The four chairs in the dining room – two arm chairs and two side chairs – are part of a dining room set designed by Charles Coolidge of H. H. Richardson’s architectural firm. Created for the Glessners’
Prairie Avenue house, the set originally included two arm chairs, 16 side chairs, and a six-foot round table which expanded with leaves to accommodate all 18 chairs.
Charles Coolidge, born to a prominent
family, graduated from Harvard in 1881. During the following year, he supplemented his studies with architectural courses at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and worked in the office of Ware and Van Brunt. During that time, he also traveled to Boston Europe to examine great architectural monuments. He was hired as an architect in ’s office in 1882, and there learned to integrate the principles of his early training. Richardson
Coolidge’s design combines as great a range of historic reference and influence as
’s architecture. The plain rectilinear form, oak construction, and simple leather seat cushion suggest furniture of the American Arts and Crafts Movement. Round, tapering spindles which flatten into a near-square central shape provide the primary decoration. This use of spindles recalls the Colonial Windsor chair, as well as contemporary furniture based on 18th century English vernacular furniture designed by William Morris. These spindles and the delicately curved stiles of each chair also contribute vertical balance to a room with predominantly horizontal lines. The curve of the chair rail could be a stylized version of a Chippendale chair rail, another popular Colonial style; yet it is so stylized that its vegetative serpentine lines also evoke early Art Nouveau tendencies. The only other detailing, a spiraling acanthus leaf carved in low relief, wraps around the handhold of each arm chair. The acanthus leaf was consistently used by Richardson on both architecture and furniture, and is used in several places throughout the Glessner house. The spare lines, minimal ornament and stylized historic reference in these chairs affirm a very modern design concept – one which clearly forecasts later dining room chair designs by Frank Lloyd Wright. Richardson
The furniture was executed by A. H. Davenport and Company, which executed a number of furniture pieces for the Glessners’ new house.
’s chief designer, Francis Bacon, had previously worked as a designer in Davenport ’s office. Bacon first designed furniture for Herter Brothers, and began working in the office of H. H. Richardson in 1883. He became the principal designer for Richardson two years later. Because Davenport ’s office was extremely busy by that time, the firm gave the furniture commissions for many of their late buildings to this talented former employee. On Richardson , Frances Glessner noted in her journal, “Yesterday we continued our moving . . . We found a car load of our furniture had come from December 1, 1887 , and had it brought here, unloaded and most of it unpacked. It is very beautiful.” Davenport