The outline of nearly all chair backs is either rectangular or trapezoidal. If of the first in the diagram, the back posts are perpendicular to the floor line and the legs are the same distance apart at the floor as at the seat level.
If of the second form, the back posts are inclined to the floor line so that the legs are nearer together at the floor than at the seat level, and the back of the chair is proportionately wider at the top than it is at the seat. Though a chair may have a more complex and elaborate back than any of those taken as examples for illustration, an analysis of the outline will result in finding that it is based on one of these figures. The other four shapes illustrated are not as frequently used as the first two. This is particularly true of the polygonal and semicircular patterns.
Both of these are taken from French examples. The elliptical back is also a favorite form for French chairs. The shield back is characteristic of chairs made by Hepplewhlte about 1793, and called by many "Colonial". It is well to observe, while studying these outlines, a constructive principle common to all of them. Whatever the outline of the back it is made up of two vertical posts extending from the floor to a horizontal rail connecting them at the top; at the seat level is a horizontal rail (seat frame) ; and in some instances there is another horizontal rail at a greater or less distance above the seat.
The student is to notice especially that the uprights (the back legs) are of one piece from the floor to the top rail of the back. This is often forgotten by beginners in chair designing, and weak, almost impossible, shapes are given to the back as a result. The elliptical and shield-backs, though at first glance violating this rule, are really composed of the parts as mentioned above. A larger drawing of the shield-back is given in the picture below, showing by the dotted lines the prolongation of the lower part of the leg; and the joints where the top and bottom rails of the shield meet the uprights are also indicated. Another chair back is also shown on the plate illustrating the same principle. There is but one exception to the above method of construction, and that is, when a solid wood seat is used; similar to the saddle seated Windsor; the German Stuhle, with turned legs; and the Italian Scabelum, with its solid board supports. In this case the legs and the back are separate. Each leg is inserted in holes for the purpose in the board seat.
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