This is a handsome armchair, but not yet an antique.
Dear Helaine and Joe:
This chair is one of my favorite treasures. I bought it in 1962 at a used-furniture store. It is 44 inches tall, 34 inches wide and has been reupholstered but otherwise is in original condition. I would appreciate any information you can provide regarding origin, style and even the proper vocabulary to describe this piece. I would also like to know the insurance value.
J.A., Augusta, Ga.
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This is a handsome armchair, but we should quickly point out that it is not yet an antique. In fact, when this chair was purchased in 1962, it was less than 30 years old and was indeed “used furniture.”
The French might call this style of chair a “bergère,” which is defined as an armchair with an upholstered seat (often with a loose cushion), upholstered (closed) arms and an exposed wooden frame. On the other hand, the term “fauteuil” means “armchair” in French, but this term is used to refer to an armchair with open sides.
This armchair is typical of American furniture that was made circa 1940 (i.e., 1940 plus or minus 10 years), when many homeowners wanted large, comfortable upholstered pieces that were elegantly ornamented. Most furniture of this era was machine-made, and this includes the embellishments that appear to be hand-carved but are not.
American furniture manufacturers became deeply immersed in creating “revival styles” starting in the 19th century. There was “Rococo Revival,” and “Renaissance Revival,” to name just two, and in the 20th century this trend continued despite the introduction of many new forms of furniture and furniture-making materials such as plastic.
Many 20th-century American furniture buyers were uncomfortable with the new look in furniture and wanted something more traditional in their homes — and furniture makers obliged with a mélange of styles from the past. In the case of the chair belonging to J.A., the barrel back is reminiscent of 18th-century wing chairs.
The scrolled arms that terminate in acanthus leaf motifs recall the American Federal style, as does the rectangular panel in the middle of what furniture specialists call “the apron.” The swag and rope design on the exposed mahogany sections of the back and armrests are reminiscent of the English Adam style — which harmonizes very nicely with American Federal motifs.
Finally, the tapered, reeded legs that terminate in what appears to be hoof feet were designed with a certain amount of panache and in a manner that recalls the Louis XV style. This is a great-looking chair, and a hodgepodge of design elements — but a hodgepodge that works (in our opinion).
When it was new, this chair would have been sold as a pair and it would have been used in a living room, library, den or recreation room, and the pair might very well have been meant to flank a fireplace. The pair definitely had more value than the single chair that survives (by a factor of more than double), but this single has an insurance-replacement value of between $650 and $850 in upscale markets.
Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson are the authors of “Price It Yourself”(HarperResource, $19.95). Contact them at Treasures in Your Attic, PO Box 18350, Knoxville, TN 37928. Email them at email@example.com.