Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A Spoonful of Grace

QUESTION: We ran across a chair in an antique shop and the dealer referred to it as a "spoon chair". It was wooden with a high narrow back, no arms and a fairly wide seat. Can you give us any information on this type of chair?

ANSWER: Everyone knows that spooning is when you lay close to your partner in bed as if to cradle him or her in the “spoon” shape of your body. But in antiques “spoon” refers to the backs of certain chairs that vaguely resemble the shape of the bowl of a spoon. The chair asked about by the couple above wasn’t really a spoon-back chair at all, but one that was made to be used as both a chair and a step stool to reach things up on a shelf. The person standing on it would have held onto the back to steady the chair. Stylized reproductions of many of these types of chairs appeared in the 1960s and 1970s.

When the shape of chairs changed at the end of the 17th century with the appearance of S-shaped legs, the backs for the most part remained straight and box-like.

By the middle of the 18th century, during the reign of Queen Anne of England, chair makers introduced the Cabriole leg which meant that chairs no longer needed stretches for support. This allowed chair makers the freedom to construct gracefully curved backs.

The 19th century brought further design and construction improvements, including the balloon-like shaped back which eventually evolved into what became known as a spoon-back. This became possible because of innovations in chair construction and the ease of cutting the pieces with special mechanical saws. Designers of Rococo and Renaissance Revival chairs used the curved spoon-back design to soften the look of their chairs.

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