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Chiavari Chairs: History of a Beautiful Chair Throughout the Ages

Updated on March 12, 2012
The Brass Chiavari Chair, my new little beauty
The Brass Chiavari Chair, my new little beauty

Love at First Site

The first time I saw a Chiavari chair not in the pages of a glossy magazine, was a few months ago at a Flea Market in Munich and I was momentarily breathless. It happened to be the brass version (I have since learned that many materials are used to construct these chairs) and I marveled at the delicate beauty of its lines combined with the obvious strength of the metal. Unfortunately, I didn't have enough money with me at the time to buy it and I went home pining for the diminutive chair. A couple of weeks later, while surfing on eBay, I happened to run across it again. After I recovered from my swoon, I realized this too, was out of my price range. However, the sight of my little beauty sparked my sleuthing skills and the hunt was on. The more I researched the Chiavari chair the more intrigued I became. I finally did find one to call my own, but I learned a lot along the way.

"A Gathering at the Home of Mme. Brisson", 1893 by Marcel André Bashet from Chairs: a History by Florence de Dampierre
"A Gathering at the Home of Mme. Brisson", 1893 by Marcel André Bashet from Chairs: a History by Florence de Dampierre

A Brief History of The Chiavari Chair

Chiavari actually refers to the town in which these chairs were designed and produced, not to one specific style. Though, there is certainly a family resemblance that all the different styles of chairs share. Chaivari the town is located on the Italian Riviera in the region of Liguria near the Mediterranean Sea.

The first Chiavari chair was designed by Giuseppe Descalzi in the furniture workshop he shared with his brother back in 1807. He christened it, Chiavarina, or little Chiavari. Giuseppe's goal was to emulate the elegance of Parisian balloon backed chairs, yet at the same time create something that was strong and light weight. It was an instant hit and his beautiful chair has been adorning backsides at fancy functions ever since. In fact, the chair has been a staple at royal functions since it's conception. Queen Victoria, Napoleon, and King Fernando of Spain are just of few of the sovereign bottoms to grace the chair. Even our "American Royals," the Kennedy's, used these chairs at their wedding.

Jackie had Chiavari chairs at her wedding for all her guests.
Jackie had Chiavari chairs at her wedding for all her guests.

The Chiavari Chair Today

The Chiavari chair comes in many styles, though the most popular is the small stacking chair like the one seen above, at the Kennedy wedding. They can be made from wood, brass or even silver. My heart belongs to the brass model, but I also love some of the modern versions that are made out of Lucite or painted in bright colors as well. In spite of their feminine appearance they are strong and sturdy which makes them elegant chairs indoors or out.

They are still the most popular choice at modern weddings where they can be rented for the day. You'll also often see them used as props in fashion shows.

from the pages of Elle Decor
from the pages of Elle Decor
Room by Kelly Wearstler
Room by Kelly Wearstler

Chairs as Sculpture

Sometimes a sculptural chair can be just the thing you need to add a little spice to a room. Especially a chair made out of metal. For one thing, the shiny brass will contrast nicely with either wood or upholstery. But more importantly, its unexpected and the unexpected always makes things more interesting.

The Chiavari chair is often associated with the Hollywood Recency Style and is sure to add a little glam and luster to any interior. I would love to see six of the brass chairs around a really simple table, like a parson's table. It would be stunning. Well, I got one... five to go.

I'm slightly obsessed with chairs, chairs and lamps actually. Both have the power to instantly add a new layer to any room. They can be small or large, understated or in your face. The good ones don't go unnoticed. Chairs have always reflected the technology and idealisms of the times in which they were conceived. If you'd like to learn more about them and how they've changed throughout the ages then I highly recommend "Chairs: a History" by Florence de Dampierre, its one of my absolute favorites at the moment.

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