Windsor Chairs

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Windsor Chairs

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Like wingbacks, Windsor chairs have transcended their granny connotations as of late. Thanks to designers’ inspired reimaginings, colonial Windsor chairs have emerged as eclectic mood-makers, capable of merging contemporary and traditional styles with aplomb. A true style chameleon, handmade Windsor chairs pair just as well with farmhouse dining tables as modernist Josef Frank wallpapers (yes, really). Browsing second-hand Windsor chairs for sale, but daunted by the sheer volume of options—not to mention the landslide of terms like comb-back, bow-back, low-back and sack-back? We’re here to help! Read on to discover the origins of the Windsor chair, how to decorate with them, and explore a mini Windsor back glossary designed to get your search on track.

What Are Windsor Chairs?

Windsor chairs originated in the English town of Windsor around 1710. The style quickly made its way across the pond, landing in the Colonies around 1730. From there, the style was adopted into American design. Over the next century, furniture makers, headquartered primarily in Philadelphia, modified the style to accommodate changing consumer tastes.

The Windsor chair is essentially a splay-legged stool with a saddle seat and a radiant spindle backrest affixed to the top of it. At the time of its inception, the Windsor chair was unique in that its back was a separate piece from the seat and legs. Rather than being carved from a continuous piece of wood, Windsor chairs feature spindles and legs that are round-tenoned, meaning they are pushed into drilled holes. Historically, no glue or nails were used in Windsor chairs' assembly. Once the pieces were finished the joints would “season together,” meaning the greenwood would dry and expand to form permanent bonds.

This peg-like construction made colonial Windsor chairs easy to produce and led to them being among the first mass-produced styles in the U.S. Different parts of the chair, such as the spindles or legs, could be assembled from different types of wood, driving down the cost, as well. Hickory was often used for the rails, for instance, because it was pliable, while pine or elm was used for the seat because of its resistance to splitting. In order to camouflage the fact that different parts of the chair were made using different woods, Windsors were often painted. Dark green, brown, or black were the most popular choices in the Windsor’s heyday and remain so today.

How Do You Decorate With Windsor Chairs?

Yes, partnering up a farmhouse dining table and Windsor chairs is about as no-fail as it gets—and one that we imagine designers will forever be fans of—but for those determined to coax Windsor chair’s more irreverent side out, possibilities abound.

First up? Try opting for an eclectic mish-mash of secondhand Windsor dining chairs to outfit a dining table rather than a single make and model. Try low backs with high backs, or sack-backs with comb-backs (hit up our glossary below for all of the back-related details). You might also think about integrating some chairs of an entirely different genre, such as Chippendale chairs, Queen Anne chairs, or even Thonet Bistro chairs. Vary between brown and black chairs, or keep it all in the same color family, if you prefer. For anyone who’s ever been tempted to assemble a crew of mismatched chairs, but been concerned about getting it right, the Windsor chair’s variety of shapes make it easy to find one that echoes the shape of other chairs.

Another way to bring out Windsor chairs’ more eccentric side is to match them up with a riotously patterned tablecloth. Since Windsor chairs’ spindles allow the pattern to show through, consider it full endorsement to splurge on a cloth checked in an attention-getting print. To ensure your cloth feels congruent with Windsors’ traditionalist appeal, while still maintaining an air of playfulness, try a colorful block print checked with scrolling vines, paisleys, and flowers.

What Types of Windsor Chair Backs Are There?

Low-Back Windsor Chair - A low, barrel back Windsor with a horizontal horseshoe-shaped top rail that extends around the entire back and side perimeter of the chair to create the chair’s arms.

High-Back Windsor Chair - Similar to low back Windsor up until the point of the arm rail where a high back protrudes. The high back does not wrap all the way around the arm rail, but only directly behind where an occupant's back would rest, giving the chair a tiered appearance.

Sack-Back Windsor Chair - A proud made-in-Philadelphia design, the sack-back chair is similar to the high-back Windsor, but features an arched top rail. This chair is occasionally referred to as a “bow-back” chair as well.

Bow-Back Windsor Chair - Similar to a sack-back Windsor with a tall, arched top tail, but has no arms.

Fan-back Windsor Chair - Philadelphia artisans teed up the first examples of this chair based on English prototypes. Fan-back Windsors are generally slimmer than other Windsors as they don’t have arms, but instead, come equipped with a fan-like spindle back topped with flat, decorative top rail.

Comb-Back Windsor Chair - Envision a sack-back Windsor chair with a comb-like piece perched atop the curved back.