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Classic Update: The Slipper Chair

Don’t be fooled—the smallest of chairs packs a big punch

Written and produced by Kari Costas

While it’s widely believed the slipper chair belongs to the Victorian era, its origins actually date to some 200 years earlier—to 17th-century France. Its ancestor? The chauffeuse, a low, armless chair with a high back that offered comfortable fireside seating. By the 19th century, the slipper chair had moved into the boudoir, where its wide seat provided ample room for the lavish skirts and petticoats of fashionable Victorian women, giving them a convenient spot to don their stockings and shoes.

Although the slipper chair was born in France, it was famed decorator Billy Baldwin who made it distinctly American in the mid-20th century. “It was all about editing for Billy,” says designer Matthew Patrick Smyth. “He took the slipper chair and made it clean, tailored, and straightforward, taking the pretense out of decorating. That’s what this chair symbolizes.”

Thibaut Fine Furniture’s “Brentwood” slipper chair () is complemented by “Haruki Sisal” wallcovering in peacock from Schumacher () and “Textura Plaited Wool Rug” in cream from Ben Soleimani for RH ().

Produced by Billy Baldwin Studio in Locust, New Jersey, Baldwin’s 1972 slipper chair is still his collection’s most in-demand piece, appreciated for its fine lines and its ability to complement all decorating styles. “I can’t imagine a room that couldn’t use a slipper chair,” says Smyth, making it clear that, while the days of corsets and voluminous petticoats may be long gone, the slipper chair remains very much in vogue. 

This Sylvan slipper chair almost visibly purrs. Glamorous—both a little naughty and nice—this chair wants company. It could be dressed up in a darker hue or black leather and be perfectly suited for a man’s study. Covered in a sunny and colorful fabric to lighten up a smaller space, it could also work in the bay window of a city apartment. 
—Julia Buckingham Edelmann, Chicago

The Ansley chair was inspired by an antique French chair I have in my house. I love it because it has the versatility of a slipper chair but it also seems special with its beautiful hand-carved detailing, tapered legs, and detailed nail-head trim over a grosgrain ribbon. I like to use it as a pair of side chairs in any room.             
—Suzanne Kasler, Atlanta

We adore anything with a scallop, and this little slipper chair from Oomph makes us smile. It is whimsical yet practical. The small scale makes it a perfect little side chair in a bedroom or even at a dressing table, since it has such feminine lines. The raffia base adds fun texture and lends itself to a beach or country home.         
—Anne Maxwell Foster & Suysel dePedro Cunningham of Tilton Fenwick, New York

A great slipper chair allows you to sit cozily by the fire or around a big ottoman sipping brandy with a group of friends at night’s end. This beauty looks chic and casual in linen and sexy in silk velvet. It was originally designed to flank a lovely old fireplace at the Beverly Hills estate of famed Hollywood director Howard Hawks.             
Windsor Smith, Los Angeles

I love to use a slipper chair in my floor plans because it has the smallest upholstery footprint but is fully functional in terms of seat size. When you add in the bonus of a scrolled wood base, the Millie chair adds delicacy and utility to an upholstered seating group.                 
—Celerie Kemble, New York

I love these Lee Industries chairs because of their versatility. You can dress them up in silk or give them a more casual look by upholstering them in linen.                                             
—Trip Haenisch, Los Angeles