What is a Wing Chair?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A wing chair is an upholstered chair with a high back and very large side armrests, along with wings which surround the sides of the head and upper torso of someone seated in the chair. Many people associate wing chairs with luxurious, refined homes, as these large chairs tend to dominate smaller and less well designed spaces. The partially enclosed design of the wing chair is meant to provide insulation from drafts, and also to trap heat from fireplaces and sunny windows.

Woman with a flower
Woman with a flower

Several features define a wing chair. The high back is essential, along with the enclosing side wings. In addition, a wing chair must be fully upholstered. Leather, silk, cotton, velvet, damask, and a variety of other materials may be used to upholster a wing chair, and these textiles can be patterned or left plain, depending on the taste of the chair designer. The seat of a wing chair is typically designed with springs to make it more comfortable.

These upholstered armchairs are serious business. They tend to be quite large, often large enough for someone to curl up in the chair, and they are rather imposing, thanks to the tall back and wings of the chair. You may have seen wing chairs in films set in the 1800s, often next to a crackling fire or behind a large desk, and they also appear in numerous novels set in this period. A wing chair tends to set a very definite mood in a room.

Because wing chairs are so large and distinctive, they can be very disruptive to the design scheme of a room, especially since they are not nearly as common in modern design as they once were. Integrating a wing chair or a set of such chairs into a room design requires careful work, and it generally requires a somewhat old fashioned theme. Tools like throw pillows can help to soften the look of a wing chair.

Some modern design firms offer “wing chairs” which have no wings. Such chairs could more accurately be termed side chairs, as a side chair has a high back and no arms. Wingless wing chairs do at least share the trait of being upholstered, often in very modern textiles which are designed to emphasize the sleek, clean lines of the chair. These chairs mesh better with more modern design schemes than true wing chairs.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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