The Chair Guide: Styles, Materials, Construction, and Maintenance
Chairs are, by far, one of the most used pieces of furniture. With so many styles and options for materials, so it's no surprise that finding the right chair can become overwhelming. This article covers the materials and styles we use to guide our designs at World Interiors.
Chair making is an age-old profession. Even modern chair makers continue to use tried-and-true construction techniques, passed down from generation to generation. Recent innovations have allowed for cheaper chair construction methods; however, we elect to only use methods that ensure our chairs truly stand the test of time.
The Importance of a Solid Wood Frame
Just like a living being, chairs have a skeleton that serves as the core structure. The quality of the core structure deeply affects the rest of the piece and your wallet in the long run.
Compare and Contrast: Pre-Assembled Chairs VS Ready-to-Assemble
Most chairs on the market today are considered Ready-to-Assemble (RTA). If you've ever bought furniture from a major retailer, you've probably owned a RTA piece. RTA chairs typically come in a box with assembly instructions and require customer assembly.
RTA Chair Assembly Instructions
These chairs have grown in popularity over the years due to their inexpensiveness. Since these chairs can be disassembled, more chairs can be fit into each factory shipment, which allows manufacturers to bring more of these products to market while also cutting costs. Some of these savings are then passed to you, the consumer.
A big drawback of RTA chairs is their short lifespan. These pieces quickly deteriorate over time.
RTA chairs are made of lower quality materials to keep costs low. RTA chairs are primarily built of MDF, which is a much lower quality material when compared to solid wood.
Quality differences are most often noticed in chair legs. The MDF legs of an RTA chair tend to loosen, resulting in a wobbly chair. The legs begin to require regular tightening to be useable and eventually can no longer be tightened enough to remove the wobble. These legs are also prone to splitting, cracking, or breaking when subjected to extra stress--such as tilting the chair onto its back legs when seated.
At World Interiors, we avoid these cost-cutting methods. By using tried-and-true craftsmanship techniques, such as the implementation of mortise and tenon joints to hold our chair frames together, our pre-assembled solid wood framed chairs are rated to last 3-4 times longer than their RTA counterparts.
In order to create beautifully stunning chair legs, artisans use a wood lathe and a variety of tools to gradually turn a 2x4 piece of solid wood into a detailed, round chair leg. This process is also used to make legs for other pieces of furniture, such as tables.
Mortise and Tenon Joints
Mortise and Tenon is a technique that craftsmen have used for thousands of years to join pieces of wood at right angles. This technique involves cutting the mortise tongue at the end of one piece in order to fit the tenon hole carved into the adjoining piece. This process requires a high degree of accuracy to ensure that the joint is tight enough so that the wood does not slip, while also being loose enough to allow the wood to breath, greatly reducing the chances of parts of the piece cracking or splitting.
We mainly use solid wood, cast iron, and upholstery materials, such as leather or linen. All materials used for our pieces are sustainably-sourced and eco-friendly.
One of the most prevalent and time-honored materials featured in chair designs is solid wood. Solid wood is popular due to its durability, repairability, reusability, and beautiful grain patterns.
Birch Wood is one of the most durable softwoods, with a Janka hardness rating of 1,260 pounds--that's denser than some Oak trees, including Red Oak.
While Birch Wood is one of the most durable softwoods, it is also susceptible to rot and insect attack. When finished and sealed with our low-VOC sealant, it will last a lifetime with minimal maintenance indoors. We do not recommend placing any of our furniture outside.
Used for millennia in furniture construction, carpentry, and even shipbuilding, Oak is a popular hardwood for making furniture . It was a favorite material of many famous designers such as Frank Lloyd Wright and Gustav Stickley.
When you look at the characteristics of Oak, it's no surprise why it's so widely praised. White Oak, the species we use in our pieces, has an average Janka hardness rating of 1,350 pounds; it's an incredibly dense and durable wood.
Oak wood also grows all over the world in great numbers, making it an eco-friendly and cost-effective material to use. The durability of Oak keeps it out of landfills, while the water-based finish we apply ensures that hazardous gas emissions are kept at a minimum.
Sheesham, or Indian Rosewood, is a species of deciduous tree typically found in the Indian subcontinent. It has a wide variety of uses such as marine and aircraft plywood, fuel for cooking and heating food, creating musical instruments, ornamental turnery, sporting goods, carvings, and engravings. It is another hardwood that is not only durable, but also decay resistant.
Sheesham wood is one of the hardest woods in the world with a Janka hardness rating of 1,660 pounds. Sheesham is resistant to cracking, splitting, and warping--an excellent choice for furniture construction.
Since Sheesham wood is widely sought after and subject to exploitation in the past, the Indian government has regulated its cultivation and harvesting.
All our Sheesham wood furniture uses reclaimed Sheesham wood. By opting to use reclaimed wood, we ensure that our furniture does not contribute to further deforestation and exploitation of Sheesham forests.
Acacia wood, is found growing in forests throughout the world. The species we use, Babul Acacia, has a variety of uses, from medicinal ingredients to carpentry material.
Acacia wood is an incredibly durable hardwood. With a Janka hardness rating of 2,300 pounds, Acacia wood is incredibly well suited for daily use and is naturally water and rot resistant.
Babul Acacia is typically plantation grown for its sap, called Gum Arabic. After harvesting the sap, the trees that are cut down are then used to make our furniture, such as our Artezia Industrial Modern Drafting Desk.
A symbol of strength and resilience, iron is a pliable yet strong metal that has been used for thousands of years to create tools, weapons, vehicles, and, of course, furniture.
Cast Iron vs Forged Iron
There are two processes we use to create our iron products - casting and forging. The cast iron process involves fully melting down the iron and pouring it into a cast. Forged iron involves heating the metal and hammering it into a specific shape.
Cast iron is a more cost-effective option used more commonly with pieces that undergo less stress, such as chairs. While not quite as strong as forged iron, cast iron is still rated to last a lifetime with proper care. It is also generally preferred for more complex pieces, as it is much easier to pour iron into a cast than it is to forge it into shape.
Forged iron, is used for pieces that need both strength and durability, while handling a lot of stress. Forged iron can retain its shape, while withstanding immense pressure. Since the process is more involved, forged iron products tend to also be more expensive.
We use a variety of materials for our upholstery, from top-grain leather to luxurious linens. These materials function to enhance the comfort of the chair as well as protect the frame. While there are many different materials used to upholster chairs, we will discuss leather and cloth upholstery. For a more in-depth look at upholstered furniture, read our Seating Upholstery Guide.
Leather is a durable material that traditionally comes from the tanning of animal hides. It is incredibly durable, with top-grain leather having a lifespan of up to 30 years. Also, over time, a rich patina can form showing the piece's true colors.
Cloth is material that is typically made from plant fibers. This makes it a more sustainable and eco-friendly material than leather but less durable. Cloth is typically easier to maintain than leather but has a shorter lifespan. Because cloth is much easier to dye than leather, cloth can be incorporated into a variety of designs and styles.
Chairs have been around since Ancient Egypt. Influenced by cultures and civilizations all over the world, chair styles continue to evolve and reflect the designs seen today.
The side chair is the most popular type of chair. It is the quintessential dining chair, with a straight back and no arms. These typically come in standard sizes: 15-18" width x 16-18" depth x 16-22" height.
This type of chair is very versatile and can be used for a variety of floor plans and in all positions of the table, including the head of the table.
In addition to its dining applications, side chairs function well as accent seating. Especially if you want a more minimalist aesthetic, the compact design of this style is great for accentuating the negative space around it.
The Melbourne Industrial Modern Dining Chair is a great example of a contemporary take on the side chair. This piece makes use of geometric shapes and negative space to create a simple, yet elegant look that appeals to the modern eye. In addition, the suede and cast iron build ensures that it will last 3-4 times longer than most other chairs out on the market.
First created in the 1930s, the Parson style chair is a taller, more slender version of the traditional side chair. The taller back offers more support and comfort while also serving to create a more transitional style.
The transitional style of Parson chairs can be incorporated into a variety of settings, much like their side chair counterparts. The flexibility of this chair style is why Parson chairs have only grown in popularity since their inception.
The Bristol Linen Dining Chair exemplifies the modern parson chair. With its sleek design and tall back padded with foam cushions, this piece offers a stylish yet comfortable choice for seating. The solid birch wood frame of this chair also ensure that it will last much longer than Ready-to-Assemble lookalikes.
An armchair, as the name suggests, is a chair with arm rests mounted to the sides for enhanced comfort. This chair type has been around for millennia, available in both traditional and contemporary styles.
Armchairs come in a variety of different designs. Armchairs are commonly used in formal spaces and at the head of the table in formal dining rooms.
Other armchairs, such as the Chiavari Distressed Ebony Leather Armchair, are built to serve as accent pieces. These pieces are built for comfort above all else. For example, the Chiavari's top-grain leather is upholstered over an oak frame, fitted with high density foam cushions and heavy gauge sinuous springs. Although it sits lower than a standard dining table, the seat is much deeper, which makes it much more suitable for some R&R.
Originating around the time of the Middle Ages, ladder-back chairs are also considered a side chair. These chairs typically have a taller back with multiple horizontal slats that make up the back rest--allowing for easier transportation.
Ladder-back chairs are generally featured in more transitional styles due to its more informal design while still utilizing more traditional materials.
Some ladder-back chairs, such as our Bruges Dining Chair, can also work in contemporary settings as well. Its dark walnut stain with a black seat lends itself well to spaces where neutral colors are dominant, like many modern dining spaces.
Cross back, also called X-back chairs, originated in 20th century French cafes. This style adds a modern flair to the traditional dining chair, making it an excellent transitional style between vintage and contemporary design.
These chairs were originally made of iron, but modern takes on this style feature a variety of materials, including solid wood such as the Teak wood in our Anderson French Industrial Dining Chair. This dining chair offers a teak wood and all-iron variety, allowing for some versatility when outfitting a more industrial style space.
The Anderson French Dining Chair offers a peak into traditional cross-back chair design. These typically feature a combination of masculine and feminine forms which culminate in a piece that gives off both strength and elegance simultaneously.
A traditional style originating in 17th century England, winged chairs are club chairs with "wings" mounted to the sides. This design choice actually traps in heat, leading to a warm, comfy seating place. Winged chairs are almost always upholstered, with a solid wood frame and exposed wooden legs.
The Charles chair is an excellent example of a traditional winged chair. Top-grain leather is upholstered over a solid oak frame and tufted to create a classic diamond pattern. The result is a piece that would be right at home in Sherlock's study.
The Charles chair also serves as a good case study for quality chair construction. The deconstructed back allows us to take a look the bare frame, which is the base from which a high quality chair is constructed.
Upholstered dining chairs simply refers to chairs that have material upholstered over the frame. This is typically done to add contrast to a piece while also enhancing comfort, because of the added cushion between the chair frame and upholstery.
The upholstery process is fairly labor-intensive; much of the process must still be done by hand.
Wood Frame Chair
Last but certainly not least, the traditional wood frame dining chair. Like the name suggests, these chairs are constructed entirely of wood.
Although wood frame chairs tend to be built with more traditional dining spaces in mind, they be incorporated into many different types of spaces. The key to adding these chairs to your space is to choose a design that contrasts the space or choose something more minimal to blend in with your decor. Consider adding matching cushions and cool accent pieces to add more comfort and to make your space feel even more cozy.
The Chatham Downs Dining Chair is a traditional wood dining chair. It features a solid mango wood frame, created using the craftsmanship techniques discussed earlier in this article, complete with hand-turned, detailed front legs.