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What is a Carver Chair?

Jessica Ellis
Updated May 16, 2024
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A Carver chair is a specific style of chair synonymous with early North American Colonial design. Believed to have associations with the first governor of the Plymouth, Massachusetts colony, Carver chairs are noted for their carved details and unique backing. Carver chairs are popular in Colonial design traditions, and while original chairs are quite rare, reproductions are easily found.

The first governor of Plymouth, John Carver, was the financial and practical manager behind the Pilgrims' exodus to North America aboard the Mayflower. He became governor of the colony in November 1620, but died less than a year later, after the first devastating winter in the Nnew World. According to longstanding belief, the first Carver chair belonged to the governor and was brought on board the Mayflower to stand in his new home. However, some experts suggest that the chair to which this history is attributed was built using American ash wood, and was unlikely to have been constructed before Carver's death; nevertheless, the popular chair style still bears his name.

A Carver chair is distinct from other colonial styles in a few basic design elements. The most unique feature consists of three vertical supporting spindles on the chair back. These spindles, as well as the legs and sometimes the armrests, feature a carved design called turned construction. The chair is also distinguished by a lack of vertical spindles between the armrest and the seat.

Carver chairs make excellent dining chairs, though may not promote comfortable resting, as they are traditionally constructed of wood and feature a woven seat. However, modern versions of the chair may offer armless designs and softer seats, giving the chair more flexibility as a seating option. Beware, however, as many furniture companies may take artistic license and deem any kind of simple, wooden chair a Carver chair. Look for the distinctive three spindle back before accepting the chair as an example of the true Carver style.

Throughout the centuries, Carver chairs have remained popular for their simple construction and delicate craftsmanship. They can be found at many furniture stores, antique or secondhand shops, and even through online auctions. For those who enjoy decorating in Colonial or Early American styles, a set of Carver chairs can be a unique and authentic addition to any sitting or dining room. For those seeking true authenticity, look for an artisan woodworker who can construct the chairs or give prefabricated versions elegant and beautiful carved accents that fit in with the style and era of original design.

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Jessica Ellis
By Jessica Ellis
With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis brings a unique perspective to her work as a writer for HomeQuestionsAnswered. While passionate about drama and film, Jessica enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics, creating content that is both informative and engaging for readers.
Discussion Comments
By geekish — On Aug 19, 2011

@bluespirit - All of the Carver chairs or a type of offshoot of the Carver chair tend to have straight spindles.

However, Carver is a popular type of chair to make so you can find many variations of the original chair, which is why it was mentioned as difficult to find an "original" Carver chair.

Just put "carver chair" into an Internet search engine and you would be amazed at how many different chairs come up but yet are still labeled "carver-style".

By bluespirit — On Aug 18, 2011

When you are looking for Carver chairs is the 3 spindles in the back relatively straight or do they go off in a 'v' shape?

I would love to find some Carver dining chairs to add contrast to our modern and sleek dining room table; especially considering the chairs unique story and history.

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis
With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis...
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