A bergère chair is a type of French armchair featuring upholstered frames, closed armrests, and loose seat cushions. With their high backs, rounded shapes, and ornate details, bergère chairs bring undeniable elegance and charm to any space. Though historically formal, bergère chairs have adapted through the centuries to complement both classic and contemporary room styles. Understanding the history, design elements, and versatility of the bergère chair can help you determine if this iconic seat is right for your home.

A Brief History of the Bergère Chair

The bergère chair traces its origins to 17th century France, taking its name from the French term for “shepherdess.” Featuring a rounded back that mimicked the shape of a shepherdess’ crook, early bergère chairs served as luxurious seating for aristocrats in the Court of Versailles during the reign of Louis XIV.

The bergère became a fixture in wealthy French homes over the following century. Upscale Parisian furniture makers experimented with carved wooden frames, gilded detailing, and sumptuous fabrics to create one-of-a-kind bergère chairs that were equal parts functional seating and objet d’art.

As bergère chairs spread across Europe in the 18th century, their designs diversified to suit regional tastes. Italian and English interpretations often incorporated ornate carvings and exotic upholstery materials like leather. The “bergère à oreilles” emerged in France, identifiable by its ear-shaped side panels flanking the armrests.

By the 19th century, bergère chairs were fully integrated into European parlors and sitting rooms as both formal reception seating and cozy reading chairs. Updated bergère styles varied from relatively minimalist frames to ornately carved showstoppers with intricate cloth upholstery.

The bergère chair endured through to the 20th century, though World War II nearly led to the extinction of this lavish French seat. A renewed interest in historical interior design since the 1980s has brought the bergère roaring back. Today it blends seamlessly into settings from chic urban apartments to grand countryside châteaux.

Key Design Elements of a Bergère Chair

While bergère chairs exhibit variety in their materials and adornments, they universally share some signature design hallmarks that make them instantly recognizable. These include:

Closed-Arm Form

Unlike open-arm chairs, bergère chairs have solid side panels or “cheeks” that connect the chair’s back to the armrests. This closed form mimics the original shepherdess’ crook shape and provides a sense of privacy and enclosure for the sitter.

Upholstered Frame

Nearly all bergère chairs feature substantial upholstery padding the seat, back, arms, and sides. Medium-density foam covered by high-quality fabric or leather is typical. Upholstery provides comfort and also enables ornate shapes like the signature rounded back.

Loose Cushions

The seat consists of loose back and side cushions resting on the chair’s base. Cushions may be attached with ties. Loose cushions make sitting more comfortable than a solid bench seat would. They also enable customizeable fabrics and easy replacement when upholstery wears.

Carved Wood Trim

Though bergère frames may be made of various materials, wood remains most common. Intricately carved decorative trim accenting the legs, arms, back, and seat frame is characteristic of bergère chairs through history.

High Back

A tall back extending well above the sitter’s head provides enhanced comfort and visual presence. Heights range from approximately 35 inches to over 50 inches. The tallest backs incorporate headrests.

Cabriole Legs

Bergère chairs often stand on cabriole legs – legs with two curved sections, evoking animal hind legs. Cabriole legs provide both aesthetic elegance and sturdiness to withstand the substantial weight of large upholstered chairs.

By combining these elements, bergère chairs achieve their signature rounded, upholstered form. But within the basic style, there is ample room for creative twists and reinterpretations from carvers and upholsterers across generations.

Bergère Chair Styles Through History

The basic bergère form has proven remarkably adaptable across changing artistic movements and room aesthetics. Here are some of the most notable bergère styles through history that still influence modern interpretations:

Louis XV Style

The bergère chair truly flourished thanks to 18th century French King Louis XV. Louis XV bergères feature cabriole legs richly decorated with carvings of flower garlands, seashell motifs, and volutes (ornamental spirals). Chair frames curve gently outward then inward, evoking the Rococo style’s signature “C” shape. Luxurious fabrics like damask, velvet, and tapestry upholster the frame, making the Louis XV bergère the epitome of French opulence.

Directoire Style

Marking the shift from Rococo to Neoclassicism in Revolutionary France, Directoire bergères showcase streamlined forms. Squared-off chair sides replace the curving Louis XV shape. Roman and Greek architectural details like fluted legs and geometric borders ornament the chair instead of Rococo flowers and curves. Upholstery relies on striped or solid-colored fabrics rather than elaborate tapestries. The overall effect is disciplined and cerebral.

Napoleon III Style

Napoleon III governed France from 1852-1870 and oversaw design reforms that impacted bergère chairs. Napoleon III bergères reflect the prevailing eclecticism, reviving ornate Rococo curves as well as Egyptian and Gothic motifs. Naturalistic carvings of flowers, leaves, tassels, and other details cover the chair’s frame. Deeply button-tufted upholstery lends added texture. Despite their ornamentation, Napoleon III bergères achieve a linear and symmetrical overall form.

Art Deco Style

With the 1925 Paris Art Deco Exposition, the bergère chair received a stylish modern update. Sleek leather and geometric patterns replaced carved wood, curlicues, and heavy fabrics. Mirrors, chrome, lacquer, and glass paired with the simplified bergère frame to achieve an urbane, avant-garde seating silhouette suited to jazz-age design.

Using a Bergère Chair in Your Home

Bergère chairs not only enrich room design through their beauty, they also provide comfortable and supportive seating. Their high backs and enclosed form factor make them ideal choices for:

Formal Living Rooms

Bergère chairs lendFrench sophistication to formal living spaces, either as part of a matching set or mixed with other seating. Their closed sides create a sense of intimacy while entertaining guests. Choose more lavishly carved, gilded styles to make the grandest impression.

Dens and Studies

The comfortable back support and armrest sides of a bergère chair create a cozy space for reading or contemplation. Carved wood trim and leather upholstery will enhance the rich ambiance of a private study.


Bergère chairs make wonderful bedroom seating at the foot of the bed or in cozy reading nooks. Upholster them in the same fabric as curtains or bed linens for a pulled-together look.


Make an elegant first impression by placing a bergère chair in an entry hall or by the front door. Guests can easily put on shoes or briefly sit while coming and going.

Dining Rooms

Bergère dining chairs infuse sophistication into mealtimes. Their armrest sides provide convenient spots to rest elbows while dining. Guests will linger longer in cushioned bergère comfort.

While historically French, bergère chairs complement a variety of design aesthetics. Their recognizable shape makes them standout focal points. Place a bergère chair anywhere a stylish, comfortable seat will enhance the room ambiance. With the availability of traditional carved bergères as well as modern takes like sleekly upholstered contemporary versions, you can select a style that fits your personal taste and home décor vision.

Common Styles of Modern Bergère Chairs

While some furniture makers continue producing 18th century-style bergère replicas, today’s bergère chairs also reflect newer styles. Here are some of the most popular modern variations:

Mid-Century Modern

From the 1930s-60s, Mid-Century Modern style emphasized sleek, modular silhouettes that incorporated new materials like molded plastic, aluminum, and fiberglass. Mid-Century bergères remove all carving and ornament in favor of a simplified, geometric form. Scandinavian designs look especially striking paired with blond wood frames.

Modern Classic

This contemporary bergère style pays homage to Louis XV, Napoleon III, and other ornate historic versions while adapting to today’s preferences. Modern classic bergères forgo the most heavily carved details for a cleaner shape but retain curving lines and vintage-inspired upholstery fabrics.


Continuing in the vein of Mid-Century and Art Deco precedents, truly minimalist contemporary bergères aim for utter simplicity. The form consists of the bare essential bergère shape and perhaps a single contrasting upholstery detail to add subtle visual interest. This style works beautifully in modern, uncluttered spaces.


Eclectic interior design freely mixes eras and influences. Eclectic bergères combine aspects of variously styled chairs for uniquely personalized seating. Try juxtaposing a curving French Provincial frame with modern metallic upholstery, or placing an intricately scrolled bergère alongside sleek Scandinavian chairs.

The bergère adapts readily to diverse aesthetics, making it easy to select or even custom design a version ideal for your home. While respecting traditional aspects, don’t be afraid to think outside the box. The bergère chair has evolved continually over centuries, so customize freely to make it your own.

Common Upholstery Fabrics For Bergère Chairs

A bergère chair’s upholstery greatly impacts its overall look, feel, and function. Take these factors into account when selecting upholstery materials:


Color, print, texture, and pattern of fabric will define the visual style. Rich hues like deep blues and greens evoke traditional aristocratic bergères. Modern textured linen or nubby cotton make softer contemporary statements. Leather and velvet offer luxurious dining and lounge options.


How will the chair be used and how much wear can the fabric withstand? Delicate silks suit formal living rooms. Sturdy microfiber or synthetic leather work for high-traffic areas.


Fabrics like cotton, wool, and linen tend to breathe and regulate temperature better than synthetics. Thicker textiles with some stretch will conform to the body. Leather and vinyl can feel sticky when warm.


Spills and stains are inevitable. Check if a fabric is easily cleaned professionally or at home. Outdoor and performance fabrics offer stain resistance.

Popular current bergère chair upholstery options include:

  • Cotton – Breathable and soft but less durable
  • Linen – Casual texture; durable and stain resistant
  • Wool – Warm and resilient; pricey but long-lasting
  • Velvet – Elegant; shows wear and requires special cleaning
  • Leather – Luxurious and durable but can be hot
  • Microfiber – Affordable; easy to clean with leather-like look
  • Outdoor Fabric – Withstands weather and water; cleans easily

Balance aesthetics, longevity, comfort, and maintenance when selecting fabric. Custom printed or hand embroidered textiles can make your bergère chair truly one-of-a-kind.

How Much Does a Bergère Chair Cost?

Prices for a new bergère armchair range widely:

  • Mass-market reproductions under $300 feature pine frames and basic upholstery.
  • Mid-tier department store versions $300-$1000 have sturdier hardwood frames and thicker cushions.
  • High-end furniture store offerings $1000-$5000 include premium materials like mahogany or maple frames, down cushions, and fine leather or damask upholstery.
  • Designer bespoke bergères over $5000 provide elite furnishings with exotic woods and upholstery.

Vintage and antique bergère chairs start around $1000 for simple secondhand pieces and exceed $5000 for rarer 18th century examples in good condition. Re-upholstering costs $500-$1500.

Bergère chairs also come as pricier sectionals, chaises, and loveseats scaling to accommodate multiple sitters. But an individual bergère armchair offers versatility at more accessible prices.

When investing in a quality bergère chair, remember that reupholstering and reconditioning over time can extend its lifespan for decades, making the purchase a sound value.

How to Tell if a Bergère Chair is High Quality

Certain details will help you assess the quality and durability of a bergère chair:

  • Examine the chair frame. High-quality wood like mahogany and ash will last for generations. Wood joints should fit tightly with no gaps or cracking.
  • Inspect upholstery fabric or leather closely. There should be consistent stitching with tight seams and no tears or thin patches.
  • Check the cushion fill. It should be thick and resilient but not lumpy. Down fill is sumptuous but requires maintenance. Foam is firmer and more stain resistant.
  • Assess the legs. Sturdy cabriole legs should extend fully to the floor without unevenness. Legs should feel securely attached.
  • Look for signs of hand craftsmanship like small stitching inconsistencies and hand-hammered nails. These marks indicate artisanal construction versus mass assembly.
  • Test the chair fully by sitting. It should support your weight without squeaking, sagging, or rocking.
  • Research the maker’s reputation. Established brands with generations of bergère production boast hard-earned expertise.

While assessing quality takes some detective work, the result will be a bergère chair that endures as a functional heirloom.

Caring for and Maintaining a Bergère Chair

Proper care preserves your investment in a bergère chair:

  • Vacuum upholstery regularly using a brush attachment to remove dust and debris. Spot clean stains immediately.
  • Avoid direct sunlight exposure which can fade fabrics. Rotate the chair position periodically.
  • Give upholstered chairs time to air out if stored or covered, so moisture does not get trapped.
  • Add cushion fillers regularly to maintain shape. Refill or replace cushions that become misshapen or flattened.
  • Use chair covers or upholstery tape on high-wear areas like armrests to prevent tearing.
  • Tighten loose joinery or legs as needed. Minor repairs will protect structural integrity.
  • Consider professional reupholstering every 5-10 years, especially for heirloom-quality bergères.
  • Condition leather upholstery 3-4 times per year. Use leather cleaners and conditioners specifically formulated for furniture.

With periodic maintenance and care, expect your quality bergère chair to deliver enduring beauty and everyday luxury for generations to come.

Frequently Asked Questions About Bergère Chairs

What is the difference between a bergère chair and a wingback chair?

Wingback chairs also have enclosed sides but not the signature bergère rounded back. Wingbacks have a flat or contoured back often with vertical wings that extend above the sitter’s shoulders.

Are bergère chairs comfortable?

Yes. The plush upholstered construction and enveloping sides with arm support provide excellent comfort, especially the taller-backed versions. Their cozy feel makes bergères popular reading chairs.

When was the bergère chair invented?

Early bergère or “shepherdess” chairs emerged in late 17th century France. They became most popular and ubiquitous in aristocratic homes during the 18th century reign of King Louis XV.

Do bergère chairs have springs?

Traditional bergères do not contain springs. Their upholstered frames and loose seat cushions provide sufficient flexibility and support without internal springs. Some modern takes add spring coils for additional comfort.

How do you pronounce bergère?

In French, bergère is pronounced “BEHR-zhair.” The “zh” makes the soft “j” sound in treasure. English speakers sometimes say “burr-GAIR.”

How do I mix bergère chairs and other seating styles?

Bergères pair well with straight-back dining chairs, wingbacks, slipper chairs, and wooden spindle-back chairs. Use a common upholstery color or print to tie the look together. Varying wood stains also creates cohesion.

Can I use a bergère outdoors?

Outdoor bergère chairs are made specifically for patios and porches. They incorporate weather-resistant materials like powder-coated aluminum frames and outdoor-rated fabric upholstery. Always check tags to confirm a chair is suitable for outdoor use.

What is a bergère sofa?

A bergère sofa adapts the bergère’s armchair form into a three-seat sofa with bergère styling. It features the signature enclosed sides, plush upholstery, and ornate wood frames. Bergère sofas provide comfortable seating for conversations and entertaining.


The bergère chair has evolved from a French royal emblem into a interior design staple equally fitting for classical and contemporary homes. With its enveloping high back and sides, lush fabrics, and ornate detailing, a quality bergère chair creates an island of comfort while making a stylish statement. Understanding the bergère’s history, hallmark elements, and timeless appeal will enable selecting or customizing the perfect version to elevate your space as a seating centerpiece for generations to come. Whether you fancy a minimalist nod, vintage reproduction, or curvaceous showstopper, the bergère chair’s timeless versatility can adapt beautifully to nearly any room and design scheme.