Pretty as a Peacock: Rediscovering this Designer StandbyAuthor:Mary Jo Bowling
When I think of peacock chairs, I picture an exotic, 1970s-era, Foxy Brown–type character sitting in one,” says Peter Loughrey, president of Los Angeles Modern Auctions. He’s not alone.
For Americans who remember the ’70s, the big-backed seat occupies a spot in style history alongside Farrah Fawcett’s feathered hair, voluminous bell bottoms and tube tops.
But the chair, which is making a design comeback, has roots that run much deeper than the feel-good decade. “Peacock chairs became popular after they were found on the tea plantations of rich Chinese merchants. They were woven and encrusted with jewels,” says James Butterworth, owner of Antique American Wicker. “Seafaring traders from the West started importing them to the United States, and the Chinese started making smaller, less expensive versions for trade.”
Soon, the chairs started turning up on the porches of cotton plantations in the American South. They moved inside during the Victorian era, where the scrolling, curlicued lines fit in beautifully with the bounty of houseplants prized by people at the turn of the century. When the ’70s arrived with its boho twist on all things Victorian, the chairs were popular again. And once more, less-expensive, mass-produced versions started hitting the market. “It’s the kind of thing you bought at Pier 1, and they wouldn’t have cost more than $70,” says Loughrey.
He isn’t surprised that the chairs are back on the scene in force. “Design from the 1970s is an increasingly major area of collecting and has a lot of appeal for the younger crowd,” says Loughrey. “The peacock chair is definitely hot again.”
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