Thursday, September 8, 2016

A Brief History of the Morris Chair

By Gretchen Sawatzki

An early version of the Morris chair
produced by William Morris and Company.
Image credit
The Morris chair has been popular since the late 19th
century and can still be found in a variety of forms at furniture retailers even today. But what made it so popular?

The design for the Morris chair originated in Essex, England in the 1860s when a carpenter, Ephraim Colman devised a plan to build a chair with an adjustable, reclining back. His idea was drawn up by Warrington Taylor and quickly adapted for production by William Morris and Company. This may not seem very revolutionary by today's standard, but for the Victorian Period this idea strayed from the traditionally uncomfortable, rigid furniture of the era, making it wildly popular.

The first Morris chairs reflected the Victorian taste for fancy frills with turned legs and spindles, and luxurious decorative textiles. The chair also featured thick, comfortable cushions for the back and the seat, which wasn't commonplace for the time. To recline, the user simply had to lift the arms up and push back to lock the chair into a reclining position.

By the early 1900s Gustav Stickley began producing his version of the Morris chair in America, which today is the chair's most iconic form. The Stickley Morris chair was a simplified iteration of the traditional form, with a rectilinear shape, flat angled arms, thick leather cushions, and of course the reclining back. Today, the Stickley Morris chair can be seen in traditional Craftsman style houses to modern luxury lofts and everywhere in between.

The iconic Morris chair by Gustav Stickley
 ca. 1902-1904. Image credit

Since its inception in the 1860s the Morris chair has pushed the meaning of comfort making it one of the most widely loved and produced pieces of furniture in the modern era. Morris chairs are still manufactured in many forms today including those without a reclining back. Strange, since reclining was the chair's original purpose. Over the decades this chair design has remained a favorite among chair enthusiasts, designers, and homeowners alike.

Sources:
  Arts and Crafts Homes
  Digital Library for Decorative Arts and Material Culture
  New York Times
  PBS: Antiques Roadshow
  Popular Woodworking Magazine
  Scarborough Marsh Fine Furniture
  Victorian Web
  Wikimedia Commons

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