The History of the Chesterfield sofa

Whether you’re considering purchasing a Chesterfield sofa, or simply want to find out more about these beautiful pieces, you might be wondering about the history of Chesterfield sofas and how they came to be so desired by people all across the globe.

What is a Chesterfield Sofa?

Before we discuss the origins of Chesterfield sofas, we want to explain what a Chesterfield sofa is.

As one of the most world-renowned sofa designs, Chesterfield sofas are defined by their large, rolled arms that are the same height as the back. Traditionally upholstered in dark leather and featuring deep button tufting, these beautiful sofas are truly distinctive.

What are the Origins of a Chesterfield Sofa?

It may surprise you to know that Chesterfield sofas are thought to date as far back as the mid-1700s, when Lord Philip Stanhope commissioned a piece of furniture which evolved to be the much-admired Chesterfield sofa we know today.

He wanted a striking leather sofa with a low seat and high back to allow his gentlemen to sit comfortably without creasing their suits, thus, the iconic Chesterfield design was created.

Lord Philip Stanhope was the fourth Earl of Chesterfield, which explains where the name ‘Chesterfield sofa’ comes from. As an admired politician, he was somewhat of a trendsetter. But how exactly did these first few Chesterfield sofas become world-renowned? It’s thought that on his deathbed, Lord Stanhope told his butler to ‘give Mr. Dayrolles a chair’, intending his butler to pull up a seat for his godson, Mr. Dayrolles. However, his butler interpreted this to mean that the Chesterfield chair should be passed onto him and arranged for it to be transported to his home.

It wasn’t long before other wealthy members of the upper-class society had their own Chesterfield sofas and chairs commissioned for their homes, cementing the style as a sign of wealth and class.

Chesterfield House in 1760 — this illustration shows the home that Philip Stanhope built in 1752. He resided there until his death in 1773. This makes it the potential birthplace of the first Chesterfield. Sadly, it was demolished in 1937.

The Chesterfield in the Victorian era

During the Victorian era in the mid-19th Century, Chesterfield sofas became hugely popular. Previously, furniture had been designed to be practical, rather than comfortable, however, this soon changed during the new century.

The original Chesterfield sofas were filled with horsehair and tufting to help them to keep their shape. This, along with the absence of a suspension system, will have made them awfully rigid and unforgiving to sit on for long.

Additionally, the buttoning wasn’t previously deep-set, meaning they would have dug into the legs of those who sat on a Chesterfield. However, the deep buttoning – which has become an iconic feature of a Chesterfield – was introduced during the Victorian era to improve comfort.

Chesterfield Sofas as a Status Symbol

Chesterfield sofas became somewhat of a status symbol, appearing only in the homes of the wealthy, surrounded by truly grand décor.

Their popularity soon grew and became a fixture in many exclusive gentlemen’s clubs in London, providing a comfortable setting for London’s wealthiest men to sit, relax, drink and dine. In fact, you can still visit some of the clubs today and experience an original Chesterfield sofa, which is testimony to their incredible durability.

Chesterfield chairs populate the bar area of the Savile Club, London.

Sigmund Freud and the Psychiatrist Couch

Perhaps one of Freud’s lesser-known theories was that people talk more openly and freely when they’re comfortable, which is why he opted for an iconic Chesterfield sofa when treating his patients. This allowed them to lie back and talk openly about what was troubling them, which was a crucial element of his treatment process.  

The fact that he chose a Chesterfield for this task speaks volumes about the comfort and luxurious feel of these beautiful pieces of furniture. Despite travelling all over the world, Freud always had a sofa on-hand to help him practice and the leather Chesterfield soon became synonymous with the practice of psychoanalysis.

The Modern Chesterfield Sofa

Steeped in history, Chesterfield sofas are a true furniture icon and remain popular to this very day. From the traditional deep leather Chesterfields, to more modern fabric styles –  Chesterfield sofas, chairs and sofa beds can be found gracing homes all across the globe with their timeless style.

© Donald Y Tonglicence
Chesterfield sofas in the lobby of the Melbourne Windsor Hotel, Australia.

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