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Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

Fancy Chairs

To the gay diversity of the modern interior the fancy chair is now contributing a cheerful addition. The old-fashioned term, fancy chair, designates chairs which in the early nineteenth century became, through the addition of painted decoration, more lively pieces of furniture than the conventional mahogany, pine or maple of the day. Along with these distinctly American types of decorated chairs are chairs of Spanish inspiration in dull red with elaborate carvings in gilt, old English lacquered chairs and cheerful bits of simple woodwork, decorated in reds and blues and greens, from Italian countrysides. The modern decorator finds that the introduction of an odd quaintly ornamented chair aids much in achieving a note of variety.

Fancy chairs are especially appropriate in sun rooms and breakfast rooms, although they are also found in living rooms and even bedrooms. Of course the setting where the rather simple American type of chair shows to best advantage is an interior of Early Republic influence wherein Sheraton and Empire furnishings blend into some of the best of the early Victorian times. In fact, the last representatives of the fancy chair of the past were products of the early Victorian epoch. Decorated chairs have been found dating up to the first half of the nineteenth century. The earliest examples are the best, however.

It is probable that these fancy chairs were an effort by the Colonial cabinetmakers to supply in a simpler and less costly manner and within the range of their craftsmanship something approaching the highly artistic painted furniture which in the latter part of the eighteenth century was all the vogue abroad. There was no Sheraton or Angelica Kauffmann or Adam here either to paint such furniture or supply the inspiration for others to do it. So, with practical Yankee ingenuity, the cabinet makers in the small towns created an American adaptation of the much more elaborate and highly technically decorated chair.

The Hitchcock chair, decorated with a stencil design, was one of the most popular fancy chairs of the early nineteenth century and is today much in vogue among lovers of old American furniture of the simpler type. Found in both the side-chair and arm-chair style, this pleasing bit of furniture has either a wooden or a rush seat with the front edge rounded, turned legs, often splayed, and a back with two cross plats, the upper one a partially turned piece with a centre section flattened into a pillow form. The other cross plat is broad and bears the main ornamentation of the chair.

In its form the Hitchcock chair has suggested a Sheraton influence. These simple types of chairs may be obtained today either in reproductions in which the art of the early decorator has been carefully simulated, or unpainted examples may be bought and decorated to suit the room in which they are to be placed. Of course for the connoisseur of old furniture nothing but authentic examples will do. These are still fairly easily obtained, although examples in good condition with the decoration well executed and still bright are rapidly becoming rare.

A part of the intriguing art of household decoration is the restoration of these old chairs. Picked up at sales or in antique shops, one may discover when the chairs are safely brought home that, concealed under many layers of paint and grime, the old decorations are still discernible. One may then use his ingenuity and muscle in removing the several layers of paint and varnish accumulated and perhaps uncover some of the original baskets of fruit or vases of flowers in the old gold or silver or copper paint. Perhaps enough of the original design may be made out to determine the type of decoration which was on the chair, and after repainting the piece a similar decoration may be either stenciled or painted in free hand. The chair then, with its ornament of a bowl of apples and pears, its striped decoration and touches of gold on the back, and its turned legs, may once more become a fancy chair.

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