The chesterfield sofa is not just a piece of furniture but a piece of history.
There are many opinions on the origin of the word “chesterfield” as a description of the item we now know as such. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the use of the word chesterfield was already used in England in the 1800’s to describe a leather couch.
It is believed that Lord Phillip Stanhope, the 4th Earl of Chesterfield (1694-1773), commissioned the first leather chesterfield settee with its distinctive deep buttoned, quilted leather upholstery and low seat base. Aside from being a much-admired politician and writer, patron of Voltaire, the Earl was a known trendsetter. Apparently, the Earl requested a local craftsman to construct a piece of furniture that would allow a gentleman to sit upright in the utmost of comfort allowing sitting without wrinkling the garment. This was the original purpose of the chesterfield sofa with its characteristic deep buttoned upholstery, rolled arms, equal back and arm height and nail head trim. There has never been any solid confirmation of this noble beginning; however, this namesake is certainly appropriate.
Legend has it that in March 24th, 1773 when the nobleman passed away his very last words were directed to his personal butler. He ordered to his manservant: “Give Mr. Dayrolles a chair” . The servant took Lord Stanhope at his word and waving away protests, insisted that Stanhope’s godson Dayrolles, a budding young diplomat who had come to enquire after the elderly man’s health, take the armchair with him. After carrying the heavy chair back home, Mr. Dayrolles had a proper look at the chair: a magnificent piece of work in deep brown leather, indented with large, deeply set buttons. The years of wear had served to lend the item an even more attractive appearance. It was an ageless and timeless masterpiece.
The characteristic leather sofa retained its distinguished charm over the years but remained firmly ensconced in the Gentlemen’s Clubs of London for a long time. All the colour schemes and successive models (sofas, settees, window seats, rocking chairs, etc.) that have been designed over the last 200 years are all directly inspired by the original.
Successfully exported trough the colonies of the British Empire by the officials of the Royal Army (U.S.A, Canada, Australia…) it soon became a worldwide peerless emblem of British style. The chesterfield sofa conjures images of formally attired gentlemen sequestered in a dark panelled study, sipping brandy and smoking cigars.
The Victorian era saw the chesterfield as the key piece in living rooms, where gentlemen relaxed while their wives sat in chairs crafting needlepoint.
Since the 19th century, it has also been linked with Freudian psychoanalysis, as Sigmund Freud originally used a sofa during his hypnosis sessions with patients.
Throughout the years, chesterfield sofas have graced the palaces of royalty, prominent business offices, hotels, restaurants, gentleman’s clubs and luxurious private homes. The chesterfield is synonymous with elegance and class in interiors all over the world, of every architectural and decorating style. Regardless of what it represents to many, the chesterfield steadfastly remains the sofa that embodies the perfect blend of comfort and sophistication.
What was once a status symbol of the elite is now a much sought-after addition to the modern home or business. History notwithstanding, Chesterfield sofas will remain forever the epitome of luxury, class and style. Nowhere will you find a more recognized, timeless example of furniture. Chesterfields have been popping up in home decor blogs and magazines for the last decades, some genuinely classic and others re-imagined in mid-century or more modern styles. What was old is new again.
The future of the chesterfield sofa is sure to remain in demand for centuries to come.