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The Evolution of Comfort: Exploring the History of the Sofa

It’s your favorite version of seating.


The centerpiece of every home.


The go-to in every workplace.


I hear you asking: “Hey, is it really the most important seating? Are you sure it is my favorite? You don’t know me…”


Ya well, ask me that again when you get home from work, turn on your TV, and sit down to relax on your favorite chair.


And let me ask you this…


What kind of chair are you sitting on?


Oh yeah…it’s a type of lounge seating, isn’t it?


Yup, we are secretly psychic.


Or, just logical, but who’s judging…


Anyways… moving on, if you haven’t guessed it by now, we are going to be looking into the history of your favorite chair, the sofa.


When did these become a thing?


Well, keep reading to find out.


Where did sofas really come from?


Ancient Egyptians style dining bench

The first time we know of sofas being referred to was back in 2000 BC when the Ancient Egyptians had reclined benches, they sat in for eating. However, these bench sofa situations were only really available to the very, very rich.


To give you a sort of visual the form of the sofa in those days was like what you imagine Cleopatra lounging on while servants waved huge feather things to fan her off…!


Benches would have been somewhat similar to this - Photo Coutosey of Ideai.Club


Poorer people would have stone benches that were within the same family, however lacked all forms of comfort compared to what we know as sofas today.


Moving on we don’t really know a lot from Ancient Egyptian time to the 17th century. However, we do know that within these years a lot of cultures had forms of benches that were used for eating, much like the Ancient Egyptians had.


Within this time sofas were commonly just sturdy wooden benches within most spaces.

But we have more information within the 17th century.


In the 1680s the first padded chair was introduced in Versailles. These were rigid canape-style chairs with room for 2 people. They were less about comfort and more about practicality and ensured that the person seated had to keep their body posture rigid and mostly upright.


These chairs were definitely more about form than function, but they are considered the first upholstered sofas.


Moving onto the late 17th century and early 18th centuries, casual private living became a little more popular, bringing the version of sofas to most spaces. None of these versions of sofas were as comfy as what we see today, however for that day and age they were a lot more comfortable than the solid wood seating that people were used to.


17th century French Double Chair

In the UK the most popular form of sofa was the Day Bed. And in France, they had a sofa called the double chair. This was a version of their earlier rigid canapes; however, they had softer cushions for the seats and arms. The space in the seat was a little bit bigger and the back was higher, adding a little more comfort to the earlier canapes. It even had an armrest which made the sofa look a lot more comfortable.


The French Double Chair would have been similar to this - Photo Courtesy of Stylish


Within this time Lord Phillip Stanhope, the 4th Earl of Chesterfield, started a new trend. Maybe it’s a given so I won’t draw it out, but yes, he requested the design of the Chesterfield couch, which is still popular today!


Similar to the first 17th century Chesterfield sofa

He wanted a seat where multiple people could sit without having to wrinkle their immaculate clothing. So, Chesterfield was created, and the arms and backs were made with equal height to allow you to sit in poise and comfort without wrinkling clothing.


The original Chesterfields would be similar to this - Photo Courtesy of The Chesterfield Manufacturer


The first Chesterfields were made in leather with button features in the upholstery. Again, these were only really available for the top class of people.


Moving into the end of the 18th century, Thomas Chippendale designed a sofa that moved sofas from being only available to the rich and making them more available to the average person. This sofa featured deeper seats that doubled as a bed. Comfortable upholstery replaced the decorative wood seats.


Moving into the 19th and 20th centuries sofas became a little more conventional in their patterns.


Rococo style furniture from the Victorian Era

During the Victorian Era the most popular version of the sofa was the Rococo style, which featured flowing wood carvings around the upholstered seats and backs, but moving into the Edwardian Era, the sofas became more mission-style. This turned away from the Rococo adornment and featured more 90° angles and a more minimalistic design.


Rococo styles sofa would be similar to this - Photo Courtesy of The MET Museum


And enter the 20th century. Where middle-class families became a larger percentage of the population and sofas became more readily available to this class. This increased demand and with the advancement of technology, supply also increased, lowering prices.


Flexxform Box Modular Collection

This led to less extravagant and more functional sofa designs coming to the market, especially after World War I.


And moving into the 21st century, we now have options for all kinds of comfort levels and design levels. However, we are seeing an introduction of smaller 2 or 3-person sofas for smaller living spaces. But there's also larger sectional-style seating, pull-out couches, sofa beds, and more…

Box Modular Seating - Courtesy of Flexxform


Not only are we seeing a wide variety of sofa options for residential spaces, but also there has been a large push for soft-seating in public spaces; corporate, retail, and more...! Which is exactly what Flexxform is here for!


And there you have it.


But even better, Flexxform offers all these styles and more…!


Reach out for information on your favorite Flexxform sofa – info@flexxform.co.


References

Berlinghof, S. (2020, February 12). The History of the Sofa. Retrieved from Stylish:

Komar, M. (2022, April 5). A Brief — and Surprisingly Interesting — History of the Living Room Sofa. Retrieved from Apartment Therapy:

Ridgwell, H. (2020, August 19). A History of the Sofa in 30 Seconds. Retrieved from Sofasofa:

Salter, J. (2022, March 22). The evolution of the sofa and the best styles from every period to shop now. Retrieved from House & Garden:

Wedral, A. (2021, August 04). Sofas: a quick history lesson. Retrieved from Swift Home:

 

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