The chair is probably one of the most recognizable pieces of furniture. In this brief history of the chair we take a look at how the modern chair came to be.
From lofty beginnings…
You wouldn’t think it now but a chair in ancient times was very much symbolic of wealth and power. From the materials required to the skill needed to design and craft such an item your common man could simply not afford such luxury.
Below are just a few examples of chair use and development throughout ancient times.
Ancient Egypt (3100 – 475 BC)
In Ancient Egypt stools and benches were the first commonplace seating furniture and were often designed to be low to the ground in a style we would later see in the Chinese dynasties. Eventually back rests and longer legs were added to the seats of royalty and important dignitaries, these chairs were often fashioned out of ebony and ivory or carved from wood and adorned with costly materials.
Mesopotamian Empire (3100 – 2370 B C)
The Mesopotamian Empire developed alongside Egyptian culture and there is some evidence that suggest the two civilisations mixed. Not a huge amount is known about the Mesopotamians but evidenced in the remains of pottery, seals and carvings that have been excavated they will often show only one person sitting down, that person is quite clearly royalty or of extreme importance.
The Ancient Greeks (1100 BC – 600 AD)
One of the earliest examples of Greek chair use is carved into the Parthenon Frieze and features Zeus languishing in what is clearly the modern definition of a chair, a raised surface supported by legs. It is dated around 430 BC.
The Roman Empire (100 BC – AD 400)
Throughout the Roman Empire stools and benches were commonplace. However, high ranking officials, rich merchants and politicians would often sit in elaborately designed chairs. The Romans used a design of chair that was unchanged from the greek iteration except for a habit of adding ornamentation and decoration.
Throughout our history, from ancient civilisations to the modern day, the chair has been an important piece of furniture that has evolved with the technology, and eventually the fashion, of the times.
…To a household item we couldn’t do without
In the 16th century chairs became commonplace and affordable. Until then most people would sit on benches or stools, the seats of everyday life.
In Europe once the chair had lost its status as a sign of privilege and wealth it quickly became available to all as a standard item of furniture. Cabinet makers were the chair manufacturers of the time and found a new income stream that suited their talents. Almost immediately the design of the chair started to change to reflect the everyday fashions and styles.
The Industrial Revolution
The Industrial Revolution changed chair manufacturer forever. No longer did each item need to be painstakingly handmade over many days or weeks. With the advent of factories and the ability to mass produce items cheaply it wasn’t long before chairs and other furniture items were increasingly seen around the workplace and the home.
Not only did the availability increase but also the range of aesthetic options. The textile factories, providing new materials, gave rise to upholstered chairs that added an entire new range of easy chairs designed for comfort in the home.
With chairs becoming commonplace we start to see designs favour function as well as style and attitudes regarding seating changing. During this time chairs were still handmade by craftsmen and cabinet makers.
The rocking chair
In the 1700s we saw the chair makers of the time acknowledge back pain caused by uncomfortable seating and so the rocking chair was designed. Generally used in gardens they were simply chairs with rockers attached to the underside.
A German craftsman by the name of Michael Thonet designed and built the very first bentwood rocking chair. It is a design that is still in common use today.
During this time we also saw the first properly adjustable dentist and barber chairs, an evolution from the DIY approach of putting a log under the chair to get the required angle.
Quality of life
Later on we start to see workers and school children who were used to standing at their desks for long periods start to use chairs as an everyday practise in the workplace and school. It must of been quite a relief to go from standing all day to the comfort of a chair.
Modern manufacturing means the mass production of chairs is as easy for us as turning on a light. The market is huge and modern day manufacturers have no issues supplying the demand.
Now days a handmade chair is the exception rather than the rule and you would pay extra for a chair made by a craftsman.
Today you can buy a chair that is suitable for any function at a wide range of prices. The choice of styles and designs is staggering allowing you to pick a piece of furniture that will fit into any household or office aesthetic.
As we made advances in materials and manufacture the design of chairs changed. Many modern office chairs are made of lightweight yet strong alloys that are easy to mass produce and most manufacturers are quick to adopt new technologies such as mesh backed chairs that improve airflow.
One of the most exciting of these new changes is the ergonomic chair. Back pain from long periods of sitting is a common problem and to combat this designers have created a chair that supports your back properly in all the right places.
We already have chairs that can massage you, that can keep you warm or even hold your beer! Who knows what the future of chair design will give us 🙂