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What is a Spool Chair?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 02 December 2016
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The basic spool chair is a furniture design that involves a frame made entirely from components that are turned or ran through a lathe. Sometimes referred to as a Carver chair, the spool chair dates back to the 17th century, and is often considered to have its origins in the New England area of the United States. Simplistic in design, the typical spool chair usually is topped off with minimal decoration, making the chair both classic and easy to include in many types of decorating designs.

In actual structure, spool chairs are fairly straightforward. The legs are shaped or turned on a lathe, and will extend beyond the usual seat level. This allows the legs to function as the frame for the backing on the chair, as well as the support for the armrests. As with the legs, the spindles along the back of the chair and the armrests are usually turned as well. In most designs, there are no spindles added to the area between the arms and the seat portion of the chair.

For the actual seat of a common spool chair, natural materials are used to construct a rush seat. In centuries past, this helped to make the spool chair comfortable as well as attractive. The simplistic design of the overall chair made it easy to clean the wood body easily, which was an attractive feature for domestic staff and others charged with keeping the home clean and tidy.

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The nickname for the Carver chairs is understood to come from John Carver, who served as the first governor of the Plymouth colony in the New World. Carver tended to favor the design of the spool chair as being both practical and visually appealing. A similar design is sometimes referred to as the Brewster chair, and is named after a later governor of the Massachusetts colony. Carver chairs usually feature a combination of three vertical spindles and three horizontal rails as part of the essential design. Brewster chairs, by contrast, usually make use of more spindles in the framing of the back, and tend to include spindles between the arms and the seat of the chair design.

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