In the pursuit of the perfect club chair, Susannah Cameron, the co-founder of Chez Pluie Provence, invites you on a journey through the nuanced world of iconic French leather club chairs. As an expert in this field, Cameron provides valuable insights into the intricate balance between different models, armrest and feet styles, leather tones and the practical considerations that culminate in the selection of an ideal club chair.
HISTORY OF CLUB CHAIRS
Club chairs were originally referred to as the fauteuil confortable, or 'comfortable armchair' in France. From the early twentieth-century, club chairs started to be made. The Art Deco club chair was one of the earliest models – with clean lines and a sharp squareness that was typical of the overall design movement of the twenties. They were well suited to gentlemen’s clubs – luxurious and masculine enough to fit the décor while being the perfect choice for a cozy armchair to socialize with friends over a cigar and a whisky or two. Do I hear jazz?!
After the First World War, many new designs were created. American soldiers who had been based in France had a fondness for these iconic chairs. Aircraft were said to have influenced the design. When admiring the giant model club chairs (more on that later) with their heavy barrel arms, one can imagine a plane’s fuselage and rugged leather bomber jacket of a fighter pilot. Sheep’s leather is traditionally used and is an indicator of authenticity; the tanning process enables imperfections and lines to remain visible on the stretched leather.
Different models can be easily identified by the shape of their backs. Round, chapeau de gendarme, square, cloud, and moustache backs are the most widely recognized and are generally available in petit, large, and giant sizes.
WHAT LEATHER IS USED FOR FRENCH CLUB CHAIRS
French leather has been renowned for its exceptional quality for centuries. The rich heritage of French leatherwork has left an indelible mark on the world of furniture, and one of its most iconic applications is the club chair.
The exceptional quality of French leather used in club chairs is a testament to time-honored traditions. In particular, the village of Basane is famous for its sheepskin tannery, where fellmongers have been working and tanning leather with the same vegetable-based recipe that has been used for centuries. The resulting tone is known as Havana brown – rich, organic and evocative of Cuban cigars. On average, a single chair requires up to nine sheepskins and takes around 20 hours to entirely reupholster. The club chairs in our collection undergo a meticulous restoration process, and when replacement leather is needed, it is sourced from this very same historic tannery.
WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF CLUB CHAIRS
Vintage club chairs were made in a range of designs, each with their own unique charm and character. Six of the most common models are outlined here. Understanding the features of each model will help you make an informed decision by honing your taste and preferences. Before you start, measure up your space – club chairs are big (particularly the giant models) so make sure that you don’t fall in love with an armchair that won’t fit in the space.
ROUND BACK CLUB CHAIR
Round back club chairs are perhaps the first shape that will spring to mind when one thinks of a club chair. Their backs are perfectly rounded – the leather stretched over the face and fastened with pretty studs. Huge barrel arms balance the scale and continue the theme resulting in an overall clover-like silhouette. They are typically from the 1950s and are irresistibly comfortable.
Best suited for: large living spaces, studies, home cinemas. Round back club chairs are rarely found in petit models. They are suitable for modern and traditional interiors.
SQUARE BACK CLUB CHAIR
Square back club chairs are often from the 1920s and more petit than their descendants. Armrests can be round or square and their feet are usually square blocks or slightly tapered. Despite their age, they are the most modern looking club chairs with clean lines, minimal décor and a stepped profile.
Best suited for: smaller living spaces, a bedroom accent chair or living room chair. They will complement Art Deco furniture and modern interiors.
CHAPEAU DE GENDARME CLUB CHAIR
Chapeau de Gendarme club chairs are named after the profile of French policemen’s (gendarme) hats. The back rises to a soft peak in the middle – perfect for resting one’s head. Chapeau de Gendarme club chairs are available in small, standard, and giant sizes. The smaller models have dainty rounded armrests, while the larger models have huge barrel arms – the scroll of the armrest is usually about a third of the heigh of the entire chair! The shape is evocative of a warplane’s fuselage.
Best suited for: ultimate comfort – napping and lounging encouraged! Use a pair in a loungeroom, home cinema or games room. Add a footrest and you will be wondering why you need a bed! Chapeau Gendarme models complement modern and classic interiors as well as industrial style décor.
MUSTACHE BACK CLUB CHAIR
Mustache back club chairs are highly sought after – for their backrests have a twin curve that resembles a moustache – underscoring their masculinity and a nod to the gentlemen’s club scene.
They are typically from the 1950s and like chapeau de gendarme models, mustache backs can be found in small, standard, and giant sizes. Mustache motifs are not necessarily modern – for example iron door hinges have long been designed with this shape, particularly on pieces from the Ardèche region.
Best suited for: Lofts, living rooms with fireplaces and home cinemas. They can be found in pairs or married up to a club chair of a similar size.
CLOUD BACK CLUB CHAIR
Also known as ‘trefle’ (clover) or trilobe club chairs, these full-back club chairs are generally found as large or giant-scale chairs. Their pretty backs have three humps that fan outwards – the middle one makes a perfect headrest. Sometimes the back is smooth, occasionally it has stitching running vertically from the edge of each lobe to the base of the back. This detail reminds me of a leather baseball glove! They are becoming increasingly harder to come by.
Best suited for: Large spaces including lounge rooms, TV rooms, or as accent chair in a home office
SCROLL BACK CLUB CHAIR
Also known as the ‘gang box model’ for its stepped profile, scroll back club chairs have a more retro feel than their counterparts. The flat-topped back rest mimics the barrel arms, scrolling away toward the outside of the chair.
The studwork is lower on the back side making the top of the chair irresistible to touch for its smooth curve. Note the vertical face of the armrests mimics the backrest. They are typically mid-size so compatible for most spaces.
Best suited for: traditional interiors, home offices and cinemas.
NEW FRENCH LEATHER CLUB CHAIRS
Occasionally our clients require large quantities of matching club chairs – this may be for a restaurant, bar, lounge, large living room or home cinema. We work closely with a local French artisan who makes two models of club chairs and footrests to order.
Depending on the quantity required the lead time is typically three – to – four weeks. Handmade locally in Provence, these chairs are meticulously constructed using the same quality sheepskin leather from Basane that has been the hallmark of French club chairs for over a century.
THE TAITTINGER MODEL FRENCH LEATHER CLUB CHAIR
Our bespoke Taittinger club chair, originally designed for the patron of the renowned Champagne house, features slender armrests and an elegant square back. Its timber feet and intricate stud work on the back contribute to its timeless appeal. The shape was inspired by Art Deco club chairs and it appears less bulky than other club chairs.
For unparalleled comfort, the cushions are filled with feather down, making this chair irresistibly inviting.
THE ROUND BACK FRENCH LEATHER CLUB CHAIR
For those who appreciate deep-seated comfort, our bespoke round-back club chairs are an excellent choice. With their round-topped, tapered panel armrests and substantial depth, these are the ultimate accent chair. As with the Taittinger model, the cushions are filled with feather down.
BESPOKE FOOT REST FOR CLUB CHAIRS
Square poufs can also be made-to-order and are compatible with both antique and reproduction club chairs. They are also made with Basane sheep leather and their height has been thoughtfully designed at 14½” to line up with typical club chair seat heights. They have block feet and a lovely piping trim to mimic the cushion of a club chair.
5. SELECTING THE PERFECT CLUB CHAIR FOR YOUR SPACE
Choosing the right club chair involves thoughtful consideration of both the size of the space and the individual who will be using it. Proportions play a crucial role in achieving a harmonious look. In spacious areas, it's advisable to opt for club chairs with generous proportions that can anchor the room without overwhelming it. Oversized barrel arms, in this context, serve as a statement feature, adding both visual appeal and a sense of comfort. These arms not only contribute to the chair's quality but also provide a cozy and generous armrest.
On the other hand, for more compact living spaces like apartments, where maximizing usable space is key, smaller models, often known as Parisian club chairs, are an excellent choice. These chairs are designed with delicate profiles that seamlessly blend into diverse spaces without sacrificing style or comfort. The scaled-down dimensions make them ideal for apartment living, ensuring they do not dominate the room visually. The emphasis on delicate profiles maintains a sense of opulence, allowing the chair to complement various interior styles.
Considering the height and build of the individual using the chair is equally important. The seat depth and height should provide optimal comfort, ensuring a pleasant seating experience. For taller individuals, a chair with a deeper seat and higher backrest may be preferable. Conversely, for a more petite frame, a shallower seat and a lower backrest may be more suitable.
HOW DO I CARE FOR MY LEATHER CLUB CHAIR?
To ensure your vintage leather club chairs remain in pristine condition, we recommend the following care guidelines:
- Regularly dust the chair and vacuum its crevices to remove any debris.
- Apply a clear leather conditioner on an annual basis or more frequently if the leather appears in need of extra nourishment.
- In the event of spills, promptly clean them with a dry cloth. Liquids left on leather for extended periods can penetrate the surface and leave lasting marks.
- A well-conditioned leather chair is better equipped to resist liquid penetration, as the conditioner provides a protective film.
- For minor scratches, which can occur from items like keys in pockets or contact with pets, you can use a specialized leather wax. Our customers receive a pot of the same wax used during restoration to seamlessly repair any minor scratches.
- Keep your club chair at an appropriate distance from heating sources, air conditioning, and direct sunlight. A few hours of direct sunlight each day is acceptable.
HOW TO DECORATE WITH VINTAGE CLUB CHAIRS
A pair of giant round back club chairs in a home office.
Club chairs are more than just pieces of furniture; they have the power to transform a room. Whether used as an individual statement piece or as a pair, the patina of aged leather they bring adds an elegant touch and rich color to a variety of interior styles, ranging from modern to traditional.
A fatigued moustache back club chair
The timeless design of club chairs means they seamlessly enhance interiors of all types, including modern, classic, French country, industrial, and coastal themes.
Their substantial size allows for versatility – a single club chair can make a striking focal point when used on its own, or it can be effortlessly coordinated with other upholstered furniture for a harmonious blend. Pairs of club chairs can be used to anchor a room or create symmetry.
A collection of club chairs (that don't need to be identical) can make a home cinema a stand out room. In Ralph Lauren's Colorado ranch, a selection of club chairs has been used to make a cozy home cinema where guests will feel instantly relaxed and ready to dive into the popcorn. The log cabin has a layered and collected aesthetic - and color is added with blankets and cushions on each of the armchairs for extra comfort.
Sally, a valued client from Pert in Western Australia purchased a pair of club chairs from Chez Pluie – she wrote to say “I swear they are like magnets to my guests--they walk in the room, spots those beauties and are drawn to them--all the world loves a worn leather club chair! Sigh.”
A pair of artisan made round back club chairs - Chez Sally, Perth, Western Australia
We are thrilled to have a gorgeous selection of these iconic armchairs in our collection that can bring a luxurious, comforting touch to your home.
Discover our collection of French leather club chairs.
Image Credit: Roman and Williams, Brooke & Steve Giannetti - Patina Farm, Veranda, Architectural Digest, Chez Pluie Provence
I am looking for vintage club chairs and I saw the ones I want in one of your pic in a living room get back to me about the price a the width of chaires
Hi there – i too am looking for a pair of vintage leather club chairs – which failing, the Taittinger model might suit. Can you help? And do you ship to the UK?
Hi there, I’m looking for a vintage pair of leather club chairs. Do you sell these?