The Windsor chair was first designed and made in Southeastern England in the late 1600s. The design remains popular and can refer to most chairs that have a wooden seat, and a backrest consisting of several wooden posts or spindles that are usually framed by a curved or straight piece of wood. The Windsor chair tends to have an H type frame below the seat which supports the slightly angled legs. In other words, wooden bars connect the legs on the left and right sides of the chair, and each side joins to a wooden bar centered almost exactly between them, creating a wooden H. This additional support usually occurs an inch or two (2.54-5.08 cm) from the legs’ lowest points. The early chairs featured armrests, but not all styles of the chairs today have arms.
Although the initial Windsor chairs were designed in England, the style quickly became a popular one in the New World. Supposition exists that Patrick Gordon, the governor of Pennsylvania, brought styles of the chair to the New World in 1726. From that point, many different designs of the Windsor chair began to emerge. There are seven recognized styles of Windsor chair: saw back, hoop back, comb back, low back, rod back, fan back and continuous arm.
These styles all can have variations so they may be very difficult to describe, since any description can be contradicted by variation in style. Essentially, any Windsor chair is recognizable by the spindles in back, the H frame support, and the angle of the legs. Individual designs can cause the backs to rise into a typical upside down u curve, or end in elaborately carved straight or curved pieces of wood. Armchairs may continue the arm around the back, which means the back support spindles are supported by the curved piece approximately at the center of the back rest.
The early chairs were normally made of pine, poplar or maple. Occasionally you’ll find example chairs from the 18th century that utilize several types of wood in their construction. Today’s models can be made in numerous types of wood including the above-mentioned, and oak, cherry, or ash. If you’re interested in spending lots on these chairs you can certainly order handcrafted ones, or shop around for antiques. You’ll also find this style imitated in less expensive forms and mass produced.
One interesting opportunity exists for people interested in creating their own Windsor chair. The Windsor Institute in New Hampshire will teach people how to make the chairs in five-day classes that are held several times a year. People of all skill levels can learn this British and then early American art form so they can create beautiful handcrafted chairs on their own.