If you’re looking to add a distinctive, eye-catching accent piece to your living space, one of the best ways to start is by taking a page from the history books. Some of the most beautiful and unusual furnishings out there are the ones that have been mostly lost to the passage of time, that survive largely in the form of replicas. The dome chair (also known as the balloon chair) is one of my personal favorites, a holdout from 18th Century France that takes the idea of a high-backed chair to a whole other level.
Dome chairs, as the name implies, are arm chairs that are topped off with a distinctive dome, giving them an unusual, balloon-like shape. The dome is attached to the back and sides of the chair, not only covering it like a canopy up top, but also ensconcing the chair from both sides as well. The dome can be deep or shallow, is usually (but not always) upholstered, and is designed to be tall enough that even very tall people can sit in them comfortably. The extra height and unusual shape are what make this chair so distinctive, and even a single one can add an arresting classic style to your living space.
But dome chairs weren’t originally designed just for looks. From a historical standpoint, the most important function was protecting the person sitting in the chair from drafts. The sides and top of the chair create a relatively deep, sheltered space (though some are moreso than others), allowing you to sit back comfortably and be protected from currents of cold air in the surrounding room. Particularly facing a fireplace, that makes these chairs extra cozy, though often they were placed in less hospitable areas of the home – like an entryway – and used by servants while waiting to admit guests.
Though your home is probably less drafty than ones from a few hundred years ago, even in a modern setting, dome chairs certainly have their uses. For one, they’re good at blocking sound as well as air flow, both insulating someone sitting in one from the noise of the room and, when paired with another matching chair, can create a relatively quiet, private conversation area. Dome chairs are particularly well suited to use as standalone reading chairs, because they create a cozy little self-contained nook that’s warm, quiet, and perfect for curling up in.
Though they’re a bit more rare, you can also find double-wide dome chairs that are big enough to seat two. These are more like a compact settee than a full loveseat, but offer a little extra room, if not to share, than to curl up and get comfortable. This Lady Alcott chair is a bit on the narrower side for a two seater, but the back, arms, dome, and sides of the chair are all cushioned as well as upholstered for maximum coziness, meaning just about every surface inside the chair is comfortable for leaning or reclining. The wider dome is a touch less claustrophobic, but also a little less warm and cozy for one.
Dome chairs are fairly easy to dress up or down to fit the style of your living space. While the big dome up top is always going to be a distinctive feature, the level of detail in the woodworking, the type of wood and finished used, and the type and amount of fabric used on the upholstery can all have a big impact on the final appearance of the piece. Chairs with unupholstered domes, for example, have a slightly more casual, wicker-like appearance that makes them a nice pair for a sunroom or conservatory, while satin, velvet, or leather in rich browns or gem tones are better suited to a parlor, library, or a more elegant living room. You can also find designs almost anywhere in between; accent chairs sporting simple, neutral-toned fabrics are particularly popular, and work well with a French country style.
You can also find dome chairs with a more modern twist. Though it’s hard to scrub the Louis XV influence out of the base design even if you strip away the ornate Rococo style woodworking, swapping from the traditional wood and fabric to a polyresin plastic and bonded leather in a solid, bold color creates a look that’s very chic and very modern. The shape of the chair evokes the classical style, but the outlandish material choice gives the look a sassy, slightly tongue-in-cheek feel that’s perfect for an edgy yet glamorous modern space.
Dome chairs are one of the more unique furniture designs out there, and they’re a great way to give a distinctive look to your living room, whether you have a very traditional style, or a really stylish modern one, and they’re absolutely perfect for anyone looking for a comfy chair to curl up and read a book in.