Published: September 12, 2000
Want a hot collectible that’s comfortable, classy, and a real art form? Try an Eighteenth Century French armchair. The French knack for design and cabinetry in the mid-Eighteenth Century – during the reign of Louis XV – has become, to the design historian, the equivalent of high art: fine lines and curves and rich lustrous material created by master craftsmen. To the interior designer, the French armchair is the equivalent of the basic black dress, due to its “go anywhere, looks great in any space” versatility, and the enduring appeal of its classic lines and proportions.
Because of their exceptional craftsmanship, many of these chairs have managed to survive quite well over the centuries, and as a result many collectors are finding them not only beautiful, but quite useful. Today, originals and reproductions of the period are commonplace in a variety of decors.
One of the basic types of armchairs during this period was the fauteuil, a smaller-styled chair with intimate proportions that was scaled to fit the interiors of the day. Fauteuils have open-sided arms and a carved, curving wooden frame with upholstered seat cushions or caning.
Even a century ago, there was a thriving market for Louis XV furniture. The captains of industry during the time, such as Rothschild, Huntington, Frick and Spreckels, were on a rampage to get hold of great examples. Of course this drove the prices up and signed chairs could fetch several thousand dollars, which at the time was an extraordinary amount. Signed chairs of that caliber now may reach prices of several hundred thousand dollars.
Fortunately for the online buyer and collector, high-quality originals are out there if you are willing to put in some time and effort for your prized search. A recent search on Sotheby’s.com yielded one result: a rare example of a Canadian Louis XV armchair expected to garner between $9/12,000.
Many of the large auction houses present fine French fauteuils in their regular showings, however, for the rest of us who may not be able to reach so deeply into our pockets, there is another way of looking at the steep prices: Think of an Eighteenth Century chair as a good investment. You could spend thousands of dollars for your average leather armchair, á la Restoration Hardware or Pottery Barn, or you could buy the real thing and own a piece of history. Think of it as a small price to pay for sitting pretty.
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