No one knows quite for certain when the first chair was created, but archeological digs have found evidence of chairs that date back to the Stone Age. Somewhere after the last Ice Age, one of our ancestors obviously tired of sitting on a hard rock and fashioned the first comfortable chair, albeit a crude one. Surprisingly, it wasn’t the Chinese who created the first comfortable chairs. In fact, the Chinese preferred to kneel on the ground rather than sit in a chair or a bench. Chair design in ancient China didn’t substantially change until the sixteenth century. Even today, many eastern civilizations still sit on mats or low cushions on the floor rather than pull up a chair.
The Egyptians, on the other hand, loved their chairs and many of their tombs contain elaborate versions of comfortable chairs. Chairs were a sign of wealth in ancient Egypt and commoners rarely had chairs because they were expensive luxuries. Oddly, the seating situation didn’t change substantially for centuries. The average person simply improvised, using stools, chests or even the floor to sit on when families and friends gathered.
It wasn’t until the 15th century that truly comfortable chairs became common. Part of the reason was the growth of urban trade centers, which drew craftsmen who could economically make furniture the average person could afford. To set themselves apart, royalty commissioned extravagant thrones and even went so far as to regulate the use of chairs in court. Most members of the court were required to stand and only the most honored were allowed to use a stool.
Chairs went high style 200 years later as Europeans clamored for more ornate and decorative chairs to grace their increasingly lavish homes. The chair had even become common for commoners, albeit simpler versions.
However, it wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution that the chair as we know it today came to be. Mass production techniques allowed thousands of very comfortable chairs to be turned out by factories rather than crafted individually by a skilled artisan. Now, every household could afford to have chairs for every room and every occasion.
No longer a sign of privilege, chairs come in every shape, size, and material these days. Chairs grace every part of our world, inside and out, in a tantalizing array of sizes and styles. Once the idea faded that comfortable chairs were for the privileged, the modern chair as we know it today became an integral part of our everyday life.