Windsor chair: The “democratic chair” of the independent American nation

Katerina Bulovska

Designed for practicality and made popular by a king, the Windsor chair went on to be the seat of choice for our Founding Fathers. These are the chairs that furnish the Assembly Room of Philadelphia’s Independence Hall.

In Britain in the early 18th century, gardens were popular places for socializing. The English nobility enjoyed their afternoon tea, had modest meals, played instruments, sang, and danced in these green spaces.

As they were spending much of their time outdoors, they had to constantly bring out the furniture from inside and then take it back. But, the entire process was not practical at all, plus the furniture was quite heavy.

And then, a new, strong, comfortable, and most important of all, a lighter version of rustic seating appeared, known as the Forest chair.

These chairs were made especially for outdoor use, using wood such as yew, ash, and fruitwoods. People even painted them green so they could easily blend in with the garden.

One day, King George III noticed the forest chair in one of his subject’s gardens and was amazed by the new design he had never seen before. He ordered such chairs to be made for Windsor Castle at once, from trees of Windsor Forest, and by doing so started the new trend.

Forest chairs became so popular that people started to make them for the interior also, only stained and polished rather than painted green.

In London, both the indoor and the outdoor chairs were named Windsor chairs, and soon the design spread to the colonies as well.

Windsor chair. Author: Brian Sawyer. CC BY 2.0

In Colonial America, the first Windsor chair appeared around 1730 in Philadelphia.

Originally they were made of poplar, but later multiple kinds of wood were used, such as hickory, oak, chestnut, birch, maple and other trees.

Popularity of the style quickly spread across America, with Philadelphia being the leading exporter around the country. After the American Revolution, the chairs were known as Philadelphia chairs.

Fan-back Windsor chair. Author: Bill Showalter. CC BY 2.0

The Founding Fathers of the United States also favored these chairs and it is believed that Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence sitting on a Windsor chair.

Also, the Assembly Room in the Pennsylvania State House, where the Second Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence, was furnished with Windsor chairs made by the cabinetmaker Francis Trumble.

Windsor chairs in the Assembly Room of Philadelphia’s Independence Hall, where the Second Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence. Author: Rdsmith4. CC BY-SA 2.5

A monarch might have popularized the chair, but in the newly formed country it became the “democratic chair”. Santore, the writer of The Windsor Style in America would say that the chair “knew no social boundaries.”

They could be noticed in every household; people loved them because they were affordable and comfortable.

Windsor chairs are considered to be the first chair of the Independent nation and many believe them to be the first mass-produced design of furniture in the United States.

Windsor chairs. Author: Brian Sawyer. CC BY 2.0

Initially, the original English design of the chair was reproduced in the United States, however, in time the country started to develop its own unique styles.

The new designs are named after the shapes of the chair’s back. The bow-back Windsor side chair, fan-back side chair, and high-back side chair are just a couple of the new names and designs, but the best-known remains undoubtedly the sack-back or hoop-back Windsor.

Sack-back Windsor chair. Author: Bill Showalter. CC BY 2.0

The golden age of the chair was between 1725 and 1860, but it held an enduring popularity even in subsequent years. The color of the chair also changed depending on the current trends.

Initially painted green, from 1780 to the 1850s red became the popular color, and towards the end of the 19th century, black paint was a must.

Nowadays, people can paint their Windsor chairs in the color of the historic period they would like the chair to represent.

Windsor chairs at Monticello. Author: eap0323. CC BY 2.0

Authentic 18th- and early 19th-century Windsor chairs are extremely expensive. Prices at auction vary, depending on how well the chairs are preserved and whether or not they retain their original paint.

Various types of Windsor chairs are still produced and the mass-market versions are widely purchased. Also, local craftsmen are continuing the tradition by using old methods to make well-crafted pieces.

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The Windsor chair has remained popular over the years because of its timeless design and classic beauty.