British Icons: The Windsor Chair
You may not immediately recognise the name ‘Windsor chair’, but we can almost guarantee that its bowed and spindled silhouette will feel familiar. Think of a chair and the signature shape of the Windsor will often spring to mind. Such is the universal appeal of this simple, yet cleverly crafted British design icon.
So, what is a Windsor chair?
Characterised by a solid wooden seat, a ‘comb’ back and a bowed frame, the Windsor was a little bit different to designs that had come before it. For most chairs it was likely that one single piece of wood formed both the rear leg and back of the chair – a simple and effective construction, but a rigid one that allowed for very little flex.
When it came to the Windsor chair, the legs were neatly fixed to the underside of the seat using snug wedge joints. This allowed the back and arms to be positioned in a way that was not only aesthetically pleasing, but ergonomic too, curving to fit the shape of our bodies.
This small, but significant detail left just enough room for designers to put their own creative spin on things, and it’s arguably one of the reasons why the design continued - and continues - to be reinterpreted.
A quick history
While the exact date of its origin is unknown, early models can be found from the 17th century, and by the 18th century the design was being widely produced.
The origin of the name ‘Windsor’ is much debated, though one thought is that the chairs were transported into the city of London from Windsor by river, having been made in small workshops in the surrounding forests.
Rumour has it that King George III (1738 – 1820) discovered the design while seeking shelter from a storm at a peasant’s cottage. Struck by the elegance and simplicity of its design he instructed his own furniture-maker to recreate it, thus launching the Windsor chair into Georgian society.
Ercol and the Windsor chair
The next event that would transform the fortunes of the Windsor chair took place towards the end of the Second World War. It was 1944 and British furniture maker, ercol, had just been offered a contract by the Board of Trade to supply 100,000 ‘Windsor-style chairs’.
Still in the midst of rationing and during a period in which wood was hard to come by, the design needed to be utilitarian – well-made, but made using only what was strictly necessary. The ornate and heavily carved designs of the pre-war era were out, and practical designs were on the agenda.
The result was the 4a Kitchen Chair, a simple yet beautifully crafted design featuring a steam-bent back, that could be produced at scale, thanks to a new method of steam-bending developed by ercol’s founder, Lucian Ercolani.
In 1946 (coincidentally, the same year that Barker and Stonehouse opened its first store) ercol launched its ‘official’ Windsor Collection at the Britain Can Make It exhibition at the V&A Museum. The government-backed exhibition was designed to showcase the very best of British industry and design, representing it as ‘modern, forward thinking and high-quality’. It cemented ercol’s Windsor chair in the future of British furniture design and the rest (as they say), is history.
“The Windsor chair has established itself as a signature ercol piece, and a genuine classic of mid-20th century furniture design.
Created by our founder, Lucian Ercolani, the distinctive back bow is steam-bent from a single ash rail and traditional wedge joints are used to attach the legs. Each chair is individually crafted and assembled by hand.
Timeless, instantly recognisable and easy to live with, it’s a true masterpiece of design and craftsmanship.”
Rachel Galbraith – Creative Director at ercol
The Windsor chair today
ercol’s Windsor collection is still in production today and you’ll find many familiar ‘Windsor’ motifs woven throughout ercol’s collections, including it beautiful new Heritage range.
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