Restaurant History

The Windsor Style Throughout History

There are no styles of furniture more associated with Colonial America than the Windsor style —  specifically, Windsor chairs. 

Airy yet sturdy, Windsor furniture is characterized by its delicately turned spindle backs and sculpted wooden seats. These pieces have straight legs that splay out at an angle, usually connected by an H-shaped stretcher for stability. And the back of Windsor chairs usually reclines.

Of course, like most things that America popularized during the 1700s, the Windsor chair has its origins somewhere else. 

The Windsor’s Origins

The chair’s roots trace back to the English town of Windsor, as long ago as the early 18th century. According to legend, King George II was out fox hunting when he was surprised by a downpour. He took refuge in a nearby cottage, where he found a crude chair with a spindle back. The king liked it so much that he had his royal furniture makers create his own for Windsor Castle. And thus, the trend was born. The truth of this story is debated, but it’s a good one nonetheless.

By the 1730s, Windsor chairs had come to Philadelphia, where they quickly spread to the rest of the colonies. Windsor furniture exploded into a booming industry. But as usual, American craftsmen weren’t content to simply adopt the English way of doing things. Instead, they made the chair their own.

To start, American builders removed the central “splat” that was common in the English version. This splat was a flat decorative piece of wood arranged in the center of the chair back, with spindles on either side. 

The Americans preferred a simpler look, with spindles making up the entirety of the chair back. They also made the legs narrower, and introduced the continuous arm, which was made of one solid piece of bent wood that curved along the back of the chair. 

Nails were generally unneccessary for the construction of Windsor furniture. Rather, the unseasoned wood components were all fitted together, and as they dried, the holes shrunk to create a tight fit. 

Types of Windsor Chairs

The American Windsor evolved into several basic styles, with hundreds of variations.

Bow Back

The bow back is framed by a single piece of curved wood that connects directly to the seat. Spindles of different heights follow the seat perimeter and connect to the bow at the top.

Low Back

The low back chair ends at about mid-back height, instead of extending up to head height.

Comb Back

The spindles on a comb back Windsor chair are all the same height. They connect about half-way up the spindle to a “center rail”, and at the top to a broad “handle”. This termination point gives the back the look of a hair comb

Hoop Back

The hoop back Windsor has a center rail that divides the spindles horizontally. This center rail curves past the spindles to form arms. 

Fan Back

Like the comb back, the fan back chair has spindles of a uniform height that meet a handle piece at the top. But the fan back has no center rail. Instead, there are two heavier turned stiles on the outside of the spindles to create stability. 

Writing Arm

The writing arm Windsor has a small desk piece attached to the right arm of the chair. This convenient addition made a comfortable place to write letters without requiring a large desk. Some writing arm chairs also had a small drawer beneath the desk where people could keep paper, pen, and ink stand. 

American Windsor furniture was usually made of several cheaper types of wood instead of one expensive hardwood. So they were painted to hide this mismatch. Common colors were red, yellow, blue, and especially green and black. They were sometimes decorated more extensively, with flowers, vines, and pastoral scenes. 

Windsor Chairs in History

The hoop back Windor chair in particular is practically synonymous with the American Revolution. This style shows up in paintings of the Second Continental Congress, as they were the chairs used in the Philadelphia State House in 1770s. They were made by Philadelphia furniture maker Francis Trumble, one of the era’s most prolific chair makers.

And they were popular at home too. Records show that Windsor chairs were owned by the likes of Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington. 

But they weren’t limited to indoor use. Some of the early American uses of Windsor chairs were in gardens and patios. 

In fact, the Washingtons were such fans that George Washington had 27 of them on the portico at Mount Vernon. And Martha Washington even had a Windsor high chair for her grandchildren, whom she raised

Thomas Jefferson also wrote the Declaration of Independence while sitting in a Windsor chair. He had a special revolving version that let him spin in his seat — the first example of a swivel chair!

The style was popular beyond just chairs. Settees for two or three people, rockers, high-backed or low-backed bar stools, and small side tables were all made in the Windsor style. Small tables would have three legs instead of three, and would be just large enough for a candle or cup of tea.

Part of what made these pieces so popular was the interchangeability of their components. Starting in the 1800s, manufacturers made spindles, legs, and seats, and shipped them to furniture makers for assembly. This partial mass-production made them affordable. 

Farmers and tradespeople could also make their own Windsor chairs, using turned spindles and legs that they could buy pre-made, and fashioning their own seats at home.

They were also a popular export particularly to Canada, Nova Scotia, and England.

The Golden Age of Windsor chairs lasted until about 1860, when they fell out of fashion during the Civil War and Restoration period. But the Colonial Revival of the 1910s brought them back into vogue. Another resurgence occurred in the 1980s, and they’re still popular today. 

Windsor Furniture Today

The general design of Windsor furniture makes them a comfortable classic. Collectors pine after Colonial Windsors in original condition. Unfortunately, many were stripped of their paint in the mid-1900s, when bare pine was in vogue. And many more were painted over, as their original finishes chipped and cracked. But a chair with its original paint could be worth $5,000 to $12,000 today! 

There are new versions as well, built both on a mass scale and hand-made by artisans. The art of the hand-made Windsor is still alive, with prices for a new custom piece ranging from $500 to thousands of dollars.

Windsor bar stools in particular are having a moment, with the current popularity of the large kitchen island. They provide a comfortable backrest, while their delicate spindles don’t hinder sightlines between kitchen and living space. 

And there are variations on the style, too. There are metal versions, brightly colored options, and sleek mid-century-inspired styles on the market as well. Check out our steel Windsor chairs and bar stools in powder-coated black or weathered iron!

Conclusion

The Windsor style has been a mainstay of American furniture since before there was an America. It’s hard to think of any other style of furniture that has been popular for so long. After enduring for nearly 300 years, it could easily be around for 300 more!

Why Authentic Mexican Cuisine Isn’t What You Would Think

Cinco de Mayo

In the United States, Cinco de Mayo calls to mind, images of taco specials and margaritas larger than your head. This is not the case in Mexico proper. It is not, as believed by so many, Mexican Independence Day, which is observed on September 16. Cinco de Mayo celebrates the Mexican people’s victory at the Battle of Puebla against French forces.

Since food is such an integral part of Cinco de Mayo celebrations, it’s important to note the difference between authentic Mexican cuisine and the prevalence of Tex-Mex in the United States.

With origins dating back to thousands of years ago, Mexican cuisine is best described as a vibrant fusion of Mesoamerican cooking and European influences. From Aztec and Mayan cultures, ingredients like corn, beans, avocados, tomatoes, and chili peppers find their way as the base of most meals. Mexican tradition uses a heavy European, mostly Spanish, influence through ingredients like rice, livestock animal meat, dairy products, and various herbs and spices. Combining native and foreign traditions, has given rise to the unique flavor palette Mexican cuisine is known for.

Chilis

You can’t talk about Mexican cuisine without bringing up mole sauce, the national dish of Mexico. With a similar consistency to gumbo, mole sauce is a staple in the Mexican diet and can be eaten all times of the day, for any occasion. Even though this dish has been around since the 17th century, it is constantly evolving. There are seven types of mole sauce that you will most commonly see in Mexican cuisine: Mole Poblano, Mole Negro, Mole Coloradito, Mole Manchamantel, Mole Amarillo, Mole Verde, and Mole Chichilo. What makes each kind of mole different is the ingredients that are used. From oregano to pumpkin seeds to chocolate to dried chiles, mole sauce can be completely changed depending on the ingredients used. Making mole used to be a labor-intensive process that could take 24 hours to create this delicious, traditional sauce but thanks to modern day appliances, cooking time whittles down to about five hours.

Cuisine by Region
Just as mole sauce can differ by a few ingredients, so does Mexican regional cooking. Like any other country, traditions vary by region, each adding its own flavor to the repertoire of Mexican cooking.

  • Northern Mexico is known for using grilling techniques with livestock meats since herding is popular in this region.
  • Oaxaca is known for its seven mole varieties. Although this is the national dish of Mexico, these seven variations are popular throughout the region.
  • The Yucatan region is known for using a cochinita pibil technique, which features burying food inside banana leaves and cooking it in a pit oven.
  • Central Mexico and Puebla are a mixture of regional cuisines with the diverse population of Mexico City. You will find both street (antojito) and haute cuisine here, both delicious and authentically made.
  • Western Mexico uses seafood as a main ingredient in many dishes because of the proximity to the ocean.
  • The Veracruz region is known for being a melding between traditional Mexican, Caribbean, and African ingredients like corn, vanilla, peanuts, and sweet potatoes.
  • The traditional cooking of the Chiapas region uses a lot of livestock meat, squash, and carrots.

Map of MexicoNotable Players in Mexican Cuisine

Like many other cuisine styles, there are countless individuals who have been instrumental in creating and changing the structure and traditions of Mexican culinary methods.

Zarela Martínez is credited with sharing traditional Mexican cuisine with some of the largest audiences in the United States: New York City. Her restaurant, Zarela, was a fixture in the city that never sleeps for 24 years. With several cookbooks and presidential dinners under her belt, Martínez has been rewarded with multiple awards for her dedication to promoting Mexican culture.

While he has notoriety for being a chef and restaurant owner, Ricardo Muñoz Zurita’s dictionary has molded the tradition of Mexican fine dining with its guidebook. His Diccionario Enciclopédico de la Gastronomía Mexicana alphabetically lays out anything needed in Mexican cuisine. These standards have helped shape the present and future of Mexican dining.

Enrique Olvera, one of Mexico’s highest profile chefs, is changing the game of Mexican cuisine at Pujol, a destination all its own in Mexico City. The menu at Pujol is a glorious combination of indigenous ingredients and classic dishes and putting a spin on them such as his infamous 1,000 day “mole madre”. Combining classic techniques and new methods make Olvera an innovator in Mexican cuisine.

Although an American, Rick Bayless has been quite the figurehead for Mexican cuisine in the United States. Sourcing inspiration from the regional cooking traditions of Mexico City, Veracruz, and Oaxaca, Bayless puts this cuisine into the public eye via various cookbooks, restaurants, and a long-running PBS cooking show, “Mexico- One Plate at a Time”. Using these platforms, Bayless shares the richness of Mexican culture through its food with the American people and demystifies between real Mexican food and Tex-Mex.

The Evolution of Tex-Mex

Although it seems like you can find Mexican food on any given street corner in the United States, there’s a good chance that it isn’t authentic Mexican cuisine. Thanks to the Chipotles and Taco Bells of the world, what you probably think is Mexican cuisine is Tex-Mex food. Still very delicious and tasty, Tex-Mex can be described as Americanized Mexican cuisine. This mixing of cultures began as US settlers began moving west and settling in regions in Texas, along the border to Mexico. The settlers began to combine Mexican recipes with ingredients that they were familiar with like beef and wheat flour, instead of the typical corn base that is associated with most authentic dishes.

Tex-Mex Food

For the next 200 years, Tex-Mex could easily be identified by its ingredients. Along with beef and wheat flour, black beans, canned vegetables, and yellow cheese (typically cheddar) became stand out ingredients for Tex-Mex foods. Besides these ingredients, Tex-Mex foods take less time to prepare than Mexican cuisine dishes. Traditional Mexican recipes are like French cooking where there is a lot of prep time and increased ingredients that turn the cooking into more of a laborious process. A typical Mexican dining experience uses a four-dish system. Mexican dining is usually made up of four courses: a soup, rice, main dish, and a dessert. This main dish typically consists of full flavored, chili pepper stew, not a plate of enchiladas. Popular Tex-Mex dishes include nachos, chili con carne, and fajitas which are more simple to prepare dishes. Authentic Mexican dishes include mole poblano and chalupas.

While Tex-Mex may be the bulk of what we see in the United States, true Mexican cuisine is out there! Below, we have chosen several authentic Mexican recipes for you to try this Cinco de Mayo:

If you try them, let us know how it went below.

Mexican Cuisine Traditions