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What is a chair? A chair is something to sit on!
Chairs come in many shapes, sizes, and types. We have chairs for school, dining, transportation, watching television, playing video games, working and more. Not all societies find chairs as essential as western culture. Many societies just squat, lean or sit on the floor. Chairs throughout history have had various social and symbolic meanings. From the Egyptians we know of two basic types: chairs for recumbent ease and chairs for upright alertness. Pharaohs had great thrones with straight backs, requiring upright posture and a straight spine. Greek civilization introduced a chair in which a person leaned back while sitting, called a klismos. Romans used bed-like chairs to recline on pillows to dine. In medieval times, people usually squatted or sat on the floor. Furniture was heavy so that it could not be easily stolen or foldable so it could be stored against a wall. In pre-industrial London, furniture served many functions due to crowded conditions. A table or piano might double as a bed! During the industrial revolution, many more chairs and chair types were designed, producing some of the most comfortable chairs that the world has ever had. In the early 20th century, modernists began to design chairs as sculptural objects.
Chairs are everywhere! Choose your seat!

Activity 1 Take A Seat

Count the chairs in your house, your classroom and your community. How many places do you have to sit? Draw or photograph your chair types around you and make a chart showing how many chairs you have. Make one chart for your home, one for your classroom and one for your community. Do you think you have enough places to sit in each of these areas? Why or why not?

Activity 2 When did we start sitting in chairs?

Research and create a timeline depicting the history of chairs. Try to find an example of a chair from each century. Label the century of the chair and determine if it was a seat of power, a seat for show, a seat of comfort, or a seat for functional purposes.

Klismos: a Greek chair that allows for leaning back while sitting
recumbent: a chair which allows one to lie down or lean back
throne: a chair symbolizing royal power, originated from being carried
aesthetics: a pleasing appearance or effect
form:3 dimensional geometry of a chair
function: structure and performance of a chair

Activity 3 Collect Chairs and Learn About Culture

Take photos of chairs or find them on the internet. Search for different types, such as chairs for dining, reading, playing video games, waiting, or working. Do these chairs seem to imitate the Egyptian throne type or the klismos type? Are the designs based more on human comfort, aesthetics, function or are they used for something else? Would most cultures find this chair type useful or is it limited to a certain culture?

Activity 4 Twentieth Century Chairs

Research and create a timeline depicting the history of chairs over the last century. Select chairs that you think represent a new idea or new way of using chairs. Sketch the chair. Label its designer or place of origin and the year it was introduced. If possible, label the materials used to make the chair.


  1. List five activities you normally do while sitting in a chair but can do while sitting on something else.

  2. What is the proper name for an ancient Greek recliner?

  3. Why were medieval chairs large and heavy?

  4. All chairs are functional.

  5. Name five different types of chairs you have at home.


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