Tag Archives: furniture

Parts of a Chair

Learning the names and terms for parts of objects is important in developing your shared vocabulary for easier communication. If a designer asks you to “make the splat wider”, you don’t want to waste your time trying to widen a drop of paint.

For chairs, this was a little tricky trying to distill down all the general parts. Not all chairs have all the parts. Some parts are only specific to certain styles or time periods. Various people refer to similar parts by different names; in some contexts, they can be synonyms, while in others, they might have slightly different definitions. I’ve tried to exclude terminology which describes styles of parts. So while I defined a “leg”, I haven’t included a “cabriole leg”.

Some parts of a chair
Some parts of a chair

You can refer to the drawing above as well as the one below when looking at the definitions. At the end of today’s post, I’ve included a full-size drawing of both diagrams together at a higher resolution so you can print it out and hang it up. Have fun!

Some more parts of a chair
Some more parts of a chair
  • apron – the strips that run between the legs and connects to the surface (seat)
  • arm or armrest – part that supports your elbow and forearm
  • arm support – generalized term for the upright piece which supports the arm
  • back rail – rails specific to the seat back
  • back upright – synonym for “stile”
  • corner bracket – item which connects two members for added support and structure
  • cresting – ornamental topping, usually set in the center of the top of a chair-back
  • cresting rail – rail which contains the cresting, aka top rail
  • ear – small projecting member or part of a piece or structure, either decorative or structural
  • foot – bottom of the leg
  • headpiece – another word for “top rail” or “headrest”. With cresting, can be called “cresting rail”
  • leg – support for the chair
  • lower rail – lowermost rail of the seat back
  • manchette (arm pad) – upholstered patch or cushion on an armrest
  • mid rail – rail close to the vertical center of the seat back
  • rail – horizontal bar (of the back)
  • seat – the piece you set your bum on
  • seat back – general term encompassing the whole back of a chair, from the seat on up
  • seat rail – a synonym for the apron, or a single piece of the apron
  • shoe – a piece that sits on the back seat rail and holds the bottom of the splat, allowing easy replacement of a broken splat without disassembling the whole chair
  • skirt – band of fabric that hangs free from the bottom of an upholstered cushion. Sometimes used as a synonym for “apron”
  • slip seat – a seat which is easily removable to facilitate re-upholstery
  • spindle – a cylindrically symmetric shaft
  • splat – a vertical central element of the chair back
  • stile – outside vertical framing member (of the back)
  • stretcher – horizontal support element joining the legs
  • top rail – uppermost rail of the seat back
  • upholstered back – a padded back covered in fabric
  • upholstered seat – a padded seat covered in fabric
  • upright – vertical members of a chair back
Diagram of the parts of a chair
Click to load a large version for printing

A brief intro to furniture history

Furniture history is important to most props people. This is obviously an enormously complicated and involved topic. My aim here is merely to point to some resources for a general overview. Sometimes, a topic is so overwhelming, you don’t even know where to begin.

History of Furniture timeline
History of Furniture timeline

Maltwood has a useful History of Furniture timeline. The chart breaks down trends in material choice, makers, influences, and cross-lists them with European monarchs. You can click on the chart to get more details about the specific design movements.

You can fill an entire library with books that have been written about the history of furniture which, coincidentally, is where you can also find books. While the books you use have much to do with what show you are doing, there are some more general purpose books in the public domain which you can download free from various sites. These books are useful for furniture up to the early twentieth century.

Wikipedia provides a useful starting point for delving into the study of period furniture. The History Channel also has a brief article of use.

Shakespeare for Community Players: Furniture

The following is taken from a chapter concerning prop-making in “Shakespeare for Community Players”, by Roy Mitchell. It was originally published in 1919. The information suffers from being both 90 years old, as well as being written for amateurs. Still, it is useful for some tips and tricks, as well as its historical value. I will be presenting sections of the chapter intermittently over the next several weeks.


The making of properties is the most fascinating of all the crafts connected with the art of the theatre. Seeing that the intent is primarily to suggest a given object, there is no attempt at imitation in detail. Only the salient facts regarding the object are to be seized and translated into a suitable medium. The finding of the particular medium in each case, and the discovery of common, inexpensive objects which can easily be converted to use, gives unfailing interest to property-making. Every play, with its wide variety of accessories, is in itself a great adventure.

Under the heading of “properties” comes everything movable on stage except scenery, rostra and clothes. Even clothes, if they are not worn but merely carried on and passed from one person to another, are ” props,” although they are made by the costumier.

Figure 11: Decorative chairs and settle
Figure 11: Decorative chairs and settle

Furniture is the most considerable item among stage accessories. This should be made on the simplest and most massive lines. Whenever possible, it is best to make up furniture on the unit system, where a few pieces used in combination can be made to serve many purposes. Figure 11 shows a variety of chairs and a settle. Figure 12 shows a standardised set of chairs which will be universally useful. In this set there are three plain chairs and two corner chairs which make up into a throne, a settle, or a garden seat.

Figure 12: Standardized chairs
Figure 12: Standardized chairs

Figure 13 shows two tables and a judge’s bench. The first (a) is most generally useful. It is quite narrow (two feet wide), and, placed across the stage in any desired position, will occupy a minimum of space, on even the shallowest of stages. The table shown in (b) is shorter, and may be used up and down the stage. The judge’s bench should be high and quite shallow; sixteen inches is enough. Any of these tables may be converted into a desk by placing on the centre of it a simple inclined bookrest.

Figure 13: Tables and Judge's bench
Figure 13: Tables and Judge's bench

Buffets, cupboards, wardrobes and chests should be of the most elementary design, made up out of pine and stained or painted.

Very satisfactory stains may be made of dye in powder form, dissolved in boiling water and applied with a dish-washing mop. Black, green, brown, red or orange may be used singly or mixed in desired combinations to give all the natural and artificial tones of wood with sufficient fidelity for stage purposes.

Reprinted from Shakespeare for Community Players, by Roy Mitchell, J.M. Dent & Sons ltd., 1919 (pp 60-62)