The word klismos is of Greek origin and signifies an armchair. What we today recognize as the klismos chair is also of Greek origin, and this ancient chair form was extensively used by them. While we do not know exactly what the first klismos chair looked like, we have found enough depictions on Greek pottery to form an idea of its development over time.
An ancient chair form
The chair originally had a braided seat, but its real beauty lay in its frame. The chair had four saber legs which were shaped so that they were extended or splayed outward in front and back. In the back, its legs formed part of the S-shaped sweep which gave the klismos chair its easily recognizable profile.
Two styles that were a continuation of the back leg supported a central, concave shaped slat at shoulder height. It was the graceful curves of the legs and the back along with the counterbalances they formed that truly gave this elegant chair its distinctive character. This distinctive shape and its modified versions are what we still see today on chairs that are inspired by it.
The klismos chair was popular throughout the Greek period and can be seen supporting seated figures on many fine pottery pieces. The shape of the chair was perfected by the 5th century BC when it attained its greatest popularity in Greece.
It remained popular throughout the 4th century BC, and the shape changed somewhat in the later Hellenistic period after 323 BC. It was around this time that the back became thicker and the legs less elegant. The Romans adopted this chair form, too, but their version was even heavier than the late Hellenistic one.
The klismos chair through history
While the proportions can vary tremendously, the shape of this chair has been a source of inspiration throughout history. It has made several re-appearances, most notably in English Regency and Empire styles when the shape was revived in the late 18th century in Western Neo-Classical style furniture throughout Europe.
It was a popular form in French Directoire, English Regency, and American Empire furniture. The shape underwent changes and modifications as it was re-introduced and such is the case today, too.
There have been many interpretations of the klismos form in more recent history. One of these came with the Elastic Chairs made by Samuel Gragg of Boston, MA in the first decade of the 19th century. He patented that design. British-born Terence Harold Robsjohn-Gibbings designed a klismos chair with a woven seat around 1937 that is now part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art collections. Many more examples that were based on the klismos chair exist.
Modern reincarnations of a popular form
Variations on this design have continued throughout the 20th century. The chair has found favor in today's furniture styles as well. You will notice that it appears in many modern collections, such as the chair featured here, which is from Vanguard Furniture. This particular chair was designed by Thom Felicia, who has designed several other chairs based on this profile. Both armchairs and side chairs are available.
The very simple yet elegant form is suitable both as a dining chair or as an accent chair. And you can find it in smaller narrower profiles as well as more generous ones. It can be found with, or without arms.
Pronounce it correctly: kliz-mos