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The chairs of today developed from primitive benches and stools. Very popular at auction, they range from antique chair styles to modern chairs that wrap the sitter in an organic embrace.
Antique chairs that remain sought- after by collectors and interior designers are the Queen Anne, Georgian, and American Regency styles. One of the earliest chair designs was the Savonarola, or “scissors” chair, which became important to collectors from the 18th century onward. An Italian walnut Savonarola chair dating from the 15th or 16th century in the Cloisters Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is a simple yet lavish example. Another collector’s item is the prie dieu, or “prayer chair,” which has been used for centuries in churches and for personal devotion. The prayer chair features a seat for kneeling and a shelf for devotional texts and items. Catalan architect and sculptor Antoni Gaudi created an extreme decorative example of the chair. Carved from thuya wood, the chair stands at 9 feet and is crowned by a stained glass light fixture.
Antique dining chairs may be simple American vernacular pieces or influenced by the excesses of French Rococo and Baroque design. A modern dining room chair may be a replica of more traditional styles or as sleek and unorthodox as the valuable George Nakashima Conoid chairs. Antique barrel chairs can be used either as side chairs or dining chairs. The history of this shape is uncertain, but the barrel chairs designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright for the Darwin Martin and Herbert Johnson residences are the most famous. The George Nelson Pretzel Chair made of curved laminated wood became a rare collector’s piece when it was removed from the market for insufficient manufacturing techniques. The Pretzel Chair is a fine example of mid-century modern design.
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