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The Evolution of Chairs

The Martha Stewart Show, October 2009

Chairs -- we use them to rest at the end of the day, get comfortable with a good book, watch movies, join our families at the dinner table, relax, and socialize. The earliest well-documented use of a chair was in ancient Egypt; hieroglyphics and wall paintings date them as far back as 2686 to 2134 BCE.

Chairs Seen on the Show
American Queen Anne wing chair. A luxurious chair, circa 1745, the American Queen Anne features imported silk and damask fabric and "wings" that were used to keep out drafts and offer privacy to the seated. Only the wealthy citizens of the American colonies could afford this chair; now, it would fit wonderfully in a modern loft apartment with minimalist decor. (Provided by Bernard & S. Dean Levy)

French Art Nouveau side chair. Made in an art nouveau style that was inspired by natural, organic plant forms, this chair features subtle curvaceous and sculptural qualities that were in part a reaction to the heavy and oversized styles common in the 19th century. (Provided by Macklowe Gallery)

American Arts and Crafts armchair. Made by Gustav Stickley, a designer who is now considered the epitome of the American arts and crafts movement, this chair is functional, sturdy, handsome, and elegant. Made from quarter-sawn oak between 1907 and 1910, its rich color was achieved by exposure to ammonia vapor rather than the application of wood stain. (Provided by Peter-Roberts Antiques)

Wendell Castle chair. Created by "furniture artist" Wendell Castle in 1962, this chair combines the sleekness of American industrial design from the mid-20th century with sensuous, sculpted forms of studio craftsmanship. Made in a wonderfully organic shape, it is supremely comfortable for sitting, if sometimes a bit difficult to get out of. (Provided by R 20th Century Design)

Verner Panton Chair. Designed by the Danish-born Verner Panton, this chair exemplifies the 1960s pop aesthetic by challenging the idea that chairs by definition have to have legs. It's the first single-piece, injection-molded plastic chair (manufactured by Herman Miller), and is popular today with retro-design lovers. (Provided by R 20th Century Design)

Potrona Suave. This phenomenally -- and unexpectedly -- comfortable chair was created in 2005 by Brazilian designer Julia Krantz, a woman who believes in high-quality sculptural form that is also ecologically sustainable. The chair was constructed using a process that involves stack laminating the wood and then smoothing and carving the surface all by hand. (Provided by R 20th Century Design)

Top Tips for Collectors
Every aspiring collector should know the following tricks of the trade.

1. Don't "poo-poo" yard-sale finds. If you connect with something, buy it if the price is right. Do not spend a lot of money on something you can't authenticate, unless money is no object and you just want it.

2. Check the settings on costume jewelry. More expensive costume jewelry will have a prong setting; cheaper pieces will have stones glued in.

3. Look for design flaws. Items with design flaws are often more valuable than those without them.

4. Understand markings. Checking the country of origin for an item can help to determine the date of the piece.

For more information on the evolution of chair design, check out "Chairs," by Judith Miller. (Octopus Books USA) For more information on collecting antiques, visit

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