Chairs – History Part VI

In this next article in our series on the history of chairs we’re going to pick up with chairs made in the 19th century.

To understand the dramatic change in chair design in the 19th and 20th centuries one first has to understand the arts and crafts movement of the 19th century. This movement was almost solely responsible for the change in chair styles.

Arts and crafts, for starters, are things that are generally made by ones own hands, or as we call them today, hand made. This was a very big thing, starting in the 19th century, that things of quality had to be made by hand. In spite of the industrial revolution where items were now made mostly by machine, the chairs that truly defined the period were actually made by hand.

This movement was said to be started by William Morris and Edwin Lutyens. William Morris lived from 1834 to 1896. He was one of the principal founders of the British Arts and Crafts movement. In 1861 he founded Morris, Marshall and Faulkner. This company, which eventually became Morris and Company, recreated some of the medieval tapestry made for chairs of that period. His designs are still sold even today under the name Sanderson and Sons who bought the license from him.

Lutyens came a little bit later. He lived from 1869 to 1944. He began his own business in 1888. His first commissioned works were for private houses. He would design most of the furniture in these houses including the chairs, all in a very classical style similar to the works of Morris. Both of these men believed that medieval craftsmen found a joy in their work that was missing in today’s designs and they strove to emulate that work. So in a sense, 19th century chair design actually took a step backwards.

During this period, many other craftsmen followed in Morris’ footsteps. Many of them worked to refine their skills for very low wages simply so that they could get the work. A guild society of these workers was formed so if someone wanted a hand made chair they knew where to go as the society itself was very well promoted.