The Anatomy of a Chair

The Anatomy of a Chair

Searching for the perfect dining set for your table, kitchen, or breakfast nook? Read below to learn a little bit about how we build our chairs. Then visit Ernest Thompson’s Dining Room page for our ever expanding library of dining ideas and inspirations.

The headrest is not really a headrest at all, but the top rail of your dining chair. Most dining chairs sit at between 40-44” high, so the headrest is meant to provide upper back support and to secure in place the spindles that form the bulk of your chair back. In partnership with the spindles, the headrest is also where much of the defining style characteristics of a chair can be found. This is done because the headrest of the chair is the place where your chair is most visible when placed at set position at your dining table.

When selecting your chair, envision how your chair will be viewed from the front within the vantage points or high traffic areas within the room. Depending on the size of your dining chair, the headrest will often be constructed by laying up multiple pieces of wood for a larger flat surface, using the same methods used to create the smooth expanse of your tabletop. How will your chair headrest contribute to your dining set stylistically? Are you looking for a focal point? Are you looking for carved details, or are you more concerned with the silhouette, or shape, of the headrest itself?

In a well built chair, the spindles are formed from hand cut, sometimes turned (for rounded spindles) pieces of solid wood. Their strength and shape is designed to support the lumbar region for dining periods where you will be sitting upright for an extended period of time. Well constructed spindles, like those in an Ernest Thompson dining chair, are constructed with traditional mortise and tenon construction. The thickness of the wood, along with this centuries-old joinery technique ensures that spindles are securely joined in place between the top rail and the chair seat, and that they will resist popping out of place or snapping in half..

The spindles of an Ernest Thompson chair are typically the showstoppers of the piece. Whether they be hollowed and carved in relief, or adorned with line carvings, spindles create that overall decorative focal point. Consider your room – do you need your spindles to have equal decorative impact on both the front and the back? Carved spindles are often the solution. With spindles, when the chairs are set, your chair backs will pop and will identify your dining chairs as true works of art. Your dining chair back can also be upholstered for extra cushion and to allow fabric to contribute the decorative detail. Seat backs can be upholstered with the same, or with different, fabrics on the front and the back of the chair back

Chair Arms:
Dining chairs typically come in two formats: the traditional side dining chair, and the end chair, alternatively called a dining chair with arms, a sitting chair, or a captain’s chair. In a traditional formal dining setting, side chairs are placed along the sides of your table, and arm chairs are placed at the ends to designate guests of honor or your dining hosts. With a round or oval table, it is common to utilize all side chairs or all arm chairs, but a captain’s chair can also be utilized to designate the head of the table.

Your dining chairs arm rests, if built correctly, will be shaped or sculpted to comfortably cradle your forearms when in a relaxed yet upright seated position. When shopping for a dining chair with arms, sit in your chair and test the comfort of the chair’s armrests. Do your forearms and elbows rest comfortably?

Chair Seat:
All Ernest Thompson dining chairs are available in your choice of solid wood seat, a rush (woven straw) seat, or a custom upholstered. Well constructed chair seats are carefully shaped to support evenly. In Ernest Thompson dining chairs, the front of the chair seat is typically wider than the rear, to allow for comfortable positioning of the thighs when in a relaxed but upright seated position. The chair seat is the base to which the chair arms and the chair spindles are attached with mortise and tenon joints.

In a well built chair, the back legs are continuous throughout the entire height of the chair. In other words, the side frames of the chair back become the chair’s rear legs. This greatly enhances the strength of the chair’s structure, preventing legs from snapping. Oftentimes, stretchers – or horizontal rails that connect the legs – are employed to enhance this stability even further. All leg joinery, including the joinery that connects the legs to the chair seat, are constructed with traditional mortise and tenon joinery.