The “Parsons Chair”: A “Slipper Chair” Of Timeless Appeal

Streamlined & Timeless Style:  The Parsons Chair
Streamlined & Timeless Style: The Parsons Chair

The “Parsons Chair”. Streamlined versatility of function and comfort. A classic chair of timeless design, the upholstered or slipcovered chair is typically crafted of hardwoods and features a slightly curving, squared backrest and legs. A visually solid chair iconically embellished in fabric. The Parsons Chair provides simplicity with distinctive style. Perhaps, to deepen one’s appreciation for this unique and timeless design, an appreciation of its past is in order…

The “Parsons Chair” was created in Paris in the 1930’s by the Parsons School of Design. Of interest, what is known as the Parsons school was begun as the Chase School in 1896 by renowned American Impressionist painter William Merritt Chase (1849-1916). Chase founded the New York school and led a small group of students who withdrew from the Art Students League of New York in search of individualistic expression. The Chase School and the icons of early American Modernism perhaps is what brought to the school in 1904 the vision of Arts educator Frank Alvah Parsons. In 1921, with a vision of art and design’s link to industry, Parson would initiate a satellite school in Paris, France. This satellite school is said to have been the first art and design school founded abroad by an American school. Who knew? In 1941, the school would be named in his honor. Parsons would soon become the sole director of the New York School of Fine and Applied Art and continue to provide vision for the future. A vision that would continue to inspire the world of art and design, indeed…

Frank Alvah Parsons  (1866-1901)
Frank Alvah Parsons (1866-1901)

And of this chair of simplistic and linear design from the 1930’s? The Parsons School designers are said have streamlined “excess ornamentation” and the historical influences that reflected the periods of Arts & Crafts (1880-1910), Art Nouveau (1890-1905) and of course, the era that the 1930’s was layered within: the Art Deco period (1910-1940). The styles that dominated furniture designs of the time would certainly inspire the design of this enduringly modern, yet timeless chair. Function and comfort were also a focus in addition to the classic and modern influences resulting in a chair of distinction. Said to present “Classic Modernists traits of natural, simplistic and linear design” the enduring traits follow this stylish object of purpose and function within the interior, for certain. Of note, the original Parsons design is said to have been upholstered in leather. Again, who knew?

The  1930's "Parsons Chair" /Parsons School of Design
The 1930’s “Parsons Chair” /Parsons School of Design

However the chair is covered over its linear form, the chair itself was historically considered to be a transitional piece of furniture. Of additional interest, the Parsons Chair was first designed as a part of a matched set of furnishings. Designed for use in a dining table suite with 4 chairs and a table, both were intended to reflect a similar aesthetic. The linear and simple design of both provided a contrast to the heavier dining furniture of the early 20th century that tended to visually dominate a room. The light and airy appeal of the sleek variation to interior style provided a versatile and functional appeal. The Parsons Table and Parsons Chair were created as companion pieces yet perhaps due to the simplicity and versatility of both has led them to be incorporated separately into many interior styles. Parting ways within the interior, the adaptable style certainly provides a striking appeal in any setting. Certainly, an evolution in design. Both, perhaps, integrate historical influences while presenting a modern edge that still stand the test of time today. The table, like the chair, holds a simple elegance that endures. (Alas, perhaps the iconic Parsons Table is another topic to dwell upon…)

The Classic Parsons Table
The Classic Parsons Table
Upholstered Slipcover Of Classic Style:  The Parsons Chair
Upholstered Slipcover Of Classic Style: The Parsons Chair
Classic Influences Of Adaptable Style:  The Parsons Chair
Classic Influences Of Adaptable Style: The Parsons Chair
Transitional Simplicity Of Enduring Design:  The Parsons Chair
Transitional Simplicity Of Enduring Design: The Parsons Chair

Consider the versatility and timeless appeal of the Parsons Chair. Choices and stylistic preferences abound, for certain. Incorporated into the interior, this stylish chair blends in any setting while standing out in distinctive style. Although there are variations of this classic chair that are absent of the adornment of fabric, perhaps it is the classic beauty of this chair is the fabric that swathes its upholstered form. Although there is an almost regal elegance when covered in upholstered or slipcovered fabric, there are certainly variations that retain no layering in upholstered style but rather the linear form itself. Options absent of the adornment of fabric yet options of great design. For certain, the design has evolved. But what remains consistent is the elegant simplicity of design. Enduring style. Whether wrapped in leather, tailored coverings of slipcovered style or even smaller and shorter designed chairs with or without armrests, the classic “Parsons Chair” holds a timeless appeal that endures, indeed….


“Industry is the nation’s life, art is the quality of beauty in expression, and industrial art is the cornerstone of our national art” – Frank Alvah Parsons, 1920


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