Upholstered chairs are the most commonly seen type of furniture. The upholstery fabric is a big investment and you don’t want to second-guess the material, pattern or color a few weeks after the newly-upholstered chairs arrive at your doorstep.
Table of Contents
- What is Upholstery?
- What to Consider When Choosing the Best Upholstery for your Chair
- The Best Upholstered Chairs to Use If You Have Kids and Pets
- The Best Upholstered Chairs to Use If You Want Luxury
- Considering the Shape and Size of the Chair
- Trying an Upholstery
What is Upholstery?
Upholstery is the work of providing furniture with padded fabrics, springs, and webbings to cover them. Upholstery work first started in the Middle Ages and gained popularity during the 17th century. Since then, a wide variety of materials have been used to cover upholstery, including hay and horsehair.
These days, upholstered furniture is reinforced with foam and metal springs which give them more durability. Although the webbing and spring may not be visible from the outside, they make a huge difference in the comfort of a chair or sofa. Although the fabric is frequently changed, choosing high-quality inner layers is the key to making a piece of furniture last for a long time.
Throughout the centuries, many skilled artisans and designers have created unique pieces of the upholstered furniture that complement one’s home décor as well as offer maximum functionality and comfort. In this piece, we will discuss the many types of upholstered chairs that have been invented over the years.
The name “tub chair” is quite apt since sitting in the chair gives you all the comfort of reclining in a bathtub after a long, hard day. This kind of upholstered chairs has arms that curve around the back and attach to the base, giving it a shape of a classic roll-rim tub. The tub chair can be upholstered with a wide range of material including leather for an upgraded price.
The shape of the chair is such that it offers relaxation to the back muscles and the spine. This is why this chair is often found at chiropractors’ and medical practitioners’ office and is used by patients with back injuries or issues. These chairs are also found in stylish and modern homes arranged in couples around a side table. They are mostly used in dens, libraries, studies and living rooms.
The wing-backed chair was first designed to be used in front of a fireplace. Although the style first originated in France, the most popular versions were developed in England during the 17th century, where the cold winters made the roaring fireplace the gathering place for the entire house.
It is characterized by a tall back and side panels that spread like wings on either side, which were meant to protect an individual from a draft or contain the heat from the fire in the chair. Although the wings have two main styles— scroll or flat — countless new versions are now produced, including the butterfly-like wings or pointed wings.
The wing-backed chairs are closely associated with designs like Queen Anne. Since this style of chair was designed primarily for women’s use, they are slightly smaller than a typical wing chair.
Fauteuil (pronounced as foe-toy) simply means armchair in French and refers to the antique upholstered armchairs with open sides. Their arms were over-upholstered to match the seat and back.
The style was created during the late 17th century near the end of Louis XIV’s reign and remained popular in the 1900s. The modern versions may be lighter, ornate, and graceful. A popular variation is the fauteuil à la Reine or the Queen’s armchair, which has a square high back unlike the traditional rounded one of the fauteuil chair.
The Bergere is a type of enclosed French armchair with an upholstered back and armrests with padding. The seat frame is heavily upholstered with a tailored seat though the rest of the wood framing is visible. This chair is believed to be a departure from the more rigid, uncomfortable designs of chairs in France around 1725 and they remained popular till the 1800s. These chairs have several similar features to Rococo, Louis XV, and Louise XVI styles, though they were modified in several ways through the centuries. The Bergere chair is known to have a bigger and wider frame than the French Fauteuil chairs.
The wood used in the framing can be painted, gilded or polished to show off its natural color. This type of chair style is still very popular today.
The slipper chairs are a category of low, armless and upholstered chairs. They sit around 15 inches from the ground as compared to the normal 17 to 19 inches chair. The first styles became popular in the 18th century and experienced a revival in the 20th century.
The low-slung chairs were first used in women’s dressing rooms and ladies used to sit in them as maids helped them put on their shoes or slippers, which gives the chair its name. These little chairs remained in the boudoir until the American designer Billy Baldwin added box pleats beneath them to hide the legs and brought them out into the living room.
Designer John Henry Belter patented this style of chair and used it to show off unique wood crafting, including a jigsaw style and bent laminated wood. The style of slipper chairs is Rococo which was an inspiration for many American designers during that time.
A recliner is one of the most comfortable types of chairs. These chairs can be adjusted with the help of a lever to either stay upright or reclined with a kick-out footrest. Many recliners have a high back so that you can rest your upper body fully on it when the chair is in a reclined position.
This is one of the most popular types of chairs for reading or watching movies.
These chairs are called so because this style of chairs was used in exclusive gentlemen’s club during the mid-19th century in London. However, a prototype of the design is first believed to have been made in France and was known as the fauteuil conformable, which means “comfortable armchair.” It was called this to differentiate it from the fauteuil de style which had straight lines and was not as cushy.
Club chairs are characterized by low back and heavy armrests. These chairs were typically upholstered in leather, though the style is outdated and these days, club chairs can be found in a variety of fabrics as well.
The chesterfield design is one of the most recognizable chair and sofa designs in the world. Although it is not officially documented, it is said the design was first commissioned by Lord Philip Stanhope, the fourth Earl of Chesterfield in the 18th century, which is allegedly how it got its name.
The Chesterfield chair is defined by a quilted upholsters decorated with buttons. Their style is a mix of club chairs and wing chairs and these chairs are typically covered in leather.
The Morris Chair is a high, deep-seating armchair which is equipped with cushions for the seat and back. It also has an adjustable reclining back and slatted sides or bow arms.
The chair was named after designer William Morris who was a figurehead for the Arts and Crafts Movement during the late 19th to early 20th century. This style of chair is inspired by the folk chairs of Sussex. The design was copied by several other artisans during the period and is believed to be the precursor for modern-day recliners.
The Cogswell chair has a marked silhouette with a sloping back and armrests with open space underneath. They typically have cabriole front legs as well.
Many versions of these chairs are now available today, including overstuffed vintage designs and modern leather and chrome styles. These chairs offer a lot of comforts and are popularly used in living rooms and dens.
Eames lounge chairs have been in high demand since 1956 when they were first featured in the Arlene Francis Show. The chairs are modern, comfortable, and are created by leather and molded plywood by Charles and Ray Eames.
The chairs use three plywood shells to create the backrest, headrest, and the seat. These shells were initially made of Brazilian rosewood, though the use of the wood was discontinued later on. Today, the chairs are made of veneers of walnut, cherry, Palisander rosewood, and other sustainable woods. The chair also has a low seat permanently tilted at a recline and the seat swivels on an aluminum base.
Though not a typical seat, the Ottoman is a small stool that was created in the 18th century Ottoman Empire. The first versions were designed to be wrapped around three walls, though, it was later broken down into smaller pieces for individual use. These days, the Ottoman comes in a wide variety of designs.
One of the popular versions is the circular Ottoman which can be used as a free-standing piece of decoration as well as used as a chair. The curved Ottoman has a curved front with a flat back and is designed to fit with an upholstered chair. The French Ottoman is a more elaborate version, which features ornate woodwork and is designed to match the sofas.
The snuggler, also known as a chair and a half, is an extra-large upholstered chair that is just wide enough for two people to cuddle in. It is larger than a regular armchair but smaller than a settee. The width of the chair makes it great for curling up in or lounging.
The snuggler comes in a wide variety of styles and may contain a wide back and loose cushions for the seat and back. It may also have a fixed back with loose seat.
Chaise longue literally means “long chair” in French and is a relaxing and luxurious piece of furniture which allows you to stretch your full body on top of it without needing to use a footrest. Many people mistakenly call it “chaise lounge” because it used for lounging.
The chaise longue can be used as a stand-alone dramatic piece of furniture in a living room. It can be found in a wide variety of designs. Some variations include the fainting couch and the day bed.
The Farthingale chair is a small compact chair which was originally designed for women use in the late 16th century. This chair is defined by a wide cushioned and upholstered seat and has no arms. The backrest may or not be upholstered but the leg frames are bare and straight.
An interesting fact about this chair was that it was designed to accommodate hooped skirts that were in fashion during that time.
The iconic fiddleback chairs were created during the early 19th-century design movement and the First French Empire periods. These chairs consist of an upholstered seat and the middle section of the seatback is carved in the shape of a fiddle.
These chairs have remained very popular during the decades and the design has been incorporated in a wide range of styles. These days, the fiddleback chairs are more popularly used as dining chairs.
Occasional chairs or accents chairs, as their name suggests, are only used occasionally. This chair is usually used as an extra chair when you have guests over and provides a dramatic, decorative value, rather than a functional one most of the time.
These chairs are used as accents so they are typically available in different styles and shapes and can be very eye-catching. They are usually lightweight and armless, which makes it easy for them to be moved from room to room.
The Lawson style has a very low arm in comparison to the back of the chair and it can either be angular or rolled in shape. The style is simple, classic and elegant and it can be covered in a wide variety of fabrics, from suede to leather to linen.
One of the favorite chairs of the elderly, babies and everyone in between, the rocking chair is often placed in front porches of American homes. It is rumored that Benjamin Franklin invented the rocking chair. No matter its origin, the rocking chair has gained a place of importance in today’s living room.
The rocking chair also comes in a wide variety of styles, shapes, and sizes. Some have arms, others are armless. Some are upholstered while others are made of a cushion. However, the common factor is that they are almost always made of wood and is mounted on curved rockers.
A newer version of the rocking chair consists of a stationary pedestal with a suspended chair that moves, which is safer if you have crawling babies and pets in your home.
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Upholstery for your Chair
When you are shopping for new upholstery for your chair or for an upholstered chair, you need to be very practical. That means you need to think about your lifestyle and the use of the chair. This can guide you in buying the kind of upholstered chairs or upholstering material that you can use.
For example, you may love chairs that come upholstered with silken velvet; however, the beautiful upholstery will soon meet its demise if your house is filled with children and pets. Upholstery chairs in high-traffic areas like the living room or kitchen (if you place chairs in your kitchen) will need to have fortified and durable fabric that is not prone to much wear and tear. However, chairs that are not used a lot, for example the ones in your dining room that are only reserved for formal dinner can sport all kinds of fabric, even luxuriant brocade and velvet ones.
One of the biggest mistakes that people make when selecting fabric is that they do not consider how the material will age over time. If you are buying upholstered chairs, take a look at what material they are covered in, whether it can be cleaned easily, and how much maintenance it will need. You need to consider factors like how it will look in five years. If you like leather, you need to ask yourself whether you will like the look of patina that will develop with everyday living. You should also ask yourself whether your upholstery will need daily vacuuming to stay clean or would you need to close the drapes so that your fabric’s color does not bleach from exposure to the sunlight.
The Best Upholstered Chairs to Use If You Have Kids and Pets
A lot of people don’t allow their younger children and pets into the living room as it filled with beautiful and expensive furniture. However, these days, there are plenty of upholstery materials that you can use that not only look elegant but are durable as well. For homes that have kids and pets, upholstered chairs can be covered in faux suede or Sunbrella fabric that is fade-proof, stain-resistant and highly durable. Slip-covered upholstered chairs are also a great choice as is distressed leather because it can hide an occasional scuff or tear.
In case you have a busy household, it is not a good idea to use delicate, printed, and textured options like silk which can easily tar and hold on tight to stains.
The Best Upholstered Chairs to Use If You Want Luxury
If you are not worried about dirty hands, spilled drinks and sharp claws, you can really go all out when it comes to upholstery material. Some great fabric for an indulgent feel can be Belgian linen and Tibetan wool that are decadently soft. Although linen is quite a durable material, it is not very stain-resistant and a busy house will not have the crisp, fresh look once the kids are through your upholstered chairs. Many people also prefer to use different kinds of a luxe fabric that are not just cost-effective but can easily be swapped once new trends come along.
Considering the Shape and Size of the Chair
Before you go ahead and choose the perfect fabric for your chair, you need to take into account the style, shape, and size of the chair itself. If your chair is curvaceous, you should think about looking into solid-colored fabrics. Prints, patterns, and textures all have a distinct direction. When the piece of fabric is cut and attached to your chair, the direction of the pattern may not look right, especially if the design is particularly ornate.
Also, take into consideration the size of your chair. Larger sized chairs look good in neutral tones or rich solid shades so that you don’t get tired of seeing them again and again. If you want to create some accents or a statement furniture piece in your living room, take a smaller sized chair like an accent chair, Ottoman, slipper or a Farthingale chair, and decorate it with brighter colors and bolder patterns.
Also consider the other pieces of furniture in the room and see whether your upholstered chairs work well with their colors, patterns and textures.
Trying an Upholstery
The best way to ensure that you will like upholstery on a certain chair or will enjoy sitting on it is to go with something that you find in the store. However, if you fall in love with a fabric that you do not see on an upholstered chair, ask for a large swatch of that material and drape it on the chair of your choice to see if it looks good.
If you want to customize your upholstered chair with a patterned fabric, make sure you are completely able to see its full motif and complete color palette.
Although upholstered chairs are available in an innumerable variety, you need to make sure they match the home you live in. Also, take into account the size of the room you will be placing the furniture in. If the chair is extra-large and your room is compact, it can make the room look cluttered and cramped. However, if the room is large and spacious, a tiny chair in the corner will not have the impact you were expecting.
A little homework beforehand will prevent you from being disappointed when your new chair arrives at your doorstep.