It is as commanding and regal as it is cosy and personal. The remarkable wing chair, with its unmissable presence, always makes a home look more special, says Carolina D'Souza
Think of a wing chair and there are plenty of images which come to mind. Of posh arrogance. Sheer commodiousness. Pure luxe and of the unmatched glow of leather that has been in use over years. Even while the chair is spinning through a giddy montage of images, its setting superimposes over them. Wing chairs don't just end up in settings. They demand them. Classy corners that meet in an angle of pure elegance and cosy islands that float on a bouyancy of refined taste.
The first thing you feel like doing when you see a wing chair is to fling yourself on it with your must-read book and throw a comforter over yourself for a long settle-in period. A hot mug of java, a personal DVD player or the TV remote control are other desirables to possess during this stay.
This comfortable, large, tall-backed, heavily upholstered chair with armrests and ‘wings' is also known as grandfather's chair and is usually paired with an ottoman or a footstool.
Its placement in modern homes may have undergone a change over the years but what has endured is the original design. The chair takes it name from the wing-like panels in its design that extend forward from the backrest to give it its signature look. These wings were positioned to protect against cold drafts as well as provide snug support should one want to catch a quick nap.
This commanding (and often) regal chair has been witness to many economic and cultural changes since it came into existence around the late 17th century. Initially, it was used as an office chair by people in powerful positions. But, in course of time, it began to enter homes and settled comfortably in the study, living area and by the fireplace. Today wing chairs can be found in bedrooms, living areas and even in hotel lobbies.
"It is still popular for its comfort," says Dubai-based interior designer Padmini Acharya, who has more than seven years's designing experience and specialises in residential villas. She believes that no design gets outdated.
"Trends are changing and the resulting possibilities are never ending. But the preeminent aspect of design is how it continues to be recycled to suit modern tastes. Most homeowners I have worked with want to try different styles [sometimes each room has a different theme]. And people in this region are incredibly open to new ideas and experimentation. For instance, the wing chair has a very classical design, which is timeless, but that doesn't stop it from being used in modern homes," she says.
The original wing chair
Unlike objet trouves, wing chairs enjoy a select audience and are treated as individualistic items. "[Wing chairs] were large, deep chairs used in aristocratic homes. With their curved edges and strong legs, they had a distinct style. Their English mid-century design grew very popular in the 18th century. They were accompanied by ottomans, which were also used as extra seating.
"The earliest wing chairs were made from oak and mahogany while jacquard was the popular choice of upholstery. The ottoman was usually matched with the materials used for the chair. There were different types of wing chairs, and each variant was popular during a particular period," explains Acharya.
The wing chair today …
This particualr kind of chair has to be given special treatment, feels Acharya, "as they are highly unsuited for smaller homes.
"The décor of the home should have a strong Western influence. More often than not, a wing chair will not complement an ethnic-styled setting [such as a Indian or Japanese or African themed design].'' The ‘roominess' and the theme of the décor play important roles when choosing a wing chair, she says. "Victorian- or English country- styled homes are ideal [settings]. Elements of décor that would complement a wing chair include roomy sofas, rich furnishing, deep colours, etc.
When purchasing a wing chair …
There are wing chairs for every budget, informs Acharya, but advises to opt for quality. "Though budget is an important determinant during purchase, educating yourself on the quality of wood and upholstery, and an understanding of design is also essential. For instance, it is important that one understands [the design ideas of proportion] to recognise if a wing chair is disproportionate [to the room/decor]. This applies to the type of wood and the quality of upholstery. Nowadays, there are many imitation fabrics and expensive-looking wood finishes. You need to know the difference between quality and something that looks like it is good quality."
The wing chair in the modern home …
The shape of the wing chair is still distinctive, but everything else about it – upholstery, wood and accessories – allow for experimentation, says interior designer Fatima El Mourad of Al Huzaifa Furniture, Dubai. "At present, customers prefer mixing different décor styles as well as incorporating odd pieces in their homes. So when someone asks for a classical piece of furniture, such as the wing chair for a modern home, I don't [consider] it strange. I know a Victorian-styled mansion would be ideal [for a wing chair], but modern-day homes, can use one just as easily."
Mourad agrees wing chairs should match the mood of classic English- or French-styled décor, but also says that many use them in other décor themes too. "Wing chairs can be customised. You can use fabric instead of leather, or even a mix of leather and fabric. Embellishments such as buttons, tassels, fringes, etc, can help customise the wing chair to the existing theme of your house. To coordinate colours and textures, opt for cushions or throws. Also, an ottoman [to match the wing chair] is optional. To state an example, many hotel lobby areas look great with just two wing chairs and a coffee table."
Mourad, who has worked as an interior designer for almost a decade, presents ideas on placing a wing chair in different areas of the home:
Living room: As an individualistic piece, it lends character to the living room. Many customers use wing chairs along with their two- or three- seater sofa set. You can choose the colour [of fabric or leather] to complement the existing colours. Preferably, a wing chair should be placed in a corner, and near a source of light [such as a window or a lamp]. It needs a setting of its own, so ensure this complements other elements in the living room.
Bedroom: Avoid placing it in front of a bed. Instead, place it in a corner. You could place it by a window, especially if it has a good view. It would also fit in ideally if your bedroom has elements with wood finish. A rug (in a complementing colour) would create a distinct setting for it. You can opt for a side table to match.
Study: This is your personal space, so you have the freedom to dress it in a manner that suits your taste. You can place one wing chair with an ottoman as a add-on or place two wing chairs with a coffee table in the middle. Wing chairs come in office designs as well [swivel chairs]. You can place this variant next to a wooden desk. Placement of light is also very important in a study as it is used primarily for working.
"Basically, wing chair