The Chesterfield and its Clouded Past
- Posted on April 12, 2013
- in The Chesterfield Sofa
“Give the man a chair” were alleged to be the last words of the 4th Earl of Chesterfield, Phillip Stanhope, in 1773 before he died. Not quite as witty as Oscar Wilde’s last remark, “Either that wallpaper goes or I do”, but nonetheless the quote has said to have sparked the commission of the first ‘Chesterfield’ chair when its context was wildly misconstrued by a tending chamber maid.
I like that story, so we’ll stick with it but in the spirit of being fair, we must also consider looking across the Atlantic Ocean to an area of Canada. Some natives there believe that the sofa’s legacy began with them in the 19th century when they started using the term to describe numerous, generic settees and couches that were coming out of the Chesterfield region of Canada at that time.
Above – www.christies.com
Either way, the definition is somewhat murky, adding to the romance of owning one. Many think it relates to a certain brand of sofa and, even though some of us have a clear picture in our heads of what one looks like, we are often surprised to see unusual looking settees on interior design blogs posing as the Chesterfield.
The settee began circulating the public domain with significant numbers in the 19th century when the burgeoning middle classes demanded a chair they could show off amongst their peers, encapsulating sophistication and wealth.
Enter the Chesterfield settee, still impressing house guests to this day.
Below – www.antiquarium.eu
Another requisite of the well-to-do was the availability of a couch in a variety of different colours and materials. The Chesterfield was made using, what was then, state of the art coiled springs allowing such commercial variation to take place.
Whilst there is no concrete definition, the Chesterfield mark refers to a sofa which sides and back have equal proportions. They usually have rolled arms, a low seat base, deep-buttoned upholstery, and are finished with a trim of nail heads. Even though the traditional examples are predominately made from a high quality leather, they are also made with other luxurious materials such as velvet.
Today, it’s not just a middle class thing (although they still are synonymous with smoky gentleman’s clubs and the weathered businessmen supping scotch that frequent them). The up and coming “shabby chic revolution” has seen the reintroduction of these iconic pieces of furniture more and more into everyday living. It is testament to the timelessness of the Chesterfield Sofa that an item of furniture first seen in the 1800s is still heavily used and desired.
Above – www.distinctivechesterfields.com