Timeless and modern, dramatic and refined, elegant and majestic – the wingback chair has stood strong on its cabriole legs for hundreds of years.
But where did this design originate? Who was the creative brilliant mind behind the delicate, but regal piece? With a history as rich as it is captivating, the wingback chair has endured tweaks in its material and style over the years—all while maintaining the same striking Queen Anne baroque construction it embodied when it first debuted.
Developed during the 1600s in England where cold weather made the roaring fireplace the gathering spot of the house, the original purpose of this stunning furnishing was to keep warm. Women lounged in wingback chairs to protect their upper chests, as a result of dress typically worn at the time, from cold drafts. Gaining popularity in 1720, the design was initially constructed solely from wood with flat, broad arms.
With the onset of the 18-century, the wingback turned to comfort and began incorporating upholstery, only getting cozier with time. Towards the 19–century, chairs were generously stuffed with horsehair for an added dose of padding. Covered in velvet or needlework to imitate contemporary French styles. And just as you might imagine colonial or Georgian-era furniture at this time, bright patterns and ornate fabric embellishments were the norm.
A bergère, a French armchair with upholstered arms, back and frames took after the wingback’s design and hit the spotlight in the mid-eighteenth century in Paris. Retaining the overall design of the wingback, the bergèrewas designed to have a flat back (à la reine). Designed for lounging in comfort with a deeper, wider seat, the bergère was more about function than form.
The French weren’t the only ones reinventing the wingback. In 18-century England, well-known furniture maker George Hepplewhite lowered the seat in some of his designs. Famous cabinet-makers, like Chippendale of England, molded the wingback design by adding elegant frames such as oversized wings and scrolling arms to offset the upholstery. Wingback chairs could be found in the “parlour” or living room, creating a new leisurely lifestyle of sitting time.
It wasn’t until the 18-century that the well-traveled wingback finally trickled from English castles and houses in the Netherlands to American homes. American wing chairs (also called easy chairs) were reserved for the bedroom, and during the Victorian times, were often associated with elderly people sitting silently in their rooms. Enter: the grandfather chair.
That brings us to today. Designed in all sizes, fabrics, and patterns, wingback chairs take on a variety of styles in that same classic shape. The now more informal décor piece usually stands in family rooms, old-fashioned men’s clubs, and libraries.
Known and loved for its graceful curves, fluid framework, and antique, throne-like vibe, the wingback chair remains a symbol of comfort and elegance in modern décor. Although the functional need to protect ourselves from drafts on chilly nights is long gone (thank you central heating!), the design of the ancient wingback chair has withstood the test of time.