Iconic Design: The Chesterfield Sofa

By Oliver Burns

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November 24, 2013|

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  • he Chesterfield sofa is a truly iconic piece of furniture that has become synonymous with British design. What’s fascinating about The Chesterfield sofa is the fact that nobody is one hundred percent sure of its origin. There are however, a number of myths surrounding the furniture piece. One of the most commonly discussed myths is that the Chesterfield sofa was first produced in the 1800s. The Oxford English Dictionary lends itself to this theory as it states that the word ‘Chesterfield’ was used during the 1800’s in England as a way of describing leather couches. Nobody knows the exact date that the Chesterfield was discovered, but there are many who have speculated about this world famous sofa
Image sourced via Andrew Martin

THE BEGINNING OF A BRITISH TREND

Many believe that the Chesterfield sofa was commissioned by a British aristocrat known as Lord Phillip Stanhope, the 4th Earl of Chesterfield. He was a well renowned writer, statesman and diplomat, but it was for being a trend setter that he was most widely regarded. What separated Lord Phillip Stanhope from other trendsetters during his time was his love for tasteful interiors. With that in mind, it’s hardly suprising that he pioneered a sofa that would become the epitome of timeless style.

According to tales from the 1800’s, Lord Phillip Stanhope asked a local craftsman to design and make a piece of furniture which would allow a gentleman to sit comfortably on without creasing their garments. This tale sounds like it could be of some substance, especially when you consider that the Chesterfield sofa has rolled arms, deep buttoned upholstery and an equal arm and back height.

When Lord Phillip Stanhope sadly passed away, the chair was handed down to his godson, Mr Dayrolls. Dayrolls was amazed by how the sofa got more attractive with age. Over the years, many other aristocrats were in admiration of the sofas aesthetics, so much so that they commissioned craftsmen to make similar designs. From then on, the Chesterfield sofa established itself as a piece of British history.

Image sourced via Thomas LLoyd

WORLDWIDE RECOGNITION

While the Chesterfield sofa began its life in the homes of Britain’s wealthiest, it would soon make it a name for itself in places much further afield than England. Many believe that the Royal Army exported the sofa to the colonies of the British Empire where it would become known across the world as a fine example of British heritage. Australia, Canada and the USA were among the few countries that were graced with the presence of the furniture piece.

Image via Oliver Burns

STANDING THE TEST OF TIME

Throughout the 19th century, the Chesterfield sofa remained one of the most popular choices of sofa among the upper class in Britain. It became synonymous with stately homes and even began making its way in to government buildings. The Chesterfield sofa became even more popular when Freudian psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud used it during his hypnosis sessions.

Image via Oliver Burns

During the 19th century the way in which leather was manufactured would improve significantly, meaning that as the demand for the Chesterfield sofa continued to increase, so did the quality of the leather used to make them. Manufacturers were able to make the Chesterfield both comfortable and durable, which no doubt helped to sustain the popularity of the sofa.

Fast forward to 2014 and the Chesterfield sofa still holds the same iconic look that it did in the 1800s. Although the history of the Chesterfield sofa might be more of a myth than reality, there’s no doubting that it will remain as a symbol of British class and style for a very long time.

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