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Victorian America's Furniture of the Future

George Hunzinger was a 19th-century furniture designer who believed in technology, so much that he filed 21 patents for convertible furniture, including the iconic folding chair we all know and love. He also pioneered furniture that used fabric-covered wire mesh that made pieces much lighter and cooler than regular upholstery. He even created tables that held an extra leaf inside them. But his chairs were still products of their time, which means fancy to our eyes. Barry R. Harwood of the Brooklyn Museum tells us about Hunzinger's innovations.    

In the 1860s, Hunzinger launched his own business, focusing on urban middle-class buyers who wanted novel, fashionable, and versatile items to decorate their homes. Most of Hunzinger’s pieces fell squarely into the emerging field of “patent furniture,” which adopted mechanical improvements to make adjustable, multi-purpose furniture for saving space and improving comfort. “By 1861, he started patenting folding chairs, which became a sort of obsession,” Harwood says. Much like today, convertible furniture—including folding chairs, sofa beds, and card tables—was very appealing to urban residents with limited space.

A Hunzinger patent from 1861 shows why his work was popular with apartment dwellers. It described a folding chair based on the common X-frame shape along with a small attached writing desk. Like this model, many of Hunzinger’s designs were known as “fancy chairs,” or what we’d call accent chairs or conversation pieces today. “In the early 19th century, it usually referred to chairs that had a great deal of hand-painted polychromatic decoration on them,” Harwood says. “For the 19th-century consumer, it meant a singular, unusual chair that you had in the parlor.”

Read more about Hunzinger's furniture, and see plenty of pictures, at Collectors Weekly.

(Image credit: the Brooklyn Museum)

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