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What Is a Wingback Chair?

Dan Cavallari
Dan Cavallari

A wingback chair is a type of easy chair that features enclosing wings on either side of the seat back. Some people call these wings "ears," since they sometimes resemble ears turned inward on the chair. The wings can extend from the armrests up to the top of the seat back, or they may only run from the seat back above the armrests to the top of the seat back. The wingback chair was common when fireplaces were primarily responsible for heating homes; when the chair was positioned toward the fire, the heat from the fireplace would be captured by the wings to provide warmth to the torso and head.

Most models of the wingback chair in modern times are upholstered for comfort, with leather or fabrics, and they are usually cushioned with batting or foam both in the seat of the chair and in the seat back. Sometimes the wings themselves are upholstered as well, providing another sitting or sleeping position for the user. The legs of the chair are very often made of wood, and the legs may be highly decorative or quite plain, depending on the overall aesthetic of the wingback chair.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

A less traditional wingback chair may feature a reclining function that allows a person to lie back to relax or sleep. The degree of the reclining varies according to the particular model, and just about all reclining wingback chair models feature a foot rest that extends outward when the user reclines the seat back. Some wingback chairs will even allow a user to lie completely flat, as if on a bed. Others feature a slight slant in the seat back and seat to keep the user from lying completely flat. The reclining function is activated either by pressing on the seat back, or by pulling on a hand-activated lever mounted on the side of the chair.

The wings themselves are usually one of two varieties: straight or scroll wings. Straight wings are more angular and run from the armrests to the top of the seat back. Scroll wings feature a distinctive curve, with the fatter part of the curve extending from the top of the seat back. The scroll wing is more decorative, while the straight wing provides more potential for collecting warmth when the chair is positioned toward a fireplace or other heat source, such as a wood stove.

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      Woman holding a book