Living Room

Sofa Story: A Brief History of Ten Iconic Forms

Living Room

Sofa Story: A Brief History of Ten Iconic Forms

Posted on: April 19, 2017

Merriam-Webster Dictionary tells us that the word ‘sofa’ emerged from the name for an “earlier, raised carpeted floor, from Italian sofà, from Turkish sofa, from Arabic ṣuffa.”  This storied origin reflects the fact that people have been sitting, in some degree of comfort, for all of recorded history.

Early seating was typically hard, with materials ranging from stone to wood, often without much cushioning. Over the centuries, upholstery gained in popularity, making way for contemporary soft seating in a wide range of styles. Join us as we explore ten iconic sofa styles.


Chaise Longue

A chaise longue in a blue and white pattern
 
Features:

Essentially a long, reclining chair. Often features upholstery, one raised side and four exposed legs.

 
Great for:

Single lounging or bench like, multiple seating.

 
History:

The chaise longue is a perfect entry point into sofa studies, having existed in some form in ancient cultures across the world. From Egyptian to Olmec, artifacts depict gods or nobility lounging on bench-like daybeds. Greeks called their chaise longues ‘klines’ and Romans used their long chairs for dining.

Today, chaise longues are generally longer and lusher. Options have multiplied over the years, and you can find almost any variation - from velvet divans to plastic by the poolside. Choose your level of imperialism, and kick up your heels…


 Love Seat

 

Brushed velvet pearl loveseat
 
Features:

Intimate seating for two, traditionally marked by a high, upright back and taut upholstery. Many modern styles have evolved to mimic plush sofas, and appear as miniature versions of current couches.

 

Great for:

Small spaces, or as additional seating paired with a full sized couch.

 

History:

Your favorite seat for snuggling was not intended for romance. Instead, the double wide seat was designed to accommodate a single woman, circled by the wide skirts in fashion in the 1800’s. As fashions changed, the loveseat was made more comfortable, and expanded to encourage close seating for two. Today, you’ll have no problem finding a loveseat to match your living room set, or a single stunner for your boudoir.


 Cabriole

Light grey cabriole
 
Features:

Namely: curved cabriole legs. Also, an exposed wooden frame, slightly lowered arms, and lack of unattached back cushions.

 

Great for:

Elegant entertaining with a touch of formality, lightened when mixed with pops of color and eclectic pieces.

 

History:

This is the form you picture in a parlor, with teacups in hand and pinkies raised. This sofa takes its name from the cabriole leg, an s shaped support characteristic of the Louis XV period. We also find the cabriole leg attached to elegant tables and chairs, often claw footed. Today’s cabriole sofas shy away from stuffy and incorporate comfort within their elegant lines.

 

 


Chesterfield

Rich brown leather Chesterfield sofa
Features:

Traditionally leather clad, known for its tufted, deep buttoned upholstery. Rolled arms and back are equal in height, with exposed nail head trim.

 

Great for: 

Studies and libraries; a staple for any space seeking a time-honored spin.

 

History:

Cue the cigar smoke — the Chesterfield sofa is an icon of British gentleman’s clubs. It was created in the 1700’s for Lord Philip Stanhope, the Fourth Earl of Chesterfield. The purported aim was multiple seating that did not cause unsightly suit wrinkles, and the style caught on. Emblematic of upper class England, the Chesterfield design was exported by Royal Army officials to British Colonies far and wide. Leather versions improve with wear, and add substance to a room.

 

 


 Camelback

Warm tan camelback sofa
 
Features: 

An arched back, peaked at the center and sides. Like the cabriole, traditionally features exposed legs, scrolled arms, taut upholstery, and a lack of separate back cushions.

 

Great for:

Elegant, emphatic style. Works well poised between windows.

 

History:

The Camelback sofa hearkens back to the late 18th century and the design studios of Thomas Chippendale. Chippendale was an influential British furniture designer and cabinet maker at the fore of fine craft. The Chippendale style, associated with various forms of furniture, was the first style to be named after a designer rather than a monarch. The camelback sofa is a tried and true favorite of the ages, and will happily hold court in your living room.

 A Visual Guide to 10 Iconic Forms


Lawson Style

Red Lawson-style sofa
 
Features:

The American standard, designed for simplicity and comfort. Generously sized with three separate seat and back cushions. A simple boxed shape with low arms and serious sinkability.

 

Great for:

Casual spaces, focused on simplicity, comfort and ease. The best sofa for midday naps.

 

History:

The Lawson style is the the most common American sofa-- the form your picture when you hear the word ‘couch.’ This style is designed for comfort, overstuffed and generously proportioned. The Lawson style was created at the turn of the 20th century for copper magnate Thomas Lawson. You can’t find a more comfortable couch for movie lovers and bookworms alike.

 


Tuxedo Sofa

Blue, bold-print Tuxedo sofa
 
Features:

A square, pared back style defined by back and arms of the same height. Tuxedo sofas are often taller than other designs, and are traditionally designed with exposed legs and a single row of tufting.

 

Great for:

A stylish space with a nod to glamour. Toss in some extra pillows for added comfort.

 

History:

The Tuxedo sofa takes its name from the village of Tuxedo Park in New York, the same place that christened the formal suit. Notable residents of upscale Tuxedo Park included Emily Post, the grand dame of good manners. Tuxedo Sofas appeared in the 1920’s, and with their clean lines and simple shape, hinted at modernism on the way.  A Tuxedo Sofa is a principle of good taste, a style that makes any living room feel upscale.

 

 


 Mid-Century Modern

Deep green mid-century modern sofa
 
Features:

A streamlined look, with low, exposed legs.

 

Great for:

The ‘it’ sofa for modern spaces and urban living.

 

History:

Mid-century modern was a design movement evolving from the mid-1930’s to 1965. Mid-century modern sofas were designed for post-war, urban living. They were made to be slimmer for small spaces and lightweight enough for frequent moves. This sofa style is wildly popular today, a darling of minimalist and eclectic homes alike. The Mad Men televisions series pushed this style back into the limelight, and updated versions are in high production. Choose this style for a contemporary, clean-lined look, equally at home in a living room or gallery.

 


 Sectional

Taupe sectional sofa
Features:

A multi-piece, modular sofa, often comprised of 3 to 5 parts. Commonly arranged in L-shaped or U-shaped configurations, and made to seat a crew.

 

Great for:

Entertaining. Provides generous seating, well suited for cocktail hour or Superbowl parties.

 

History:

When envisioning a sectional, you might jump to the overstuffed standard. But you’re just as likely to find a slim, streamlined version. Sectionals these days run the gamut, with a stunning variety of contemporary options. Though earlier examples exist, the modern sectional found widespread popularity in the 1950’s, as American designers like Charles and Ray Eames re-imagined furniture form. Depending on your space and taste, you can seek sleek, streamlined sectionals, or well-cushioned sets with all the bells and whistles.

 


Sleeper Sofa

Grey sleeper sofa
Features:

Appears to be solely a sofa, folds out into a guest bed.

 

Great for:

Expanding your sleeping space. Plays double duty: living room by day, guest room by night.

 

History:

1899 saw the emergence of the first center fold bed. The Murphy bed followed in 1908, a pivoting mattress that folded into the wall. But it was the 1930’s that saw Bernard Castro, an Italian immigrant to America, invent the modern sleeper sofa. The hallmark of his designs was that his sofas retained the sleek appeal of high end furniture, with mattresses seamlessly hidden from view. The engineering has only improved over the years, and contemporary sleeper sofas offer top notch dual function without sacrificing sofa style.


Your sofa is so much more than a place to sit - it’s an icon of rich and varied history. Whether your take is classic or modern, you are now staged for your own sofa story. Are you ready for the search?