A parish chair is a special type of upholstered dining chair. The name has nothing to do with the clergy. The chair is named after its origin: it was created in Paris in the 1930s by a designer from the famous Parsons School of Design.
When designing the chair, the designers at Parsons School did not radically reinvent the idea of the chair (as, for example, the Bauhaus did in Germany). Instead, designers streamlined historical influences, preserved what worked, scrapped what didn’t, and created an enduring modern classic. The main features of this, its naturalism, simplicity, and linear appearance, are classic modernist traits, but the style reflects the Mission and Arts and Crafts styles of the 1800s, the Art Nouveau styles that emerged later, and the Art Deco that was contemporary in the moment of the design of the priest’s chair. The simplicity of the chair fits in with these styles and a wide variety of others, both classic and modern.
It was originally intended to be used in an ensemble with the parsons table, whose linear appearance reflects a similar aesthetic in the matching chair. However, in a bit of irony, the simplicity of both has led to them being adapted separately to many styles of furniture and decoration. The result? Today, they are rarely seen together. The style of pastors is so adaptable that many who have a priest’s table or a priest’s chair have no idea that there are complementary pieces. The priest’s chair is practically always made of noble wood and has a slightly curved and square back and legs. They are typically featured with slipcover upholstery that completely covers the legs and gives it a solid, monumental appearance. This cover is optional or absent on many recent models.
Most of today’s rectory chairs are direct clones of the original Parsons School design. However, there are many recent variations, including versions with convertible legs, Chippendale-influenced designs, shorter or taller designs and versions with armrests, versions more or less inspired by Art Nouveau or Art Deco, etc. The original Parsons School design was upholstered in leather, and this is still a very popular upholstery option, although microfabrics are being used more and more. The wide variety of options available today should ensure that you can find one that is right for you.
Due to its simplicity, comfort, and ease of cleaning, the parish chair continues to be very popular, especially in restaurants. In fact, you may already own and enjoy one without realizing what it is. We hope that knowledge of the history of this chair deepens your appreciation for this unique design.