Arras iron furniture has captivated generations of outdoor lovers with its quality construction and decorative appeal. Over 100 years since the Usine Saint-Sauveur factory closed, we celebrate the enormous legacy of the Arras iron foundries.

You may have heard of the French town of Arras for plenty of reasons. Arras is the former capital of Artois in northern France, around an hour northeast of Paris. It was ravaged by violence, with several devastating battles taking place on Arras fields during both world wars. Indeed, in World War One the Arras foundries were forced to swap furniture for munitions. Going back further, the town has also been the site of peace. In 1482, King Louis XI of France and Archduke Maximilian I of Habsburg signed a peace treaty at Arras to end a complicated succession crisis.

Arras iron production

19th Century French Arras Iron Table

War and peace aside, this northern French town is also famous for producing beautiful wrought-iron garden furniture. Arras furniture as we know it today emerged in 1840. The Grassin-Baledans factory led the way in producing more artistic ironwork and garden furniture in particular. The other foundries soon followed suit, with St. Sauveur becoming the most iconic name associated with Arras iron.

During the 19th Century, the upper classes began to discover the benefits of outdoor living. In response, French towns and cities started establishing green spaces for leisure. Fountains, menageries, aviaries, and parks soon peppered the urban landscape. In particular, the expansion of the park system in Paris demanded new furniture for promenading ladies and gentlemen. This outdoor furniture needed to be light and moveable, but also stylish. The Arras foundries answered the call.

Arras iron production relied on hand-forging and hand-riveting, as welding didn’t yet exist. Their great innovation was a ‘demi tube’ method of iron extrusion, which used one curved half of a hollow iron tube. This method allowed them to get more iron per square metre than using flat iron. It also benefitted their designs, with the tubing creating a rounded finish. This encouraged surface water to run off, preventing rust. Iron furniture with rounded edges is also much more comfortable than flat iron. These important breakthroughs distinguished Arras iron from the crowd.

This iron garden furniture was far more durable than was standard for the time. But it wasn’t all utilitarian; Arras pieces are among the most beautiful iron furniture ever made. Soon, their furniture was cropping up in public and private spaces throughout France. It filled the patios and lawns of the wealthy classes, as well as the communal parks.

Identifying the Arras style

French 19th Century Arras Iron Table

Outdoor living was still a bit of a novelty back in the 19th Century, so Arras iron had a ready market for their furniture. Over a century later we are now saturated with garden furniture options, yet genuine and reproduction Arras pieces are still highly sought-after. So, how has this style weathered the test of time?

Arras iron’s combination of durability and decorative impact was a winning formula from the start. These principles are more important than ever when it comes to choosing furniture today. Their iconic look will never fall from fashion, it seems. We recognise Arras pieces for their pronounced scroll forms, often featuring on armrests and table bases. Their designs have a very organic quality and the iron seems to flow almost seamlessly. The foundries used slatted seats and backs with gentle curving frames and outscrolled top rails.

When it comes to identifying an Arras piece, the feet are the best place to start. In fact, they are one of the only ways you can date their furniture. The foundry used ever-stylish lion’s paw feet up until 1900 when they swapped them out for the iconic horse’s hooves. These hooves were only introduced to lower production costs, but they quickly became a defining part of Arras style.

However, between them, the foundries produced a wide range of designs during their production years and you may have a genuine Arras piece without the features mentioned above. The only way to know for sure is some sort of branding. You may come across a small brass plaque bearing the maker's mark, such as ‘Usine St. Sauveur.’ On other examples, you might spot a factory name cast into the design itself, although it might be buried under layers of paint!

A formidable legacySet of Four Painted Arras Wrought-Iron Chairs

Arras iron furniture expertly blends outdoors and indoors. Their fine quality means that Arras pieces should last for generations, whatever the weather. Yet, they also exhibit the decorative quality usually reserved for our interiors. Their whimsical form and flowing lines give them an elegance rarely seen in garden furniture. And it's not just furniture they are known for, but other outdoor iron pieces too. Indeed, their tiered plant stand has become a favourite style in the gardening world.

Antique Arras pieces have occupied many many homes and gardens in their life. Years of painting and re-painting give their tables and chairs a beautifully layered texture and patina. Suitable for indoor or outdoor spaces, Arras furniture is well worth the investment.

You can browse the Arras furniture we have in stock on our website. For more French antiques, read our latest articles on bistro furniture and collecting confit pots.

Our extensive garden antiques collection includes planters, tables, seating and other ornaments.