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A Skelding Summary

Chairs throughout history have reflected the status of the person sitting in it. It was reflected in their construction, decoration, shape and function. Whether they were rich (a throne) or poor (a stool), whether they were young (a high chair) or old (a rocking chair.

Examples of chairs date back to the Ancient Egypt of some 1400 BC though it is the Ancient Greeks with their knack of having four sturdy wooden legs, a rest to rest your back and a seat to place your bottom - who had the greatest influence on seat design. Unsurprisingly this design (the klismos) was adopted by the Romans who subsequently introduced it to the Western and Northern European regions they conquered. In the late 18th century this design was revived in English furniture.

By the 17th and 18th centuries most carpenters and designers had got the message that chairs should actually hug the contours of the human body for comfort. Chairs of this period had bow shaped backs and curved legs. Arm rests as with the seat were not only padded but richly embroidered. Most chairs in England during this period were made of Walnut and Mahogany. The famous 'chaise longue' was the precursor of the sofa, being a chair on which a lady could recline.

In the 19th century in England simple medieval designs were reintroduced as a reaction to the frilliness of the design in the 1700s. This was also the period where chair legs were covered by the Victorians as they thought these legs - dead ringers for womenwomen's - which raises an alarming prospect that there must have been some strange looking women hobbling about in 1846.

In the twentieth century - wood went out of fashion as metal tubes were introduced by the German Bauhaus movement after the First World War . This process has increased with the use of man made materials such as pvc, hard plastic and foam - too often in a disconcerting green. Then the three piece suite still popular today. A sofa with two matching armchairs. Great furniture designers never seem to have tacked this lasting anomaly.

The Scandinavians brought wood back to Europe with their use of pine that was easily re-grown. The use of hardwoods became less favoured as they take hundreds of years to grow again. Status is still reflected. Plastic moulded chairs continue to proliferate - yet the comfort and beauty of wood still fetches a premium. A good chair was never cheap.

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By Laurence Skelding

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