What is a Parson Chair?

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

Also known as a parson's chair, the parson chair is a functional and simplistic design capable of blending in with many different types of décor. Contrary to popular opinion, parson's chairs are not in any way connected with the clergy or the parsonages provided for clergy by some Christian denominations. Instead, the name is derived from the Parsons School of Design, located in Paris, France.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

The actual design for a parson chair is more recent than many people suspect. First created in the 1930’s, the original design sought to retain function and comfort while stripping away excess ornamentation and other historical influences that tended to dominate the furniture designs of the time. The end result was a simple chair with clean lines that would fit nicely into just about any area of the home.

Initially, the parson chair was designed to be part of a matched set of furnishings. The most common application was as a dining room suite that included a minimum of four chairs and a parson table. Like the chair, the parson table is a simple linear design that is free of intricate scrollwork or other design elements. Together, the two pieces of furniture were ideal for creating a sleek modern look that was somewhat light and airy while still retaining natural overtones. This was in contrast to the heavy dining furniture of the early 20th century that tended to dominate a room, sometimes to the point of making the space feel cramped.

However, parson dining chairs quickly became favorites away from the dining table. With the comfortable cushioning and simple design of the back, arms, and legs, the chair became an ideal piece for creating attractive reading nooks or as an occasional chair tucked into a corner of a room. Because the parson chair lacks so many of the design elements that are found in other period pieces, it is possible for the chair to blend in with just about any type of room design. As long as the color of the cushioning and body are compatible with the general scheme of the room, there is a good chance that the chair will look like an intentional element in the space. Some people choose to utilize one or two parson's chairs as a means of providing a touch of the eclectic to a room, thus preventing the décor from looking too staged.

The parson chair has remained a favorite into the 21st century. Most furniture stores carry this type of chair with different selections of finishes and colors. As with any type of furniture, there are cheaper brands of the parson chair that are not likely to hold up well over the long-term. However, a high-quality parson chair can easily last for decades, even with constant use.

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

After many years in the teleconferencing industry, Michael decided to embrace his passion for trivia, research, and writing by becoming a full-time freelance writer. Since then, he has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including wiseGEEK, and his work has also appeared in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and several newspapers. Malcolm’s other interests include collecting vinyl records, minor league baseball, and cycling.

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Discussion Comments


@Vincenzo -- Can't help but agree. We have six of these around our dining room table and they are great for that use. When it comes to watching television, lounging, reading or doing anything else, give me some overstuffed, overblown chair that the Parsons one was probably meant to replace.


I honestly don't see I have ever seen one of these away from a dining room table. They fit in perfectly in that environment. You need something you can get in and out of quickly and is comfortable enough to sit down and have a meal, play some cards or whatever. Arm rests are not necessary when these are used at a kitchen table, and even a good Parsons chair is pretty affordable.

Outside of their use at a dining room table, a Parsons chair is a poor choice. You can't recline, rest your arms or anything else. You just sit straight up and, well, that's about it.

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