Classic Chair Styles and Their Names: Part One

June 25, 2019
Today, we're going to give you the first part of our overview of classic chairs. Read this article and you'll learn how to spot them by their style, and know what they're called!

You don’t have to be able to recognize furniture by its style or historical period to enjoy good interior design. But having a bit of knowledge about it will help you better appreciate what you see, and have a fuller perspective on it. Keep reading for our overview of classic chair styles.

We’ve picked out French chairs and armchairs from various periods because we think they’re the most representative of history. Some periods are seen as more aesthetically important in furniture design. And in the end, knowing how to tell a chair’s period and the name of its style is a sign of distinction, education, and culture.

That’s extremely important when it comes to buying or selling antiques. Buying antiques is a true art, but it’s also one you can learn. It involves being able to go beyond basic things like whether a chair is big or small, or ugly or pretty. Here’s what you really need to be looking for.

Classic chair styles

The Louis XIII chair

The Louis XIII is the first of the classic chair styles we're going to talk about today.

This style has lots of spiral etchings. You’ll see them on the arms, legs, and the reinforcing pieces at the base. It’s the most distinctive characteristic of this style of the classic chair.

These chairs were popular between 1610-1643. This is also the period where we see the first tapestries. People generally made them of leather, but there were also some made of other textiles. 

For this chair, carpenters would use dark woods and a lathe. It was also common to have an ebony outer layer. All furniture from this period of history is somber and took inspiration from architecture.

The oldest chairs in this style are straight. It was only as the years went on that the lines started to soften a bit. Some of them also have marble incrustations and ebony etchings. 

These chairs have a high back and sometimes even have ears. The legs are short and made on a lathe. In many cases, they have H- or X-shaped reinforcing bars at the base.

The most common form for the feet are spindles, lamb bones, or spirals. Some of the ornamental designs you’ll see on a Louis XIII chair include diamonds, fruits, cherubs, and laurel branches. 

Louis XIV chair: baroque style

The Louis XIV chair.

This style of classic chair is easy to confuse for a “Castillian Chair.” But there are a few ways to tell them apart. Louis XIV, called the “Sun King,” loved high-quality French craftwork, and always supported the people who made it.

These chairs were all over the Palace of Versailles. They’re large, lordly, ornamental pieces with inscriptions related to music, tridents, and trophies.

The goal of those etchings was to convey the divinity of King Louis XIV. They also had lots of lacquer and inlays of brass and other metals. These were around between 1643-1710.

Louis XV chair: rococo style

Louis XV rococo chair.

Rococo is basically just an offshoot of baroque. There’s an emphasis on decadent shapes, delicate curves, and ornamentation. You can see this on just about every part of a Louis XV chair.

This period also saw the introduction of asymmetry in textiles, and people went form the dark woods of other periods to lighter woods, like rosewood and wood from fruit trees. The most common colors for the upholstery were pastel tones. This style of classic chair was most prominent between 1715-1775.

The epitome of a classic chair, the Louis XVI: neoclassical style

A Louis XVI neoclassical chair.

This style focused on strict symmetry and had relatively simple details along its straight lines. You can easily tell this kind of chair by its medallion- or shield-shaped back, although you may see some with square backs too.

The upholstery still came in light colors, for the most part. The satin fabric would generally have a striped pattern. They have straight, fluted legs that end in a head inspired by classical columns.

These chairs were mainly popular between 1774-1792. But their beauty has been an inspiration for countless furniture designers that came after. Even as styles have changed, you can still see bits of this design in modern chairs.

Classic chair styles: the directoire

A classic directoire chair.

The French Revolution put an end to Louis XVI and his style. The style that came after was the directoire style, which comes from the group of people who ruled France between the revolution and when Napoleon took power. The period for this seat was 1793-1802.

It was a time of simplicity, as a reaction to the extravagance that the French Revolution was fighting back against. It’s also an amazing simplification of the Louis XVI style.

The arms and legs of this classic chair have soft curves. Their upholstery is very simple, and most often leather.