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Homage to the Chair

THE WINDSOR CHAIR FIRST APPEARED in England around 1700 and came to the colonies not long after. From the time of the Pharoahs, chairs had been made with the back an extension of the rear legs, and most are still variations on that original upright ladderback model. The Windsor innovation was to split the chair into two separately engineered systems attached independently to the seat. Now the legs could be splayed and raked for maximum stability while the back could rise up out of the seat at a much more comfortable angle.

The early Windsors were large, individually made, and only for the luxury trade. Sometime in the middle of the 18th century it became fashionable to set out an array of green painted Windsors for lawn parties, and the demand for them surged. Craftsmen responded by making them somewhat smaller and lighter, standardizing leg and stretcher dimensions, and since they were to be painted anyway, using a mix of woods: maple for legs and stretchers (strong, capable of holding detail), white pine for the seat (easily shaped and carved), and red oak for the back spindles, arms, and bows (springy and resilient). These changes increased production and brought prices down so that by the late 19th century they were common and mostly factory made.

Find out how you can learn to build your own Windsor chair.

Watch for new stories every Thursday in Live & Learn, NRTA's publication for the AARP educator community: Celebrating learning as a creative lifestyle.

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