What are Barrel Chairs?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 21 September 2019
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Barrel chairs are chairs which are designed with a shape which is suggestive of a barrel. They have a circular footprint, and a curved design which is meant to create the illusion that a large barrel was used as a frame for the chair. These chairs are most commonly seen in casual décor, and they may be accompanied with ottomans upholstered in matching material for increased comfort.

The barrel chair design can be quite variable. Some barrel chairs are essentially columns with a notch cut out and padded for seating, while others have more abstract designs. The bottom of the chair may be entirely enclosed to make it look more like a barrel, or the chair may be given legs, depending on the taste of the designer. Classically, these chairs are upholstered, often all over, with no sign of the underlying wood, metal, or plastic framing material.

Some barrel chairs are designed with seat cushions which lift out to allow people to access a storage area. The back and arms of the chair are typically curved, making the chair almost like a nest which someone can curl up in, and the style can vary from stark and modern to more ornamental, with upholstery choices like leather, recycled rugs, silk, cotton, brocade, and so forth. Slipcovers for barrel chairs are also available, as are accent pillows which can be fitted against the back of the seat.


The footprint of a barrel chair is often small, making these chairs efficient users of space in small rooms, and some barrel chairs swivel or roll on wheels so that they can easily be moved to accommodate changes in the usage of a room. For example, barrel chairs could be rolled to the sides of a living room to make room for an extended table during the holidays, or people seated in barrel chairs could swivel to talk to people in other areas of the room.

Some barrel chairs are made from actual barrels, utilizing recycled wine barrels and other types of barrels as seating. Some of these “genuine” barrel chairs do not actually resemble barrels at all, with the furniture manufacturer instead breaking the barrel down and recycling the wood in a new chair design, such as a folding chair made from the staves of a wine barrel. These chairs are often designed as novelties, or décor items for country-style homes.


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