Antique Office Chair Options for Stylish Seating

Updated April 1, 2021
Antique Wood Office Chair

Modern offices are usually focused on increasing productivity and organization, but adding an antique office chair to your modern set up can bring an eclectic charm to your otherwise business-oriented space. That being said, you want to make sure that you choose the right type of antique office chair for your style, so take a look at the different chairs which used to fill high rises and manufacturing plants and see which one piques your interest.

Office Chairs Weren't Always Necessary

While personal desks have been used by privileged and wealthy people for the past few hundreds years, it was only due to the development of a transcontinental railroad system and the ensuing capitalist progress triggered by the Industrial Revolution that a need for more and more people to have both formal desks and formal desk chairs was sparked. The mid-19th century saw the development of the first office chairs, and the early 20th century was a boon for this market, innovating the chair to be mobile, able to recline, and stylish. Many contemporary desk chairs are influenced by these antique styles, proving that they have a lasting appeal.

Antique Office Chair Styles

Antique office chairs were exquisitely crafted but often understated, meant to be functional rather than fashionable. However, the natural woods and decorative upholstery of the chairs from yesteryear differ greatly from the modern desk chairs lining office supply store aisles today. These are some of the notable styles used as office chairs from the past century:

  • Centripetal Office Chairs - First shown in 1851 at the Great Exhibition in London, this unique chair was made out of cast iron and covered in both velvet and brocade, and featured a spring cushion, tilt motion, and revolving seat.
  • Wooden Typist Chairs - These chairs have lower backs and are generally made out of quality woods like oak. Many of these office chairs were equipped with wheels and were commonly used in academic settings like libraries.
  • Rattan Chairs - Rattan and other cane office chairs were popular during the 1920s while resort-style fashion was in vogue; these wooden chairs had cane seats and/or backs and are the most fragile of the antique examples that are found today.
  • Chesterfield Style Desk Chairs - These office chairs were often reserved for senior staff as they were upholstered with leather and punched with the iconic style's leather buttons.
Chesterfield Style Desk Chairs

Whether to Buy Antique or Modern Office Chairs

Antique chairs have a certain charming quality, but their aesthetic appeal doesn't always lend to a comfortable sitting experience. Most modern office chairs feature some sort of ergonomic properties, often making them much more comfortable than the antique varieties. If you have a history of back pain or sit at your office desk for uninterrupted hours at a time, perhaps investing in an antique office chair isn't the right option for you. If this is the case, you can always purchase a modern recreation of an antique style where a manufacturer has designed a more ergonomic chair that mimics the older models. However, keep in mind that antique office chairs do come with far more features than most people realize; especially chairs from the 1910s and 1920s, which come equipped with swivel action, the option to set your chair into a deeply recline position, and wheels to move about the office.

antique desk chair

Costs of Antique Office Chairs

Generally speaking, the older an antique office desk chair is, the most expensive it'll be. However, even the oldest office chairs' values can decrease if they're in poor condition and require a lot of repairs to make them be able to support a person's weight. Occasionally, you can find an antique office chair for under $100, though it's much more likely that you'll come across them for between $500-$1,000. For instance, an antique oak swivel desk chair recently sold for nearly $600 at one auction, while a French Art Nouveau oak swivel chair was listed for a little over $1,000 in another. Additionally, a 1920s Thonet rattan office chair is listed for a little over $700 in a separate auction. Before purchasing one of these antique desk chairs, make sure to keep a few things in mind:

  • Check that the seller has a good return policy in case the item you receive doesn't match the description in the item's listing.
  • If you're purchasing one in-person, test it out before buying it; try every function to see if they work and if the price needs to be adjusted to accommodate any repairs.
  • Identify what the shipping costs to your location will be; these chairs are rather heavy and cumbersome, and this can drive shipping costs up hundreds of dollars.
Oak Rolltop Desk and Chair

How to Match Antique Furniture With Modern Décor

Given that antique furniture doesn't always match modern décor, it's important to identify what design or environment you want to create in your office. Here's a few tips for ways to start critically thinking about your office space and what antique chair would look best in that vision.

  • Warm vs. Cool Tones - If you gravitate towards warm colors - reds, yellows, oranges, and ambers - then antique office chairs with warm-colored woods will complement your space, while leather or cloth-covered chairs are better suited for cool-toned rooms.
  • Natural vs Industrial - Most antique office chairs were created out of wood, so if you're not a fan of the natural aesthetic, then you'll want to look for chairs that are upholstered in some way so as to cover their wooden components.
  • Function - Aside from the basic functionality of a chair, you want to check and see how much space you have for a new piece of furniture. If your office is located in a small nook in your home, then you probably won't want to purchase an antique desk chair with wide armrests and a high back.

Antique Furniture's Modern Purpose

Incorporating an antique office chair into your office space is a great opportunity for you to mix the historic with the modern in a functional way. Remember that your office chair is basically your home away from home, and you want it to fit all of your needs; so, pick your new ride carefully and give it some love - it should be with you for a long time.

Antique Office Chair Options for Stylish Seating