Design Glossary: Chairs

Design Glossary: Chairs

Anna Hoffman
Mar 24, 2011

Ever wondered about the difference between a splat and a stile? A marquise and a bergère? A chaise longue and a fainting couch? Here is a mini-glossary of terms related to chairs and other seat furniture.

1 This diagram breaks down some of the vocabulary used to describe chair anatomy, including seat rails and crest rails, splats and stiles, knees and ears. The chair itself is a Queen Anne style side chair made in Newport between 1740 and 1790 (Metropolitan Museum of Art).

2 The word "armchair" encompasses basically any chair with arms, but this particular type of chair is known in French as a fauteuil (pronounced fo-TUH-eey, kinda). Upholstered or not, its arms are separate from its body. This Louis XVI example, at the Met, was made by Georges Jacob in Paris, ca. 1780.

3 A side chair, known generically as a chaise (pronounced shez, rhymes with fez) in French, can be identical to an armchair, but has no arms. Side chairs can be versatile chairs, and are often intended to be picked up and moved around. This one was also made by Georges Jacob ca. 1790 and is at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris.

4 A bergère (pronounced bair-ZHAIR) is an upholstered armchair whose arms are enclosed and upholstered. It's unclear why the name for this chair is the French word meaning "shepherdess," but when the chair form was coined, in the 18th century, there was a lot of upper-class interest in the 'simple life' of shepherds — and maybe there was some association with the new comforts of this upholstered form? This mid-18th-century example was sold at Christie's in 2009 for £1500.

5 A marquise (pronounced mar-KEEZ) is an extra-wide armchair, not quite wide enough to be a love-seat or settee. These are very rare now, as lots of 'restorers' have cut them down to regular chair-size. This Louis XV example, made by Félix Leroy, sold at Sotheby's for 60,750 euros! (And an extra-nerdy note: I am a big Wikipedia fan, but the definition of marquise is not accurate, actually describing what was known in 18th-century France as an ottomane or an armchair en corbeille).

6 A settle is a bench with a high back and armrests at either end. It is essentially a very wide armchair (much wider than a marquise) that can seat several people. This leather settle was made in Pennsylvania ca. 1710-40 and is at the Met.

7 A chaise longue (pronounced shez long) is an armchair with an extra-long seat, made for one person to recline on. The back and arms portion of the chair can look like a fauteuil or bergère, or can even have no arms, if you don't have a tendency to roll. This Louis XVI example from the last quarter of the 18th century was sold a few years ago at Sotheby's for $7200.

8 How is a fainting couch different from a chaise longue? Technically, there's no difference — a fainting couch is a category of chaise longue. But I would define a fainting couch as a chaise longue with some sort of asymmetrical back or arm, like this c. 1850 example from Sotheby's. I would also argue that any fainting couch can only have been designed during or after the Victorian era, so an asymmetrical 18th-century version just wouldn't qualify.

Are there any other furniture types or terms you'd like us to define or differentiate? Let us know in the comments!

Images as linked above.

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