History of Windsor Chair

Illustration by Julia Rothman
If you look at the chair above and think “Thanksgiving” or “apple picking in New England,” there’s a good reason for that! While the Windsor chair may evoke a New England country B&B, as the name suggests, the form is actually English. In 18th-century England, the chairs were used in the Windsor castle garden. They soon became popular garden seats throughout the country and were often painted green or simply left to weather. By the late 1750s, the English Windsor chair was ubiquitous indoors as well as outdoors and would have been used everywhere from inns and taverns to libraries and meeting houses.
Images above, from top: This ca. 1739 drawing by Jacques Rigaud shows a lord and lady being wheeled through the garden in Windsor chairs (from The Metropolitan Museum of Art). The presentation of the Declaration of Independence to the Continental Congress by Edward Savage (from the Library of Congress).

Now let’s address that “American as apple pie” sensation you may get from looking at these chairs. There’s a good reason for that, and it’s two words: founding fathers. In North America, the Windsor chair form was first used in Philadelphia where the chair became hugely popular around the time of the Revolution. The chairs were such an important part of the life in the new country that Thomas Jefferson was said to have written the Declaration of Independence in one of these chairs and Martha Washington had needlework cushions made for her bow-back Windsor chairs. (Oh and that’s Benjamin Franklin sitting in one above!)
English Windsor Chairs
One of the major selling points of the Windsor chair was its portability. Light and easy to carry to from room to room, it was extremely popular in both England and in North America. The Windsor chair is made from multiple woods — the legs were hardwood, while the seats were a soft wood. (Necessary for that lightness factor.) The main design difference between the English and American versions is the use of a splat (that middle piece in the back of the chair) in British chairs while Americans preferred the low-back Windsor.
Woods Used in British Windsor Chairs
elm (for the seat)
beech (for turnings)
Woods Used in North American Windsor Chairs
tulip, poplar or pine (for the seat)
Books to Read Chairs — There are plenty of books on Windsor chairs but if you’re as chair-crazy as I am, this is the book for you — there’s a little bit about nearly every chair you can imagine. This is my favorite book of the moment!

CLICK HERE for Windsor chair sourcing information!

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