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Furniture History: the Evolution of Chairs through Centuries

Posted by Bridgman on

Furniture has constantly evolved throughout history. View our timeline of chairs throughout history and learn about the inspiration of design.

The materials used in furniture as well as the shape and concept have changed drastically over the centuries from stone, wood, padded foam, plastic, and some pretty creative ideas.

Click on a picture to enlarge the timeline and read the full description! Or see it directly.

We’ve come a long way since stone benches. All furniture throughout history has become more functional as well as more comfortable for humans (and their pets) to relax on.

I bet you are finding yourself daydreaming of 17th century furniture. Strike up a conversation on Twitter by sharing this timeline. Find out which friends fit which century.

Jacobean (1600-1690) Inspiration for early American furniture. With medieval carvings made of dark oak and pine.

Early American (1640-1700) Made with local wood in the United States, this chair was replicated from European furniture or shipped over.

William and Mary (1690-1725) Oriental designs and padded seating with trumpet-style legs and rounded feet for this style was inspired by Dutch and Chinese furniture and usually made of walnut, maple, pine and sycamore.

Queen Anne (1700-1755) A fine-tuned William and Mary style, a bit more upscale in appearance with a fiddle back and a drake foot. Mainly made from walnut, or cherry.

Colonial (1700-1780) Queen Anne, William and Mary, and Chippendale history combined, this chair is for the more conservative type, and much unlike most American and European chairs.

Georgian (1714-1760) Influenced after King George I and II, and a bit more detailed than the Queen Anne, this chair is made of walnut. Once King George III came along, he began changing the furniture up a bit.

Pennsylvania Dutch (1720-1830) German inspired, yet American folk style simple chairs that portray a period of American history.

Louis XV (1730-1760) Rich floral designs, shell carvings and the fluidity of the design to melt into the other chairs, this was quite a piece of furniture.

Chippendale (1750-1790) "The Gentleman and Cabinet Maker's Director" was the publication title and when he designed this piece of furniture, he had just that in mind. There are three styles of this chair: French, Chinese, and Gothic influences.

Robert Adam (1760-1795) This style of chair is named after the architect Robert Adam, who was designing chairs with classical details to match British homes.

Hepplewhite (1765-1800) This furniture is quite delicate in appearance with contrasting inlays and veneers, and a shield back. It was later reproduced in the North Eastern states of the US.

Louis XVI (1774-1792) Elegance, precision and delicate ornaments made this style furniture truly fit for a king.

Federal (1780-1820) Mixing the furniture styles of Hepplewhite and Sheraton, this chair has sleek, smooth lines, tapered legs, inlay, and contrasting veneers.

Sheraton (1780-1820) Thomas Sheraton, who published his designs in "The Cabinet Makers and Upholsterers Drawing Book" in 1791,created this lightweight smooth lined chair with contrasting veneered, motifs and ornaments. This was once the more replicated chair in US history.

Duncan Phyfe (1795-1848) American cabinetmaker Duncan Phyfe’s style is thought to be similar to that of Adam, Sheraton, Hepplewhite, and Empire. It displays neoclassic motifs and reeded or carved legs.

American Empire (1800-1840) This chair was moderately sized with a dark finish and coarse carvings. Inspiration drew from the French Empire.

Shaker (1820-1860) Another early American modest chair with woven seats and mushroom shaped wooden knobs. This chair was created in the US by a religious group, the United Society of Believers, who lived in communes.

Victorian (1840-1910) Named after the Queen of England, this dark finished chair with elaborate carvings and ornamentation with deep seats, became the first of mass production in furniture history.

Arts and Craft (1880-1910) Also known as Mission, this specimen of furniture is purely simple in its construction as well as design.

Art Nouveau (1890-1910) Intricate details and curved lines are what gave this otherwise naturalistic chair its appeal.

Scandinavian Contemporary (1930-1950) Keeping it simple, the Danes and Swedes constructed this wooden chair.

The 1950s: Then along came the 1950s, which gave new flair and demand to furniture history across the globe. The 50s made post-War family time and entertaining a comfortable priority using steel, wood, odd leg designs, and beginning to show some flair. For example, the Wire Mesh Chair from Charles & Ray Eames living in Los Angeles developed this chair from bent and welded steel, with uniquely shaped legs, having the chair thought to resemble the Eiffel Tower.

The 1960s: Mod was the phrase and they definitely took that to heart when designing chairs of this decade. Sturdy flexible plastic was used along with shiny metal to portray a futuristic appeal.

The 1970s: Lucite, glass, carved wood, faux fur and wicker were the choice in furniture during the 70s. Some notable chairs of this era were the papasan, which took a while for the US to catch on, as well as the pretzel chair. Bean bags and tube furniture were for the hip crowd to relax in whilst watching their lava lamps. Sunshine yellow, orange, browns, and turquoise coated everything nicely.

The 1980s: Art Deco made a revival in the 80s and competed with punk style. Foam, polyester, glass and chrome and mirrors adorned sitting rooms, whilst black and white with bursts of neon or bright colours popped throughout.

The 1990s: Seriousness and simplicity returned to this decade with furniture being manufactured from fiberglass and aluminium. A great example would be the Spring chair from Erwan Bouroullec for the minimalistic city dweller. Lightweight and doesn’t take much space.

The 2000s: Aluminium, wood, polypropylene are some of the materials constructed for seating in this era. The technology and digital craze erupted and suddenly, the PlayStation chair made an appearance. Keeping somewhat with nature was Jürgen Bey, a Dutchman, who created the Tree Trunk Bench. This odd seating was simply a tree trunk with chrome backs inserted. There was quite a love-hate relationship with this idea.


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