Known by many names and crafted in various designs, the Wing Back Chair definitely made its way through history – from the 17th century fireplace-featuring salons to modern 21st century living rooms.
When first introduced, in England, in the early 1600s, the Wing Back Chair was initially designed to be a fireplace companion. The unique and cutting-edge design – high back with curved wings that rose up from the arms jutting out around ear level, had dual purpose. The first purpose was to protect sitter from cold draughts and the second purpose was to protect the sitter from the fireplace’s heat.
The Lug Chair
In Europe, the Wing Back Chair was popularly known as the Lug chair, Saddle-cheeks chair and Ohrensessel chair. The term lug is an old-fashioned British word that translates to ears. In fact all synonyms were derived from words that more or less translate to ears. This is because the elevated sides look a lot like ears.
The Easy Chair
On the other hand, in the United States the Wing Back Chair was called Easy chair. The synonym was invented because the Wing Back Chair was most commonly placed in bedrooms and intended for frail and tired people.
The Grandfather Chair
Regardless of the continent and period, both the antique and the modern Wing Back Chair have one thing in common – they are closely associated with elderly people. In a nutshell, the generously padded and built-in draught-proofing design offered comfort and practicality to elders. Therefore, another popular name for the Wing Back Chair is Grandfather Chair.
When looking at the Wing Back Chair’s refined and luxurious design it is hard to imagine that the chair was initially crafted to be practical rather than good-looking. The main idea was to protect the user’s back and sides from chilly draughts.
At this point, it should be noted that the Wing Back Chair is not the earliest piece of furniture featuring elevated sides for anti-draught purposes. In fact, high-backed wooden benches and settles found in English Manor inns and houses had wings decades before the first Wing Back Chair was invented. However, the designing of the first Wing Back Chair brought the term practicality to a whole new level. This is because the already existing benches and settles with elevated wings and backs were made of wood and other simple materials. Simply put, because of the used materials, the benches and settles were not very comfortable. As a contrast, the new Wing Back Chair was upholstered and quite cozy.
Similarity to Queen Anne Style
As the design progressed and the chair’s popularity increased, famous cabinet-makers of the age, like for example the Chippendale in London, began designing elegant frames that would set-off the luxurious and carefully chosen upholstery. Soon after appearing in Europe, the Wing Back Chair became famous in the United States as well. To differentiate the new Wing Back Chair from earlier designs, the American cabinet-makers started adding smoothly curved frame lines and cabriole legs. These new features brought the Wing Back Chair’s design close to the already immensely popular Queen Anne furniture.
Over time, the Wing Back Chairs changed but constantly followed the present trends. For example, during the Colonial and Georgian era, vividly colored fabrics and bright patterns were common. Later on, restorers of 18th century antiques preferred plain and simple fabrics in pale colors. The leather upholstery remained popular during all periods and eras. Wing Back Chairs made during the Louis XV and Hepplewhite era featured lower seats in the bergere style.
Nowadays, thanks to contemporary furniture designers we have Wing Back Chairs of all sorts, shapes and sizes. Modern cabinet-makers are perfectly capable of making the ideal blend by mixing the Wing Back Chair’s antique concept with cutting-edge, high-end contemporary design. Modern Wing Back Chairs can be used in many ways around the house. For example, next to fireplaces, for warming up entryways, in lieu of dining chairs, as bedroom accents, doubled-up in living rooms, as stand-in for desk chairs and for creating a reading nook.
In a nutshell, in spite of its humble beginnings, rooted in practicality and style, the Wing Back Chair managed to withstand the test of time.