The 12 Types of Chairs to Know Before Buying One, According to Designers

published Mar 12, 2024
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dining room
Credit: Sylvie Li

A room isn’t complete without a chair — but that doesn’t mean this essential piece of furniture can be just any type of seat. A chair serves an obvious functional need, but if its aesthetics didn’t matter, then comfy recliners would be the only option on the market. As far as style goes, the many different looks and finishes of a chair can help pull together the overall intention of a room’s layout and design scheme. So in other words, choosing the right chair can make the difference between whether a space feels cohesive or disjointed. 

If this is the most you’ve ever thought about a chair, don’t worry. As soon as you zoom in, the types of chairs out there start to show their unique features. And learning about them, as it turns out, can be an enjoyable part of your decorating journey.

“It’s just such a fun and huge opportunity to add personality,” says designer Emily Henderson. “You can be a little more daring with a chair as opposed to a sofa because it’s a secondary piece.”

Credit: Design: Apartment Therapy

To provide some expert insight on the many types of chairs out there, I asked three designers to share the most common styles worth exploring more. These will not only bolster your design knowledge, but they can also serve as a quick glossary as you shop. That way, you’ll be able to find a chair that’s exactly what you have in mind.

Credit: Minette Hand

1. Wingback Chair 

Named for its high, curved back that almost resembles a bird’s wings, this chair leans traditional but can be made more current with upholstery or slight alterations to its classic build. “I love wingback chairs, especially the more modern ones that are on the market now,” Henderson says. “I have used them in living rooms, bedrooms, reading nooks, you name it. It’s such a versatile classic that will never go out of style.”

Credit: Target

2. Ladder Back Chair

Once again, the name of this type of chair resembles another familiar sight: a ladder. The back is made from wood slats similar to ladder rungs, giving it a casual appearance. “I prefer either a vintage version or a really simple, modern one,” Henderson says. “They are clearly great dining chairs but are also great accent chairs, if it’s a really special one.”

To style a ladder back beyond a dining table, stick one by your front door or in front of an empty wall with a piece of art above it, Henderson says. The seat can be a great perch for setting a few things down, too, or styling out a vignette with a stack of books. In tight spaces, a ladder chair can even sub in for a traditional nightstand. Try this set from Target, which features a handsome black finish.

Buy: Saracina Home Set of 2 Wood Ladder Back Dining Chairs, $189.99 from Target

3. Louis XVI Chair

From the sound of its name alone, the Louis XVI chair denotes a fancier appearance. Comprised of an upholstered seat, flourished arms, and a paneled back, this option may be fit for a castle but could also work for a modern home — it just comes down to how you style it.

“These chairs take up a small footprint, so place two together when you need extra seating in a room but don’t have a lot of space,” suggests designer Amy Vroom, owner of The Residency Bureau. “The upholstered seat will still be comfortable for a living room environment.” As for fabric, Vroom favors solid linens or a pattern for extra pop. In a more modern setting — or in a small space — you could also try a clear acrylic “ghost” version of this silhouette.

4. Chippendale Chair

Unapologetically formal, this option emerged in the 18th century with its intricately carved and centered back above an upholstered seat and claw feet. Given that it’s highly traditional, you may think a Chippendale chair would make your home feel like a museum. But designers suggest these chairs can be a great way to get creative about blending aesthetics, and they’re especially prominent in Hollywood Regency-style spaces, probably due to their often lacquered finishes.

“As someone who is a fan of mixing and matching styles, I would pair this traditional chair with a more modern table,” Vroom says. “Perhaps as a game table in a room or adding a few of these around a dining table with a built-in bench on one side. With their intricately carved backs, an entire 10-person dining table lined with these can be overwhelming — so less is more for me, personally.”

Credit: Sylvie Li

5. Windsor Chair

You can identify a Windsor chair by taking note of its horizontal spindles that connect to a curved, crest rail seat back and gently rounded seat. Though these chairs were being made as early as the 18th century (and perhaps even before), their minimal design makes them appropriate in many settings. “This is a classic chair that I love; I have these in my Los Angeles dining room,” says designer Orlando Soria.

“These are great as dining chairs but also work as accent chairs in homes of any style — near a front door or in a bedroom next to a dresser,” says Soria. He recommends Hedge House’s Windsor styles, which are handmade in the U.S. and available in walnut, cherry, maple, black charcoal, and white oak finishes.

Credit: Julia Steele

6. Club Chair

Think of this chair as the type of seat a sweet grandfather would slink into with a drink or a beloved book. Its generous proportions, slightly curved yet square back, and all-over upholstered finish make it look cozy and warm. And while it’s often produced in leather, you could cover these accent chairs in whatever material you’d like. “While the club chair might conjure up images of cigars and whiskey, I could see using four of these around a coffee table to create a more intimate conversation zone,” Vroom suggests. “Maybe your guests are wine tasting or sharing some apps — it’s a cozy zone that screams ‘no kids allowed.’”

7. Egg Chair

First created by iconic Danish designer Arne Jacobsen in 1958, the egg chair looks like it sounds: Its base resembles a half-cracked open shell, while its connected back and arms dip and curve like a splattered yolk. These chairs are often unabashedly colorful, making their confident shape even more dazzling. “This chair is peak mid-century modern and supercool,” Henderson says. “If you have a modern home and want something that’s retro, this is the chair.” Some versions don’t have backs that are quite as high, as shown here, and you can often find egg style chairs that hang, too, particularly those rated for outdoor settings.

Credit: Design Within Reach

8. Eames Shell Chair

Speaking of mid-century modern, Eames chairs are most commonly associated with this style — and the shell chair in particular is among design duo Charles and Ray Eames’ most famous furniture items. Made as one uniform piece with a rounded back and seat (and arms, when present), the Eames shell chair is most ubiquitous in white but comes in a rainbow of color choices.

“These are a great fit around a dining room table or as a single chair off to the side of a living room for extra seating,” Vroom says. “It sets the scene for someone who admires a mid-century modern aesthetic and mixes well with many different styles.” 

Buy: Eames Molded Plastic Side Chair, $445.00 from Design Within Reach

9. Desk Chair

In an office, a desk chair is usually all about function — think a swivel base and an ergonomic form, with an adjustable seat and potential casters for wheeling around. While many home offices have their own takes on this, most people don’t want their living spaces to feel too corporate. For that reason, design often trumps ergonomics when it comes to WFH desk chairs, for better or worse. “Good-looking desk chairs aren’t easy to find, especially affordable ones,” Henderson says. “I would just try to find one that has a special detail that you like. Vintage-inspired ones are usually a good call.”

Credit: Flash Furniture

10. Bistro Chair

A classic bistro chair will look as if it was pulled directly from the streets of Paris. This style is complete with a woven seat and back with rounded edges and wood framing, and colors that usually mix with classic white. (Modern takes, alternatively, usually have a metal frame and a simple slate back and seat.) “It adds a soft curve in a more modern space or texture with its woven rattan in transitional spaces,” Vroom says. “Since these come in a variety of materials — including synthetic ones — they’re a breeze to clean for families with young kids.”

Buy: Flash Furniture Lourdes Set of 2 Indoor/Outdoor Commercial French Bistro Stack Chairs, $265.64 for a set of 2 from Amazon

11. Thonet Chair

Hailing from 19th century Vienna and known for its bentwood form, a Thonet chair’s back looks like two curved C’s facing a rounded seat, which can either be made of solid wood or a woven material. They’re slightly more traditional than a bistro chair but still feel approachable. “I have such a soft spot for a Thonet chair,” Henderson says. “I bought a set of six vintage ones for my old dining room. Mine were a little wobbly (hence, the deal I got), so I would maybe double-check yours for real everyday use if they are real vintage. They also make a great accent chair for a pretty vignette.”

Credit: Jason Rampe

12. Wishbone Chair

First produced by Carl Hansen & Søn in 1950 and designed by Danish designer Hans J. Wegner, the back of a wishbone chair curves around a V-shaped base, which is connected to a seat that may be woven or solid. Furthermore, the front legs of a wishbone chair often go slightly higher than the seat, as a distinctive architectural detail. “I love them in a cozy dining room, but I also just used the counter height stool version in the kitchen at my Yosemite country house,” Soria says of these organic chairs that come in a variety of finishes.