All good fashions go around in a cycle. What was once past its prime becomes nostalgic and then falls into vintage territory. Older items from generations ago become sought after antiques. The same is true with high chairs.

The styles we think of as modern today take inspiration from classics that came before. Those that turned their backs on the cheap, mass-produced plastic high chairs of the 1990s and 2000s found joy in the exact opposite. So:

  • Where did these antique baby high chairs originate?
  • How practical were those antique and 1920’s wooden high chairs?
  • How did we get to the common designs that we love today?
  • What is the future for the baby high chair?

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The history of the baby high chair

In order to better understand the love of the wooden vintage baby high chair, we need to appreciate how we fell out of love with the contemporary plastic high chair. Mass production of high chairs began as early as the 1950s. Advancements in manufacturing and a post-war baby boom meant that this was the most practical solution. Wood gave way to metal frames, plastic and an attempt at cute designs. As the century progressed, the plastic became even more prevalent and cheap. While this had its benefits in the short-term, the plastic frames were difficult to clean and weren’t built to last. Therefore, we looked back to the designs of the past for a better solution.

There is some debate over the origin of the high chair. There are claims that the earliest seems to come from the late 19th century at the hands of the Jacobs family. However, children’s chairs from the 18th century and earlier show that woodworkers were adapting designs for younger users.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has a 17th century high chair in its collections, and the Museum of Fine Arts  Boston has an example from early 18th century

The antique baby high chair with wheels and other clever designs

One thing that we forget when looking at these classic chairs is that antique high chair designs were actually a lot more diverse. This wasn’t just a place for your chair to sit and eat. This was a bespoke piece of furniture that could make life easier for all concerned. The best antique baby high chair converts into something more. They are far more complex than the minimalist models seen today. There were:

  1.  portable chairs on wheels that you could transport between rooms
  2. large seats that look more like cabinets with storage space beneath
  3. an antique baby high chair rocker that could soothe kids to sleep after their meals.
  4. an antique folding wooden high chair for storage

Basically, there is no such thing as a new idea or a new feature with baby high chairs. Modern chairs are convenient with their easy-clean materials and adjustable frame. Yet, similar ideas are visible in these Old fashioned wooden high chairs for babies.

Many of these chairs were also works of art with hand-carved panels and turned spindles. The elaborate designs would have meant little to the children seated within the chair. But, this was still a chance to show off to other families. The more complex the chair and more practical, the better off you were as a parent. Even a vintage wooden high chair tray from this period shows style and craftsmanship.

This all changed with the mass-production era of the mid 20th century. Now everyone could have the same design at a fair price. A small handful of woodworkers and communities continues to promote the older styles. These rustic options are now back in fashion.

Wooden antique high chairs in the early to mid 20th century

The prime of the antique wooden chair came in the 1920s to 1950s before mass-produced chairs became popular. By the 1920s, the chairs had become a little more toned down. There isn’t the same amount of wood or convertible features here. Instead, there is a simple wooden chair with a tray and a footrest. A 1940’s wooden high chair covers enough of the basic needs to be appealing in a family home today. The lighter oak and pine is a nice change from the heavy walnut and mahogany of the past. A 1950’s wooden high chair is perhaps more difficult to find as parents crossed over to the mass-market with the metal frames and padded seats. These chairs don’t have the same timeless appeal.

The wooden retro high chair of the 1970s changed the game and inspired current brands

Scandinavian retro high chair designs remain popular today. In the latter point of the mid-century, Scandinavia’s finest showed us the way forward. We could create a more stylish, minimalist chair that was still practical (featured photo by Nanna Ditzel). You have a seat, a restraint, a tray and a footrest. Many of the models are adaptable with different heights and configurations to suit different ages. This approach continues with the designs of some of the leading brands around right now.

A wood vintage baby high chair remains a popular choice for parents

The world’s relationship with plastic has soured beyond repair at this point. While the best plastic baby chairs aren’t single-use items, they aren’t the ideal material in the modern age. Millennial parents will favor high chairs made of natural, safe materials. They will lean towards those classic Scandinavian designs and the antique wood chairs. There is also sure to be some favoritism towards bamboo as an eco friendly alternative where possible. Those that don’t want to pay out for the bigger brands can find second-hand antique chairs online.

An antique baby high chair wooden design will always catch the eye of parents that have the space and money for it. With this modern culture of upcycling and building bespoke items, there is more room for the hand-crafted wooden chair. We can seek out antique baby high chairs for sale and fix them up for another generation. Many will also consider making their own as a woodworking project.

The future of the baby high chair

It is difficult to predict the future of the high chair. Perhaps those 90s styles will re-emerge in retro, modern designs in some way. Perhaps someone will create the ultimate design that we can 3D print at home. Throughout the centuries, the basic priorities in high chair design remained the same:

  1. Raise the child up so they can eat and socialize
  2. Provide secure restraints to keep them in place
  3. provide practical features and solutions for parents/nannies

As long as a high chair does all that, the next big thing in baby high chairs could take us in a new direction.

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