The design of the wing chair, with its high side wings, was intended to protect the sitter from side draughts in a
well padded, comfortable, upright armchair.
The wing chair is characterized by two vertical sections or 'wings' attached at right angles to the back. The design first appeared in the Restoration in the period 1660-1700. It may have been developed from a continental type of 'sleeping' chair which had wings and an adjustable back.
WINGS TAKE OFF
In the 18th century, the wing chair as we know it today developed fully. Wooden arms with padded rests were replaced by fully upholstered arms, the gap between the arm and the seat being filled. The arms curved outwards and ended in a prominent scroll set back several inches from the front of the seat.
The back and the top of the wings were rounded and no longer the same height. By about 1730 the back, the wings and the arms often appeared to be linked in one continuous curve. Legs were gently curved, ending in
ball-and-claw or simple pad feet. Walnut was originally the favoured wood but was gradually replaced by mahogany in later years.
Upholstery became fatter and more rounded, with a fabric-covered seat that extended several inches over the front rail, and a thick down-filled loose cushion with a deep running border. Silk damasks and velvets continued to be used, although fancy trimmings were replaced by simple piping and braids. A popular covering until 1750 was needlework, which was often done by the ladies of the house. Generally there was a pictorial scene on the back and floral patterns elsewhere. Geometrical patterns were quite common.
In general, wing chairs of the second half of the 18th century had a plainer look. The wings were raised to the height of the back (which was either straight, slightly domed or serpentine) and the roll of the arms was less pronounced. Leather was introduced as a suit-i able covering and was often finished with ~ borders of brass nails. Pastel-coloured silk 5 damask was, however, the most fashionable ~ covering. The thickness of the stuffing was
reduced and seat cushions were sometimes shallow-buttoned (with silk tufts, rather than actual buttons).
This type of wing chair continued to be made throughout the Regency period. It was not until the beginning of Victoria's reign that a further development occurred. The technique of deep buttoning to hold the new coiled springs in place produced a rather bulky, rounded effect in the upholstery. This was echoed in the overall shape of the chairs and gave an impression of great comfort.
Victorian wing chairs were made in a variety of styles, although the simplest and most common type had a straight or slightly domed back and round-cornered wings of equal height. The arms curved slightly outwards with just a gentle scroll at the front. The legs were usually turned with simple ring mouldings and ended in brass castors. On better chairs, mahogany was used, but stained beech was more usual.
Reproduction chairs based on earlier styles, and identifiable by the design of their legs, were made in large numbers from 1860. The upholstered part of the chair remained much the same, but became a little skimpier. Queen Anne-style chairs, with thin walnut cabriole legs, and Chippendale chairs, with similar mahogany legs, were the most common.
The upholstery often reflects a chair's function; leather was popular for libraries and smoking rooms, while damask, plain and patterned velvet, brocatelle and plush appeared in drawing rooms. Dark green and claret red
were favourite Victorian colours. Decoration was provided by piping and twisted cord and elaborate tasselled fringes hung to the ground, covering the legs. In drawing rooms and bedrooms, a lot of upholstery was fitted with 'loose covers in floral patterned chintz.
After 1850, the wing chair was mass produced, with a decline in quality. Many were made in London's East End and sold in Tottenham Court Road showrooms.