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A colonial icon - the antique plantation chair

Updated: Jan 30

The plantation chair has become an iconic piece of antique furniture from India's colonial past evoking images of a glamorous overseas lifestyle and cocktails on the veranda. However, the origin of the plantation chair is far more practical - the colonial British / French / Dutch / Portuguese needed somewhere to sit!

Furniture in the 'traditional' sense didn't exist in 19th century India so the colonials set about training Indian artisans and commissioning pieces which were fit for purpose but used local craftsmanship and native timber. The best Anglo-Indian furniture - that is Indian-made to Anglo order - was commissioned by British officials during the Raj and was made from solid teak or Indian rosewood, often beautifully carved or inlaid.

The Plantation Chair is a wonderful example of design delivering both form and function. To combat the intense Indian heat the colonials wanted to be able to relax with their feet up (no one likes a puffy ankle). Pre-1850 this was achieved with a simple bamboo footstool, but comfort was lacking. The plantation chair provided an all in one solution: a low, spacious reclining chair with one continuous section of cane work to comfortably support the body. Designed with comfort in mind, the cane seating provided ventilation - essential for life in tropical India, and the long arms served as a relaxing leg rest. You will note that each arm is composed of a flat plank with a rounded end - either as one long extended arm or as a joined plank that rotates out to double the arm length. Genius!

These flat arms along with the sloping continuous back are the distinguishing features of the plantation chair. And so a design icon was born.

Initially plantation chairs were used exclusively by the male dominated environments of the plantations and military camps as shown in the 1851 painting ‘The Early Repast’ by the British artist Alexander W Phillips. But by the late nineteenth century they became firmly established as a prerequisite of every British colonial household mainly for use on the veranda.

Fast forward to the 2020s and the natural cane seating, sleek design and beautiful wood has endured and retains its appeal as a statement piece for today's home - whether inside or outside (weather permitting!).

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