What Is a Steamer Chair?

Marlene de Wilde
Marlene de Wilde
Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

A steamer chair, otherwise known as a deck chair, is a reclinable chair usually with a wooden or wicker frame. It is sometimes upholstered for comfort as it is used for relaxation purposes. In its most common form, the steamer chair has arm rests and full-length leg support.

Steamer chairs were very popular in the early 1900s as a feature on luxury liners where they adorned the decks. The adjustable recliners earned their names as steamers or deck chairs from their use on the ships. They then became sought after for back yards, gardens and patios due to their versatility and comfort. Different levels of comfort are offered by the various types of cushions chosen to complement the wooden frame.

When buying a steamer chair, there are several features to consider. The first thing to think about is the type of wood used. Hard woods such as teak, eucalyptus and Nyatoh are the best as they are more durable. Teak is a dense, close-grained type of wood that is able to withstand extreme weather conditions due to the high levels of oil. Some woods are best treated by the application of a protector, whereas others may be left to weather on their own. The price of the chair depends on the wood used in its construction with the harder woods offering a sturdier, harder wearing chair but at a higher cost.

Most will fold up into a more compact form which makes storage and travel much easier. Many of them are adjustable in the back area and can offer a near horizontal position or a more upright sitting option. Another adjustment which some styles offer is in the foot area, which may fold away completely. Original steamer chairs were fitted with solid brass hinges and fixtures, making them more durable and as such are a sought-after feature especially if the chairs are exposed to the elements.

Perhaps the most famous steamer chair is one that survived from the Titanic, sold for over $400,000 US Dollars (USD) in an auction. Considered a piece of maritime history, the chair has been authenticated as being one from the ill-fated ship. About 50 chairs were thrown into the water by Charles Joughin, a Titanic baker who survived to tell the tale, to be used as flotation devices for those unable to get into or reach the lifeboats. The price paid at the auction by a private collector is the highest ever paid for a steamer chair to date.

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