Wingback chairs may look right at home in mid-century living rooms or Victorian gentleman’s clubs, but the form is actually about 400 years old! But where did it come from?
In Jakob Jordaens’, As the Old Sang, So the Young Pipe (1638-40), you can see an elderly woman in a hooded wicker chair designed to protect the sitter from draughts and chills.
Wingback chairs developed during the 1600s in England and the Netherlands, where cold winters made the hearth the center of the home. There, furniture makers were producing special chairs with little wings so as to protect the sitter from harmful Northern European draughts and, when positioned in front of the hearth, to retain the warmth of the fire.
’Sleeping Chayre’ from Ham House, c. 1670s, with red silk upholstery brocaded with silver thread, and an adjustable back.
In the second half of the 17th century, furniture in England got considerably more comfortable and sophisticated; this was when upholstered furniture became the norm, with armchairs and sofas replacing hard wooden seats. During this era, a new chair type was developed that was so comfortable that it was known as a ‘Sleeping Chayre.’ This chair had wings that helped the sitter stay warm, and its back could also ratchet to different angles for sleeping.
An English Wing Chair, c. 1750-60, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art
In the 18th century, furniture got even more comfortable with the advent of spring upholstery. Easy chairs could be found in English and American homes by the early part of the century, and as designers embraced S- and C-scrolls, these became even more relaxed and cozy.
Hans Wegner’s “Papa Bear” Chair from 1951
The 20th century can be epitomized by the family room, the emblem of a new, informal lifestyle defined by leisure time and the nuclear family. In this context, the wingback chair became a stately 'status' chair for the heads of the household and their guests, but one that still served its cozy fireside purpose. Modern and postmodern designers have enjoyed tinkering with the wingback, exaggerating its curves or its imposing upright back, or adding a touch of anthropomorphic whimsy.
DwellStudio’s own wingback chair, Cooper, combines a modern aesthetic with the wing chair’s centuries-long tradition of melding style and comfort. Would you sit with Cooper??