When I was a kid I grew up in a home which had many pieces of antique furniture; my favourite pieces were two enormous wing chairs upholstered in cherry red velvet that were in the parlour of our ancient three-storey brick home.
These chairs had an overstuffed seat and tall channel tufted backs which were crowned with ornately carved dark wood. My friends and I used to sit in these chairs and pretend we were waiting to visit the queen as we sipped tea.
The wing chair or club chair has been a solid piece of design necessity since the 1600s when they were made from wood. These chairs had tall backs and closed in arms which kept drafts at bay and to draw the fireplace heat to and around the occupants.
The style was not as important as the function and these chairs seem to have been created solely for the purpose of keeping people warm and protected from drafts.
Since heating a home has become more efficient and consistent, the wing chair has developed and evolved from being merely a heat trapping chair and has blossomed into endless styles from traditional to contemporary.
The French took hold of this pedestrian style and added padding (usually made from horsehair) and embroidered and velvet feel fabrics.
The seat was widened and the back reclined slightly to take this from function to comfort and the art of leisure was born.
Styles have wound through the centuries to include scroll back, bat wing and butterfly back wing chairs.
The legs, as a rule, are wooden although I have seen some wing chairs with upholstered feet. Traditionally, the wooden legs end in a ‘ball and claw’ foot which was originally created by the Chinese which showed a dragons claw enclosing around a pearl or stone.
English furniture makers adapted this style to look more like a bird talon or a lion’s paw and many pieces of furniture can be identified solely by their ball and claw style as many craftsman used these as their signature on furniture which was artfully crafted.
Today, our style is markedly more modern and streamlined but the wing chair remains an important part of room design.
The backs have flattened and the arms of the chair may not have the scroll, carved wood or heavy detail of early English style but tufting and channeled upholstery still makes a strong statement today.
Even with a purely contemporary interior, a wing chair can be used as a soft point accent in any room as they are created in enough styles to suit any interior. For those people who want a true taste of a traditional wing chair, it is a thrilling discovery to find one at auction or estate sale and to choose to re-upholster it to suit your needs.
Whether you choose elaborate or minimalist, you will love incorporating wing chairs into your design.
They make a wonderful addition to dining rooms and always create a cozy corner to retreat to in any room of your choosing.
You can also choose to echo the experience of your ancestors and pull a chair up in front of a warm fire to keep the drafts at bay on a chilly evening at home.
Kim Wyse is a Central Alberta freelance designer. Find her on facebook at ‘Ask a Designer/Ask a Realtor’.