Essay: History of Furniture

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¶ … Windsor chair created by furniture maker Joseph DeGant, circa 1810. The Windsor chair has a long history, and it traveled from England to North American in the 18th century. A classic chair design, it is still one of the most popular types of chairs today, used often as a side chair or dining table chair.

This particular Windsor chair was created in Halifax, Nova Scotia, sometime in the early 18th century. The chair maker was Joseph DeGant, who is believed to have the first chair manufacturing shop in Canada. Historically, the chair was developed in England, and named for the nearby town of Windsor, sometime in the 17th century. As it grew in popularity, the style traveled to America and then to Canada. The area around Philadelphia became well-known for producing high-quality Windsor chairs, and these shops soon took over in the production of these chairs. There are several distinctive types of Windsor chairs, and the main differences are the height and embellishment of the backs. This particular type of chair is a low-back variety with a square-shaped back. There are also high-back varieties that have much more ornate backs, as well.

Little is known about the chair maker. It is believed he opened his shop in Halifax around 1780, and he specialized in Windsor chairs. This chair's design is functional as well as attractive. There are two types of chair construction. The first is the "joined" chair, which is stronger, but more expensive to produce. The second is the "stick" chair, and the Windsor, like the ladder-back, are stick built chairs. The problem before the Windsor's introduction was that stick chairs were flimsier than joined chairs, and not all that comfortable. The Windsor's design allows the back to recline, and it is strong with its splayed legs, so it was much more comfortable, which is one reason it became so popular (Dillon). The chairs were constructed out of mixed woods, just like this particular chair. It is constructed of maple and other woods, and it is painted black, as many of the chairs were at that time. Most of the woods used were cheaper woods that were plentiful. Often the seat would be made of pine, the spindles would be made of hickory because it was more pliable, and the other components, like arms and legs, would be oak, ash, or maple for strength. If you look closely at the seat, you can see the wood grain through the paint, giving texture and a feeling of age to this chair. The ribs in the chair's back are turned to create deep grooves in them, giving them the appearance of bamboo, which is a nice design touch to make the chair more appealing.

The chairs appealed to all classes of people, and were used in many areas of the home. They became known as "Philadelphia chairs" in the U.S., and were even used in Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence was first drafted and signed. A writer notes, "Vernacular Windsor chairs were used both in public and private spaces, and appealed to all classes and ethnic groups" (Cook 78). As they became more popular, manufacturers made more of them, and they became less expensive, so more people could afford them. Another writer notes, "Suddenly Windsors were stylish and comfortable, and inexpensive enough to be purchased in sets. And purchase they did -- six, twelve, twenty-four at a time. For the wealthy they were an economical way to accommodate large groups; for average folks a few chairs for the dining table" (Dillon). These chairs were created for everyday use, so they stood up to wear and tear well, and since they were painted, if they began to show wear, the owner could just repaint them to make them "as good as new."

This chair is an excellent example of the low-back Windsor. It measures 81.3 centimeters in height, 44.5 in width, and 43.2 in depth, indicating it would hold a large adult comfortably. When viewed from the side, the chair has a definite slope toward the back. The seat gently slopes down from the front to back, the back slopes backward, and even the join of the legs slopes backward. It gives the… [END OF PREVIEW]

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