Updated: Aug 13, 2019
Country Home The Well-Turned Windsor A detailed analysis of the popularity and prevalence of Windsor chairs in historical and contemporary American homes; features prominent photos of the Duckloe No. 22 Windsor armchair.
With its reedy spindle back and all-wood construction, the Windsor chair is as familiar as family in most of our homes. In fact, it's virtually an American institution-even though the chair originated in England. Though associated with rustic colonial homes and today's warm country interiors, the Windsor actually got its start as the preferred seating for British royalty and aristocrats in the 18th century. The English Windsor was adapted in America for greater comfort and affordability., and it is this modified American version that we identify as Windsor today.
Writing in the 1800s, author Edward Hanon contended that the Windsor chair had been present on the grounds of Windsor Castewhich explained the chair's name. Wrote Hanon, "[It] was originally constructed of rural wood with the bark on, but chair makers son began to make them of turned wood for the express purpose of easier house-keeping."
Some accounts say that the Windsor chair was first made in America by a group of English craftsmen working in Philadelphia. Other historians maintain that wealthy Philadelphians simply imported the stylish British furniture to distinguish themselves from those with more "common" tastes.
Whatever the means, the Windsor chair got its American start n Philadelphia. While that city remained the principal center of manufacturing, similar operations were set up in the 1720s in New York, Maryland, Delaware and even Rhode Island to meet the growing demand.
Although there was some variation in style between Philadelphia and New England, the American Windsor basically consisted of a thick saddle seat into which spindles were set to form different shapes. Typically, the spindles were anchored into a rail that provided a straight or bent bow-back chair.
"Although originally derived from English models, these chairs were made so much better in America that they may truly be called an American invention,"
wrote Lester Margate in Masterpieces of American Furniture.
The chairs' popularity was widespread by 1730 when the Register of Wills in Philadelphia deeded the household property of the deceased lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania, Patrick Gordon. Gordon's estate included no fewer than five Windsors.
By the 1740s, production of Windsor chairs had advanced considerably in a number of American cities. Makers were quick to take advantage of the newly-mechanized tools to turn the legs and form the spindles in quantities that enabled maximum output. An American favorite was well on its way to becoming an American classic.