20 Apr 2021

The antique balloon backed dining chair is eternally popular. The name refers to the characteristic back, which features rounded shoulders, a curved cross-piece and concave waist. However, there were three distinct phases in the development of the antique balloon back dining chair , and styles vary widely.

The earliest reference to balloon-backed chairs is in J.C. Loudon’s Encyclopaedia of Cottage, Farm and Villa Furniture, published around 1830. Antique balloon back dining chairs of this period are typically Regency in style, lacking stretchers and with a characteristic dip to the upper rail, or crest. The back legs are curved but plain, while the front ones are straight but embellished, typically with octagonal “closed parasol” turnings. As with the majority of antique balloon backed dining chairs , the seats were upholstered and stuffed with horsehair, sometimes decorated with buttons.

By the 1840s, the chair was far more curved in style, with a fully rounded top rail and carved middle rail. The seat also had more curvature, and was often heavily buttoned. However, the Regency legs remained. We at Christian Davies sometimes sell “buckle back” chairs, which feature a straight cross-rail and heavily yoked back.

The 1851 Great Exhibition marked the third stage in the evolution of antique balloon back dining chairs . By now, the chairs had adopted classic Rococo Revival lines, with graceful curved contours, cabriole legs and mother-of-pearl inlays. This style of antique balloon back dining chair, with its ornamental scrollwork and fanciful carving, found favour with the American market. Writer A.J Downing described the style somewhat inaccurately as Louis Quatorze in his book Architecture of Country Houses (he meant Rococo, or Louis XV).

From the mid 1850s, the backs of antique balloon back dining chairs became increasingly diverse. They included upholstered back panels coupled with ornately carved seat aprons; Gothic Revival with cusps and foils, and heavily scrolled Empire-inspired designs. Caned, rather than upholstered seats began to arrive, inspired by the Arts & Crafts movement. We at Christian Davies have many antique balloon backed dining chair variations in our Preston showroom.

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