rocking chairs.


The library chair is most popularly Georgian in period. The chairs are wide seated and upholstered, often with leather. Clearly, the function of reading is pivotal in common designs, with padded, shortened arms connected to the seat by concave supports. This type of chair is most commonly identified as a Gainsborough style. Gainsborough chairs were so named due to being frequently featured in paintings by Thomas Gainsborough. In style, the chairs can range from relatively plain to the far more ornate.

Of course, chair function today has evolved from when each antique chair was first produced. You may position your library chair in your bedroom, for example, or an armchair in your hall. The great thing about these pieces is the stories that they have to tell. Restored to their former glory, antique chairs prove how they have lasted through generations. So to discuss how your chairs might benefit, just contact us!