Chairs are composed of a seat, a back, legs and sometimes, arm rests. Chairs come in many different shapes and forms, from simple to ornate, and are made from different kinds of material. However, all chairs have one thing in common--they all have legs. Like the other parts of a chair, the type of leg can give information about a chair such its style and the period from which it originates.
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Cabriole and Marlborough Legs
Cabriole legs are shaped in two curves: the upper curve is convex and the lower curve is concave. The foot of the legs may be a ball and claw or a club. The knee is sometimes carved with an ornament such as a scallop shell. Originally the ancient Chinese and Greeks used this type of chair leg, but in the late 18th century, European chairs and tables were popularly fitted with cabriole legs. For example, you find them on Queen Anne chairs.
Marlborough Legs are straight legs that are heavy, sometimes fluted, and fitted with a block foot. These types of legs were used in English and American furniture, especially during the mid-18th century. The leg's name is derived from the Duke of Marlborough for furniture that was designed for him. Thomas Chippendale favoured this style of legs for his furniture.
Spiral and Saber Legs
Spiral legs are straight and carved so they look like a spiral or twisted rope with a winding flute or groove. Of Portuguese and Indian origin, spiral legs were popular during the Restoration period in the late 17th century.
Chairs with sabre legs are tapered and resemble a cavalry sabre. The legs are curved so that the front legs protrude forward and the back legs protrude behind. These types of legs were first used in Greece and are evident in the Greek klismos chair. Sabre legs are also found on Grecian chairs designed by Thomas Sheraton in the early 19th-century.
Hock and Lyre-Shaped Legs
A variation on the cabriole leg, hock legs have a broken curve on the inner side of the knee. This means that the legs have a straight, perpendicular section between the upper convex section and the leg's foot.
Lyre-shaped legs are two legs that come together to form the shape of a lyre, a harp-like instrument used in many French and English designs. The lyre motif, however, is also used extensively in chair backs. These legs were popular on chairs during the early 19th to mid-19th century during the Empire Period, which is also referred to as the Classic Style.
Parsons and Tapered Legs
Parsons legs are often used on Parsons chairs and are long and fully upholstered with fabric. Parsons chairs are upholstered dining chairs.
Tapered legs are wide at the top and gradually become narrower at the bottom. English furniture designed by George Hepplewhite in the 18th century commonly had tapered legs. Shield back chairs designed by Hepplewhite were fitted with tapered legs, as were many early classical-style chairs.
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