Apart from the common thread of providing seating and a set of legs to support the seat, chairs can be as different as the craftsmen who build them and the people for whom they are made. The history of chair design is one of individual innovation blended with the technology and tastes prevailing in the chair maker s lifetime.
The remaining pages of this chapter present a sampling of some of the more influential designs of the past 2500 years. Some of these styles are named after the furniture maker who developed them, like Thomas Chippendale or Sam Maloof. Others are associated with the monarch in power when the style flourished, such as Queen Anne. Still others represent a specific design movement, like Mission or Art Nouveau.
Queen Anne chair
An early 13th-Century British design marked by high backrests and gentle, flowing lines. The cabriole legs give the chair a grace ful balance and the backrest is curved to provide comfort; such chairs were often decorated with Oriental motifs as in the example shown
Features cabriole legs with claw-and-ball feet, carved shell motifs, and a carved-rail backrest; the example shown was built in Philadelphia in the late 13th-Century in the American Chippendale style
A late 19th-Century chair designed by Frenchman Michael Thonet; its solid wood parts were bent into curved shapes, a development that revolutionized chair making
Early 20th-Century American offshoot of the Arts-and-Crafts school of design. Made from stained oak with closely spaced spindles, this armchair represents a return to plain, unadorned handcrafting
Art Nouveau chair
A high-backed chair designed in 1900 by architect and painter Charies Rennie Mackintosh that contrasts straight lines and geometric forms with gentle curves
Dutch designer Oerrit Thomas Rietveld’s 1913 chair features striking colors and modular elements assembled without joinery; Itb straight lines forming complex geometric patterns represent a radical departure from traditional chair design
The frame chair is as simple and as sturdy as its workaday name implies. Its basic but elegant design has changed little over hundreds of years. This longevity of style owes much to its clean lines, but also to a robust structure marked by a frame that distributes weight and stress equally around to all the joints.
The principal joinery used in making frame chairs is the stalwart mortise-and-tenon, noted for its ability to withstand tension, shear, racking, and other types of stress that chairs must endure. Blind mor – tise-and-tenons are used to connect front and back rails to
the legs; angled tenons attach the side rails; and rounded slats fit into round mortises in the crest and back rails. Corner blocks fastened to the seat rails help keep the joinery solid and tight over a lifetime of use.
Designing a frame chair carefully is as important as assembling it. Start with a design that will suit the anatomy of the chair’s eventual user (page 14); and plan the dimensions of the
parts so the chair will fit into its surroundings. Before you buy your stock, draw full-sized templates of the seat (page 26), the rear legs (page 28), and the back rails (page 32). Not only will these templates help you develop a cutting list; they will also enable you to determine the precise sizes of the parts, and show you how to join them.
The frame chair structure allows considerable freedom of design. For example, arms can be incorporated to add comfort or esthetic effect (page 110), stretchers can be installed between the legs, and there are a number of different seats you can install. See the chapter on seats (page 70) for a gallery of designs. Even the smaller details can be varied: The front legs can be turned, the curve of the back legs and slats can be given a unique bend, and decorative beads can be milled in the rails. The crest rail can also be given a different shape than the one shown in this chapter or be embellished with stenciling or marquetry.
The basic design of a frame chair can be embellished with decorative details such as turned front legs, beading around the seat rails, rounded slats, and curved crest rails. The sculpted seat is screwed to the seat rails.