Wing Chairs: Buying Vintage or Antique Is Where It’s At

They say that Wing Chairs are one of THE things you should always buy vintage or antique.

And, whether you buy seating online or at estate sales, these are the tips you need to get the best:

Credit: SouthernStyle
Deconstructed Wing Chair, with Exposed Frame

It’s All About Construction:

Forget about the color of the chair (currently,) look at the shape and and the construction. Imagine it in a wonderful fabric. Perhaps even a solid on the inside and a large scale print on the back.

Credit: Restoration Hardware
Deconstructed Wing Chair with Tufted Burlap, Vintage Style Only

Look Past the Obvious:

Sometimes first impressions aren’t the most important. Color and fabric can be distracting. Look past them because those can be changed. You should love the lines, the shape of the chair, or don’t buy it. The guts of a chair are difficult to ascertain for certain. Eight way hand tied coils may not be visible but the burlap webbing that is their base may be visible from the underside.

Credit: Washingtonian Furniture
Wing Back Parts

The Web is Your Secret Weapon:

When you cannot see the guts of the chair from the outside, you must use other means to assess the chair’s internal  quality. Look for a manufacturer’s mark, tag, stamp on the underside of the chair. Turn that puppy upside down. You HAVE to if you don’t want to buy blind. Who the manufacturer is can tell you a lot about the caliber of the materials & construction method used, under the surface. Google the maker before you buy.

Credit: Decsignco
Diagram of A Wing Back Chair’s Interior

Check Out Its Legs:

Look at the legs-are they solid wood or veneer? The best chairs are made of hardwoods like Mahogany, Oak, Maple, Ash and Alder. The legs are the most visible indicators of the caliber of wood likely used throughout. How are the legs attached? This is an indicator of general construction. They should not just be screwed on, which is a short cut and indicator of cheap construction. Legs should be doweled (preferably double doweled) and glued into blocks. Is the chair heavy? If so, that is another likely indicator that the manufacturers used better materials. The older the piece is, often, the more likely it’s well made (and by that I mean 45+years) But you can’t know that for sure if you don’t really examine it.

Credit: Decsignco
Wing Back Chairs, Internal Construction Possibilities

Is It Worth It?

One more thing: a well-made wing chair, with beautiful lines, is worth recovering. But you will need 6-7 yards of upholstery weight fabric, and at least another $700 or so for the upholsterer’s fees (more depending on the condition and materials you specify, for example, down cushions.) You may need to add delivery charges for both ways, unless you have a truck. Finding fabulous material for less, getting help with delivery, or “horse-trading”(still happens!) with a local upholsterer, or even learning to upholster on your own or in a class, can bring the total down substantially. You may very well end up spending as much as a new wing chair from a big box store, but in return, you’ll be getting an heirloom quality, custom, well-made chair that will last a lifetime, instead of a few years.

Credit: Atelier De La Marquise
Bare frame, 8 way hand tied springs on burlap webbing, prepped and ready for upholstery, finished and trimmed.

The Key:

When you add up the costs,  you must make sure that the wing chair has both the beautiful lines, and the caliber of basic construction to warrant the TOTAL cost. If you follow these tips, and find that vintage chair, looking at what it can become, you’ll very likely never regret your purchase. Recovering most modernly constructed chairs, is a waste of money. Buying any used chair, without considering the total cost before purchasing can lead to many moons, spent in the presence of someone else’s dastardly fabric choices. (You could, in fact, end up like me, with a beautifully-made chair, that has remained in its truly awful “original” celery green, cheap velvet for 12 long years. Fortunately (??) 12 yrs later, celery green is “in.” Eeek.) Ultimately, this is the key: Look for the things that really matter, if you want a great wing chair, one that’ll look and feel great for years.  Add up the total cost from the get go. And always, always buy fabulous wing chairs that are from the time when beautiful furniture was meant to last.

Credit: Minto Thorsen
My Renaissance Revival antique armchair, still dressed in the dreadful, cheap celery green velvet, it was wearing when I bought it, 12 years ago.

Click here to read more on becoming a savvy antique and vintage shopper!
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Click here to read more on becoming a savvy antique and vintage shopper!


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