Styles of Antique Side Chairs

Two Art Deco chair

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Side chairs, by definition, are chairs without arms. While this type of antique chair is typically associated with use in a dining room, they are quite portable, and some were (and still are) used in other areas of the home as well.

Dining chairs made for use at the heads of tables do have arms, and many antique dining suites were sold with both armed and unarmed versions in the same basic style. Keeping this in mind, examples of dining chairs with arms are being lumped into the side chair category here since they are indeed related.

Also remember that in addition to all-wood versions, side chairs can have finished seats that may be upholstered or caned. In some instances, these types of chairs might have upholstered backs as well. For the most part though, the actual frame of an antique side chair—with or without arms—won't be covered with fabric.

Some modern side chairs are more generously upholstered except for the legs. These are more comfortable for long periods of sitting and can have more versatility when used in a living room setting or other areas of a home in comparison to traditional antique dining chairs like the examples shown here. 

  • 01 of 07


    Hitchcock Chair Profile and Front Veiws
    Pia's Antique Gallery on

    This is a light, portable chair painted and/or decorated with colorful stencils with an emphasis on gold. Fancy chairs often have cane or rush seats, like the examples shown here.

    The fancy chair is derived from ​Sheraton designs and developed around the turn of the 19th century when the United States was young. It belongs to the Federalist style of furniture and the popularity of this style of decoration continued into the mid-1800s.

    While primarily associated with chairs, the term "fancy" came to be applied to other sorts of painted furniture including some settees, nightstands, and various types of cabinets.

    It is important to note that a fancy chair (or any other type of fancy furniture) is much more valuable if the painted designs and gilding are all original without subsequent touch-ups. To bring top dollar, they must be in all-around excellent condition.

  • 02 of 07


    two hitchcock chairs in store

    NCJW Home Consignments / Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

    The Hitchcock chair is a particular brand of mass-produced "fancy chair." So while the name fancy chair is a generic one used to describe a painted chair with intricate stencils, a Hitchcock chair would be one in which the origin has been traced to Lambert Hitchcock's Connecticut workshop. 

  • 03 of 07


    Ladder Back Side Chair
    Morphy Auctions

    This style is sometimes referenced as a slat-back as an alternative to ladder-back. It is a slender chair in which the back consists of two poles connected by several horizontal slats which resemble a ladder. The slats may be straight or slightly curved. In a well-proportioned ladder-back chair, the thickness of the horizontal slats will balance out the height of the overall piece.

    A variation of the ladder-back is one style of the ribbon-back chair. In these examples, the chair will have wavy pierced slats looped in the center like a stylized bow.

    This old type of chair dates back as far as the Middle Ages, and it is a characteristic style of country furniture (such as that made by the Shakers as noted below), though more formal versions exist as well.

  • 04 of 07


    19th-Century Mahogany Ribbon Carved Chippendale Style Armchair
    Pia's Antique Gallery on

    There are two different versions of ribbon-back chairs:

    The first is a Rococo chair style featuring an ornate, pierced splat (the element running horizontally down the chair back) formed of two long C-scrolls knotted and interlaced to appear like tied ribbons and topped with a carved ribbon in a tasseled bow. Originating in the early 18th century, it is especially associated with the chairs of ​Chippendale, whose original designs featured a bow in the center as well. Later the term ribbon-back was applied more loosely to any elaborately pierced and curved splat, like the example shown here. 

    Ribbon-back can also refer to a variation of a ladder-back chair, in which the wavy pierced slats are looped in the center, like a stylized bow.

    Continue to 5 of 7 below.
  • 05 of 07


    Isolated old shaker chair

    harmpeti / Getty Images

    The most recognizable style of Shaker chair is the traditional slat- or ladder-back version, but there were many types including those with Windsor styling (see below) and a rotating chair known as a revolver. And, of course, there’s the front porch favorite, the Shaker rocking chair.

  • 06 of 07


    Gunston Hall Painted Windsor Chairs.

    Justin.A.Wilcox / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

    Windsor chairs are all wood with backs and sides consisting of multiple thin, turned spindles that are attached to a solid, sculpted seat. The straight legs in this chair style splay outward and the backs recline slightly. Some examples have thicker decorative splats running down the back with spindles on either side, while others consist of all spindles.

    The classic Windsor chair takes its name from the English town of Windsor, where it originated around 1710. This style has been produced over and over through the centuries since then, and modern versions are still being marketed today. 

  • 07 of 07


    close-up of Chinese yoke-back traditional armed chairs

    View Stock / Getty Images

    Yoke-back, or yoke-crest, refers to the shape of the top rail of a chair’s back in which two S-shaped pieces emulate the curve of an actual ox yoke. The yoke-shaped element may have protrusions beyond the stiles or be curved (as shown here). Styles of back splats used with yoke-back top rails can vary, but the incorporation of the vasiform splat (a vase- or urn-shaped splat) is not uncommon.

    This type of top rail originated with Chinese chairs, but it was also widely used in Queen Anne, Chippendale, and other recognizable styles of American furniture.