past & present: chiavari chairs + uses & sourcing


illustration by julia rothman

If you’ve been to a wedding, chances are you’ve sat in a Chiavari chair. From White House events to weddings all over the country, this chair is the workhorse of event chairs. Light, easily stackable, yet elegant – there is a reason that these guys make the wedding rounds.


[clockwise from left: fancy chiavari chairs from 1stdibs: chiavari chairs from the 1940s, bronze chiavari chairs, Italian brass chiavari chairs, early carved chiavari chairs]

Italian origins

Chiavari chairs are named for the Italian city where they originated. This little town, located between Genoa and the Cinque Terre, began producing these chairs at the beginning of the 19th century. (In a recent We Like It Wild column, one of the girls from Studio Choo recounted a flower-filled trip to Chiavari and the surrounding Cinque Terre towns!) It was here in 1795 that the Descalzi brothers opened their famous furniture workshop. In 1807, Gaetano Descalzi designed a light, elegant, yet solid, cherrywood chair – the chair Chiavarine.


a gathering at the home of mme. brisson, 1893 by marcel andré bashet from chairs: a history by florence de dampierre

Chiavari Chairs – Type of Balloon-Backed Chair

Chiavari chairs are actually a type of chair known as a balloon-backed chairs. The design was based on the Louis XV panel-back side chair – without the back upholstery. (Here’s a Louis chair refresher!) Some of these balloon-backed chairs were even made out of papier-mâché – and everyone had one – Queen Victoria, the Crown Prince Friedrich and even Napoleon III and his fashionable wife Eugénie had the Chiavari chairs at St.-Cloud and Fontainebleau.


chiavari chairs at the kennedy wedding via life magazine

The chair jumped from the dining room to the ballroom – and has become the classic wedding chair. It probably didn’t hurt tradition that the Kennedy’s used Chiavari chairs at their 900-guest wedding in 1953.

In 1957, Cassina manufactured Gio Ponti’s homage to the chairs that he had seen at the seaside – the Chiavari chairs. The Superleggera was advertised as being so lightweight that even a child could lift it with a single finger!

CLICK HERE for the rest of the post after the jump, including books to read for more info about Chiavari chairs and great sources for buying your own!

Books to Read
Chairs: a History by Florence de Dampierre – I love this book! Seriously one of my new favorites!

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Chiavari  Uses + Chair Sourcing


diy orchard wedding table via once wed designed by chelsea of frolic

This simple Orchard Wedding becomes all-dressed with with the addition of gold Chiavari chairs!


dinner party in the middle of nowhere from jordan ferney of oh happy day

You obviously don’t need to wait for “the big day” to use the chiavari chair! This is one of my favorite ideas from the fabulous Jordan Ferney of Oh Happy Day. Jordan set up this table for a birthday celebration right in the middle of Aquatic Park pier in San Francisco (She calls it a Dinner Party in the Middle of Nowhere!) Jordan transported an entire four-course meal out here! Fun!

You can find your very own piece of Italian history at any chair rental company, but here are two recommended sources.

  1. the chiavari company $39.98 each
  2. gala source $182 for 4
Jocelyn Stott

Really interesting post! I really wanted them for my wedding, but they were just too expensive around where I live ($10/chair!!!). They are beautiful though and are a total classic.

Terry

I feel that the money one would spend on renting Chiavari chairs is very wasteful. Sure, they look good in photos, but during the reception they will be covered by your guests jackets! Plus they are uncomfortable! For my wedding, I am skipping the $1,000 to rent chairs and spending it on an extra hour of hosted bar. I’m sure the guests will appreciate that more than funky lookin’ chair. It’s just another wedding industry trend and a way to take your hard-earned money.

Lisa

I wouldn’t call it just “another wedding industry trend and a way to take your hard earned money.” They are obviously of some importance and have a whole design history behind them. Everyones spending options whether for a wedding or not are a personal choice. For me, a chair is important. It sets a specific tone for a wedding/home. Cost does matter, as I am not a person of unlimited means. So i am not free to buy and buy… but I would never call it a waste if you are able to do it. For example, my wedding coming up I wanted Starck Ghost chairs but they weren’t in the budget. I choose Chiavari chairs instead. Not my first choice, but I didn’t think the tan/brown chairs the venue had had the overall look we wanted which was important to my eye for design. I don’t see how you can read a design blog and see how any design related addition to an event can be a waste. While not always affordable… it doesn’t mean its a waste.

Archana

Grt post! I have always wanted to them for my own homw..where can I buy them?

Terry

@ Lauren. It’s funny you say “I don’t see how you can read a design post …” I am actually a graphic designer by trade and I do see how certain elements can add to the ambience of a wedding. However, chair is something you put your guests put their a** in and the cost of renting them is EXORBITANT! And, you don’t get to keep them. If you where purchasing a rad chair for your home, I get the hefty price tag. Renting 100 chairs at $10 a pop = WASTEFUL!

grace

terry

i don’t see renting a chair as wasteful- people have to sit, right? i think that’s more of a personal judgement call as to what feels like a waste to you. for some people, $10 a chair isn’t wasteful because the consider the chair an important part of the design element- or frankly, crucial to people’s comfort. people might look at graphic designers and say “$1,000 to design wedding invites? i can print them out myself- that’s a waste!”. it’s all a matter of opinion.

grace

Sue

I had no idea that this chair had such a great design history! It truly makes an elegant statement for an event. I have seen them painted a glossy white for a light and fresh feeling, or black for a more updated look, even orange which was fresh but still elegant. But the classic gold makes an occasion feel truly special. Love, love the Julia Rothman illustration, really captures the charm of this beautifully designed little chair.
Sue

Christine

Oh, the hours, days, weeks, I spent coveting that Gio Ponti chair while finishing my design degree. I still want it!

robin

You ALWAYS have the best informative thrifting/antique posts! The things I love and never really think about….until they show up here. Now I love my Chiavari swap meet fing that much more!

susie

My family happened upon Chiavari on a trip to Italy several years ago. It’s a lovely little city and I highly recommend a visit. Another really interesting design tidbit: Many of the buildings in Chiavari have trompe l’oeil windows painted on them. Apparently, during the years those building were going up there was a high tax on windows. So people had faux windows painted along with have the real ones for light and air. It’s really quite beautiful…and fun to spot them.

Karen Cole Wirrig

I love the Chiavari chair. In fact, I bought a set of 4 Italian brass chairs at an antique store in San Diego about 10 years ago. They were very tarnished and had horrible seat covers but after removing the tarnish and reupholstering with a beautiful silk, they are gorgeous. I have to sell the set as we are downsizing and moving so contact me for photos and pricing, if you are interested.

hrhkat

how expensive are these chairs to own? I know I could easily do a google search, but i have a feeling someone on here knows some magical special site that you can buy them fairly cheap lol.

i would love one in every color, and at parties with assigned seating, everyone gets their own colored chair!

amya

hrhkat – they are not very expensive. see the links at the end of the post for pricing and sourcing. :)
thanks!
-amy

Kathryn

I’ve always wondered about these chairs – thank you for the great history.

I actually think they’re kind of ugly, though, and especially garish in gold. The first time I saw them I thought they were tacky – maybe I would have thought differently if I had first seen them in the Kennedy’s photo.

Bill

Great article about the history of chiavari chairs! We sell the chairs as well and haven’t been too successful in finding the origins. Well done!

Laura

How funny.
I am an italian wedding planner. Rentals here refer to these italian chairs as “the american ones”. I should send them this article. Thank you :)

panayana

tnx for all this history. here in the philippines, these Chiavari are called Tiffany chairs. i don’t know why.

Maureen

Hi, we have purchased our Chiavari Chairs from a company called Vision Furniture. I think their website is: http://www.chiavarichairs.com. We are really pleased with the product quality and how easy their cushions are to clean with their stain resistant finish. They make our ballroom look great. I love my Chiavari Chairs and so do all of my brides!

Lou Dorris

Want to sell our set of four Chiavari chairs. If interested please send info request and I will submit pictures.
Thanks, Lou Dorris

Bren Murr

I own one of these chairs – and have only just discovered how important it is – due to the Internet – WOW !!

A Chair Affair, Inc.

I believe you’ll find wedding expenses to vary quite a bit from market to market. In Central Florida, we offer six colors of chiavari chairs for very reasonable rates. Our reviews of customer service and product quality are exceptional.

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