Although the term itself is American, slipper chairs date from 18th-century Europe and remained largely behind closed doors for years. While the slipper chair is defined by its graceful armless design, low-slung proportions, and deep sumptuous seat, it was originally born out of necessity rather than aesthetic. Victorian women began their days by donning layers of heavy petticoats and having their corsets laced up. Thus swaddled and trussed, putting on one’s own shoes or slippers was no small task. Enter the slipper chair, whose wide, armless stance could accommodate voluminous skirts, its low profile allowing maids to kneel and slip footwear onto their ladies.
In fact, a predecessor to the slipper chair was dubbed the farthingale chair, farthingales being the white-hooped skirts popular in 16th-century England. In our study of the seat’s centuries of design variations, depending on the era, the slipper chair ran the gamut from elaborately carved and richly upholstered to sleek and streamlined.
Most notably, the legendary 20th-century designer Billy Baldwin’s famous reimagining of the slipper chair is credited with taking the piece out of the boudoir and allowing it free rein throughout the house. Clean-lined and simple, it is the example on which many modern versions have since been modeled. These unadorned versions are still striking and can be star players in the center of a room or can play supporting roles up against a wall.
While the modern slipper is often plainly outfitted, it has come to be dressed up in fancier garb and decorative touches—with tufted details and nail-head trims, colorful piping and embroidered skirts, and even sleek or hefty bases. Read on for our stylish study of the slipper chair’s enduring style, and see how one (or a matching pair) can slip into any space in your home.
Try It Tufted
A bit more zaftig by nature of its extra padding and sculptural peaks and valleys, the classic tufted slipper in its truest sloped form fits seamlessly into the most elaborate of decorating schemes. The curvy upholstery is often joined with more-decorative, turned legs. It’s perfect in a library or at the foot of your bed.
Add Allure with a Skirt
While the slipper is known for its shorter legs, it gets a tailored, preppy treatment when those legs are covered. Box pleats are the most common detail, so that this damsel’s gams are fully hidden. Group the skirted chairs around a low table for afternoon tea or a spirited—but always polite—game of backgammon.
How low can you go? The slipper already flies closer to the ground than your typical chair, but these perches are even more relaxed. Some even have backs that tilt a few degrees further for added slouch. Children love to play grown-up in them. Feel free to do the same in your boudoir. We also love additions like piping, which adds polish and sophistication. And we’re totally mad for upholstered legs—a smart finishing touch that looks like your interior designer had it custom-made. Piping and upholstered legs? Now you’re talking!
Bring in a Bold Base
Four legs might be the norm, but how about a swoosh of Lucite, a cube of chrome, a sleigh bottom, or even a hefty wooden base? These thoroughly modern iterations work splendidly in a midcentury or very mod living room; they can also act as agents provocateurs in a more traditional space.
Try a New Twist
Because the slipper chair is so simple in form, it practically begs for reinterpretation. We especially love rattan bases, which can be placed in a solarium or on a sun porch, or sharply angled legs, which give a Mid-Century Modern vibe. Two of these + one low table = one amazing sitting area.
Make It Modern
While times have changed since the slipper chair first came into vogue, this versatile seat is still a standout in any room. Today’s versions are made for casual living with plush, comfortable upholstery and clean lines that work everywhere from the living room to the bedroom. Try a pair to offset the sofa in a seating area, or add a single slipper chair to a neglected corner for an instant reading nook.
Our Takes on the Classic Slipper Chair
Inspired by its rich history and endless opportunities for reinvention, we took to the drawing board to create our own renditions of this design icon. Our versions boast gorgeous fabrics, timeless lines, and special details including contrasting piping and upholstered legs. We know you’ll love them as much as we do.