An old piece I wrote for Sotheby’s The Collector magazine…
There is an old Hepplewhite chair at my mothers house, deep brown mahogany, only slightly chipped, with a vivid blood red seat and a back so exquisitely curved that it’s hard to countenance that it was made by man and not nature. She places it by the Aga and sits in it during the winter months on days when she can’t quite bring herself to turn the heating up for fear of what her late mother would think. It was, after all, her mother’s chair.
If you were to see it in your local antiques centre you would probably walk past it and move on to something else. Something a little less worn, with a little less sag in the seat. And so you should, for this is not your chair. You need to find a chair that can tell your story, one where you and your family will sit and make your own indentations. Chairs are rather unique like that. More than any other piece of furniture, they hold our memories within their frame, of the stories that were told, the meals that were eaten, the laughs, the tears, all within its brilliantly simple structure. Functional, yes, but also a chance to show your individuality through the choices you make.
So what do you look for when choosing your antique chair? Here we take a look at three classic examples to give you a flavour of what you can expect to find on the market. With so many to choose from in such a huge variety of styles, you will have to let instinct guide you to some extent, while keeping in mind that if you are looking for an investment piece, authenticity is absolutely key.
You can’t go too wrong however with a comb back chair, and while their popularity continues to rise across auction rooms, you can hopefully find something unique if you have a good dig around. Originally intended as an 18th century working man’s chair, comb backs were often made to a simple formula by wheel-wrights and carpenters (as opposed to specialist furniture makers) which gives them their wonderful earthy feel. A beautiful addition to a country rustic scheme or a stand out piece with a minimalist décor, the warm tonal shades of ash and elm will ensure this chair is always an inviting place to sit. A great investment piece, as the popularity for simplicity and the lovingly handmade doesn’t look like it will wane anytime soon, but expect to pay around £1,500 – £5,000 for a first rate one at auction.
Our next chair is the more genteel George III mahogany wingback armchair, a charming, elegant and regal piece that will still allow a cosy curl up with a good book. The solid square frame and moulded legs support it’s two characteristic wings, designed primarily to keep drafts out in those large chilly stately homes. The earlier Georgian examples are nearly always leather, with tapestry being a later feature, and at auction, the larger and more sturdy chairs will realise the higher prices. A smart buy, not just for its distinct clear lines and quirky usefulness, but for its enduring appeal with buyers. The lower end of the market starts at around £500 but you can pay anything up to £10,000 for a particularly fine example.
Our final chair is our least expensive, but possibly also our most tricky. The ubiquitous Victorian easy armchair can be bought for a bargain at sale rooms across the country or even with a click of a button on eBay, and with decent period examples going for as little as £2-300, it appears to be a judicious purchase. But with contemporary armchairs selling for similar prices in shops up and down the high street and in styles far more likely to compliment contemporary décor, why would you buy one? Well, this is where you have the opportunity to find something that really suits your style and taste, and with so many variations in colour and pattern available on the market, you are certain to discover an authentic chair that can start to tell your story. You can of course just pop down to Ikea, but when you have the chance to buy something with a bit of history in its bones, why would you not?