Styles of Antique Side Chairs

Types of Occasional and Dining Room Seating

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...MORE 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 with the exception of the legs. These are more comfortable for long periods of sitting, and can have more versatility when used in a living room setting or in other areas of a home in comparison to traditional antique dining chairs like the examples shown here. 

  • 01 of 07

    Fancy Chair

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

    This is a light, portable chair painted and/or decorated with colorful stencils with an emphasis on gold. They 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 though the popularity of this style of decoration continued into the mid-1800s.

    While primarily associated with chairs, the term "fancy"...MORE 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 much be in all around excellent condition.

  • 02 of 07

    Hitchcock Chair

    The Hitchcock chair is a particular brand of mass-produced "fancy chair" (as depicted in the photo above). 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. 

    Learn more reading: The Hitchcock Chair: America's First Mass-Produced Chair Style.

  • 03 of 07

    Ladder-Back Chair

    Ladder Back Side Chair Example
    Ladder Back Side Chair Example. 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...MORE 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

    Ribbon-Back Chair

    RibbonBackChair.jpg
    19th-Century Mahogany Ribbon Carved Chippendale Style Armchair. Pia's Antique Gallery on RubyLane.com

    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 literal 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...MORE 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 (see above), in which the wavy pierced slats are looped in the center, like a stylized bow.

    Continue to 5 of 7 below.
  • 05 of 07

    Shaker Chair

    Side chair from the Watervliet, N.Y. Shaker Community circa 1840-1850. Back legs have been cut at an angle in Tilter style.
    Side chair from the Watervliet, N.Y. Shaker Community circa 1840-1850. Back legs have been cut at an angle in Tilter style. Connecticut Yankee Antiques and Collectibles on RubyLane.com

    The most recognizable style of Shaker chair is the traditional slat- or ladder-back version (as shown here), but there were actually 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.

    Learn more about this chair style, and the religious sect known as the Shakers, reading Shaker Chairs: Recognizable Styles in American Furniture.

  • 06 of 07

    Windsor Chair

    Gunston Hall Painted Windsor Chairs.
    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...MORE and over through the centuries since then, and modern versions are still being marketed today. 

    Learn more reading The Windsor Chair: All About America's First Piece of Furniture.

  • 07 of 07

    Yoke-Back Chair

    Pair of Yoke-Back Chairs
    Pair of Yoke-Back Side Chairs.

    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, as illustrated here) is not uncommon.

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

    Special thanks to Troy Segal, former contributing writer, for her assistance with this article.