The Simple Elegance of the Parsons Chair

What is a Parsons chair? These comfortable and stylish chairs had their heyday in the 1930s, but they’re still quite popular. Here’s why…

By Teri Olcott

 

Dining room chairs come in many styles. The Parsons chair is a traditional and comfortable chair that’s often associated with fine dining and elegant dining rooms. Usually sold in sets of two or four, Parsons chairs are traditionally high-backed, cushioned, and armless. Due to their design and comfort, a Parsons chair can also be used away from the dining table. They make for an excellent reading chair or just an extra chair for company in the living room.

 

view

 

The History of the Parsons Chair

The Parsons chair is named for the Parsons School of Design. The chair was designed and constructed by the students, and several different departments were involved with the final product. The chair was then sold to fine furniture stores. The look of the Parsons chair was so well-liked that craftsmen in the field began to copy the design into their own chairs. Dining room tables were made to go with the chairs and sold as a matched set.

 

view

 

Design and Construction

The Parsons chair is a simple yet elegant chair. Popular in the 1930s, the design of the chair went against the need for excessive carving and ornamentation seen on most fine furniture of that time. The chair was made from different types of hardwoods and featured clean lines, slightly curved or straight tapered legs, a tall, straight upholstered back, and an upholstered and padded seat. A true Parsons chair is armless, but a few were designed with curved side pieces that extended from the back of the chair. The padding on the back and seat made the chairs very comfortable. The upholstery gave the chairs an expensive look, and homeowners could request colors and patterns to best match their current décor.

 

view

 

Emphasis on Comfort

The very first Parsons chairs were designed to be comfortable rather than fashionable. Dining room chairs were usually made from wood and although elaborate, few had any padding and were quite uncomfortable. Those that were padded were often lumpy and heavy. The Parsons chair was one of the first dining room chairs to feature a cushioned seat. The seats, in conjunction with the straight, high, padded back gave the chair a very comfortable feel. The chairs were also light and could easily be moved from room to room.

 

view

 

Versatility

The high-backed Parsons chair was made to be used at a dining room table but was elegant enough to sit in just about any room in a house. Later on, Parsons tables were constructed using the same clean lines of the chair, and matched sets were soon available. A dining room suite included a table and a minimum of four chairs. The tables had a sleek, modern look, and were much smaller than the heavy and elaborate tables of the time. They took up less space, but could still comfortably accommodate a large family.

 

view

 

The simple look of the chairs allowed them to blend in with any décor. Chairs could be bought individually, and they came in enough colors and patterns to be compatible with existing furnishings. The upholstery could also be custom-ordered. Many people purchased a single chair for a sitting room or living room just to have a different color and texture in the room.

 

Today’s Parsons Chairs

Parsons chairs, which haven’t changed much from their original design, are still popular, and most furniture stores carry them in a wide variety of styles. You will find them in different wood finishes and the upholstery ranges from solid colored to patterned, leather, faux leather, button tufted, smooth, and even skirted. Nothing says posh like  a skirted Parsons chair. If you don’t like the look of your Parsons chair, there are lots of decorative Parsons dining room chair slipcovers on the market that will quickly dress up your chair and add some spice to your dining area. Although no longer individually handmade on a wide scale, Parsons chairs are still a quality chair. As with any kind of furniture, there are cheaply-made versions that will not hold up well to everyday use. A basic Parsons chair has a price tag starting at around $50 and is often sold in sets of two. You can sometimes get a good deal on an older Parsons chair in an antique or thrift store. The chairs are very easy to get reupholstered.

 

view

 

Tired of your hard wooden dining room chairs? A Parsons chair can be both formal or casual and is designed to go with almost any dining room décor. An upholstered dining room chair will add a touch of elegance to any space and can double as a living room chair when needed. You can’t go wrong by adding a couple of these fine chairs to your home.

 

Images used with permission, courtesy of www.shutterstock.com

Next: Reviving That Old Furniture to Make a Perfect Accent for Baby’s Room