Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Up, Up, and Away

I'm really taken with those antique and vintage balloon back side chairs. I know that the term "balloon back" is used to describe a few different styles of wooden chairs with bulbous, or balloon, shaped backs, but the ones that I like are those with back splats that resemble balloons. The design of these chairs was originally inspired by the Montgolfier brothers and their invention, the hot air balloon. Their 1783 manned balloon flight captured the imagination of the French people. Balloon mania found its way into chairs, chandeliers, toiles, and even clocks.

Balloon back chairs have a certain novelty aspect to them, one which I find to be charming. The flip side, though, is that you shouldn't add other novelty pieces to the room or the result might be too flighty (!) The same goes for the use of the iconic Ballon de Gonesse toile, a print that is really a classic. I'm not a huge fan of toile, but if I were to use it, I would leave the room's other accents rather plain and maybe even a little masculine. I guess the bottom line is that in decorating, one balloon is better than a bunch.

Image at top: Look closely in the mirror's reflection and you'll see a table surrounded by balloon chairs. Design by Melvin Dwork.

Not only do you have balloon back chairs in this Mallory-Tillis room but a balloon chandelier as well. I probably wouldn't go this far with the balloon theme, but the room does look kind of cute.

A set of four French balloon back side chairs, c. 1950, from James Sansum Fine and Decorative Art. I think they're really quite elegant.

I don't think that these are technically balloon back chairs. However, I'm slipping this shot in here because it's a chance for us to discuss that little closet bar. I love that.

Le Ballon de Gonesse, a c. 1784 toile; from the collection of Musee de la Toile.

It may be difficult to see, but the headboard fabric as well as the wallpaper (or is it fabric?) on the side wall is a balloon themed toile.

A c. 1950 French balloon table lamp from David Duncan Antiques. It might be a little off-topic, but I think it's a fun piece.

Dwork photo from House & Garden, October 1967. Mallory-Tillis photo from House & Garden's Complete Guide to Interior Decoration, 6th Edition, 1960; closet bar photo from Les Reussites De La Decoration Francaise: 1950-1960; toile bedroom photo from The Finest Rooms in France.


  1. I was recently looking for these chairs. I remember seeing a gorgeous set in the '80s that were new. This is about as whimsical as I get but I could not find any that had a true balloon detail on the back. I wish someone would make them again.

  2. Very charming post...the idea of a breezy refreshing balloon ride is perfect for these hot summer days. Amazing how those classic French pieces of furniture, such as the Louis XVI period always look elegant and classic.

  3. I still regret selling a marvelous late 18th century French satirical print of a lady of fashion with a full model of a balloon atop her elaborate coiffure, with comments at bottom about the balloon craze that then was overtaking France.

    I have always adored balloon chairs---and oh, that lamp!