20 Sep The Elusive History of the Chesterfield
Possibly the most recognizable and iconic style of furniture, the Chesterfield sofa has a long, mysterious history. Tailored and sophisticated, this celebrated design has adapted through the centuries of interior trends and has now become a must-have for any home. The Chesterfield is a tufted leather sofa with rolled arms at an even height with the back of the couch, often decorated with elaborate wooden feet or brass nail heads. Found in an abundance of colors and fabrics, the Chesterfield is both comfortable and posh.
Though the first recorded use of the word “chesterfield” was not until 1900, many documents, paintings, and anecdotes depict the Chesterfield sofa decades before the turn of the century. Lore surrounding the style describes Lord Phillip Stanhope, the 4th Earl of Chesterfield (1694-1773) as the originator of this seminal design. Stanhope, known by his contemporaries as a fashionable gentleman, is said to have requested a local craftsman to produce a sofa on which he could sit in comfort, while also wrinkling his extravagant clothing. Despite the widespread knowledge of this story, there is no proof of the Chesterfield being procured in such a way. In fact, there is no concrete evidence of it’s mysterious beginnings at all.
By the Victorian Era, the Chesterfield sofa was seen prominently throughout the gentlemen’s clubs of London. As an elusive meeting place for the most well-respected and high-society men to congregate in secret, the design flourished and can still be seen in some of these clubs to this day. These secret clubs ultimately add to the popularity of the sofa, but more than likely stalled the widespread interest in the Chesterfield by keeping the design to this exclusive setting.
Castle Balmoral, the Scottish holiday home of the royal family, was opened in 1853. In a James Roberts’ painting from 1857, the drawing room of Balmoral can be seen in all of it’s plaid splendor, including two Chesterfield sofas in a traditional Scottish plaid pattern. This is one of the earliest known images of a Chesterfield. Soon after, another early painting of a Chesterfield can be seen in Frederick Walker’s 1867 illustration for the novel The Adventures of Philip by William Makepeace Thakeray. This Chesterfield can be seen surrounded by a more traditional Victorian decor, including floral wallpaper and a gilded mirror. Even in these early examples, the Chesterfield was already demonstrating it’s elegant versatility.
As the British Empire expanded, so did the British cultural influence and popular fashions. The Chesterfield was one of these exports, expanding the sofa to Australia, India, Canada, and the US. The design became so popular in Canada that the word “Chesterfield” became the overarching term used for all sofa designs and was only recently replaced with the US term “couch.” This archetypal influence continued through the 1920’s, when the Chesterfield became a must-have for the middle-class dreaming of extravagant living. Moving into the Mid-Century, the style continued to be a symbol in living rooms across the world.
The beautiful materials and strong classic style allows the Chesterfield to adapt to the aesthetics of traditional or modern spaces. At Jean-Marc Fray, we love the durability and strength of the leather with the wonderful details of the brass nail heads and tufting. The mysterious saga of the Chesterfield’s history makes this design both beautiful and important. Please check out the Chesterfields we have in a wide range of colors and sizes, available on our website!