First introduced in grand houses for the convenience, but not
necessarily the comfort, of visitors and servants, the hall chair later
became a status symbol in middle-class homes
Dolce Dark Walnut 3-Drawer Console Table
Prior to the 18th century, the hall of a grand house was a large central room, usually rising to the roof, where banquets were held and the family's portraits, armour and
hunting trophies were displayed.
By the Georgian period, the word hall had come to refer to the entrance lobby; it would still often be
two storeys high, and contained the staircase, but was no longer lived in.
It was the custom to put some chairs against the wall for visitors waiting to be admitted, servants waiting to be called, and tradesmen -
who at that time customarily called at the front door - waiting to be seen.
Comfort was not a priority. Hall seats were not upholstered, as the fabric would be spoiled by visitors' wet clothing and footmen's muddy uniforms.
The wooden seats were sometimes slightly dished to prevent the sitter sliding off the highly-polished surface, while the backs were seen not so much as supports, but as an
opportunity for some ostentatious painted or carved decoration.
The most common form of this decoration was a painted or carved coat of arms, designed to impress visitors.
By the middle of the 18th century, hall chairs were made in large sets, containing as many as 36 chairs, while matching pairs were commonplace.
The great 18th-century designers, Chippendale, Adam, Hepplewhite, and Sheraton, all published designs for hall chairs.
By the end of the 19th century, with tradesmen banished to the back door and servants
summoned from their quarters by bells, hall chairs were useless for sitting on and more
for show, as decorative pieces and as status symbols.
They were still made, however, and, like most Victorian and Edwardian furniture, in a variety of revivalist modes.
Greco-Roman, neo-classical, Regency, Gothic, mock Tudor and Queen Anne styles were all indulged in, sometimes on the same piece of furniture.
Modern collectors would buy a hall chair to put in their hall or a similar space as a decorative item, at best, only occasionally.
The value of a hall chair as a collectable, therefore, depends on its looks, as well as its age and provenance.
Georgian chairs made to patterns published by designers such as Adam,
Chippendale, Hepplewhite and Sheraton are top of the range, while later factory-made revivals are relatively inexpensive.
It is in the area between these extremes that difficulties begin to arise for the collector.
Good quality copies, made mainly between 1830 and 1860, can be difficult to distinguish from the
real thing, as they were made from the pattern books of the great Georgian
furniture designers by craftsmen using traditional 18th-century methods and authentic materials.
Such pieces, though they are technically reproductions, now qualify as antiques in their own right, and they can fetch quite high prices today.
Some Edwardian chairs continued this craft tradition, but most of them were
factory made. Favourite styles included the Gothic, which imitated church architecture, and Elizabethan chairs, made of oak and covered with heavy carving.
Genuine innovations in design was rare, although in the 1860s and
1879s matching hall sets were introduced, with a table, umbrella stand, mirror and hall bench to go along with a pair of chairs.
Another new, though minor trend, was to make the chair in other materials, such as papier mache and elaborately moulded cast iron.
Those made by the Coalbrookdale factory are particularly popular. Cast-iron chairs were usually fitted with wooden seats.
Some furniture-makers recognized the essential impracticability of hall chairs and produced rather whimsical versions of them.