Whether you call it a couch, a sofa, a settee or even a canape, you’ve almost certainly got a sofa in your home. I grew up with a Chesterfield!
What you may not know is that the sofa has a long, rich history of different designs.
The Chaise Longue Vs. The Stone Bench (2000 B.C.)
“Sofa” is an English corruption of an Arabic word “suffah”. And it means, “bench”.
If you were wealthy, then in 2000 BC (or so), the sofa was available in Egypt and later in Greece and Italy, and you could cover it in cushions to use in comfort.
However, if you were poor, then you would be lucky if you could afford a sofa at all and if you could?
It would have been made out of very uncomfortable hard stone. Yikes, right?!
The Medieval Sofa (An Uncomfortable Bench) (500 A.D. – 1500 A.D.)
Once Rome had fallen, there wasn’t much but the Medieval Period for the West and during that time?
Well, the sofa was nothing more than an uncomfortable wooden or stone bench. No cushions allowed.
This was thanks to the church’s teaching that comfort would lead to sin.
Yes, for 1,000 years people had to sit in discomfort for fear that their souls would end in eternal discomfort, otherwise.
The Renaissance Sofa (Upholstery At Last) (1550 – 1603 A.D.)
During the Renaissance, somebody must have finally read The Holy Bible from cover to cover and realized that there was, in fact, no prohibition on comfortable seating.
And once again, after a millenium of disfavor, upholstery was allowed again. Firstly, they placed rugs or wall hangings on sofas and then it led to cushions and finally to padded backs and arms.
However, design in this period was often more about “form” than function and sadly, many of the beautiful couches of the era were horribly uncomfortable.
The Baroque Sofa (The Day Bed) (1600 A.D. – 1700 A.D.)
The French took the idea of comfort to the next level and invented, during The Baroque Period, a day bed which was a sort of double chair sofa that was covered in thick comfy cushions.
The day bed also had broader seats and taller backs than previous sofas and was a heck of a lot more comfortable for it.
The Chesterfield (The English Sofa) (1700 AD – Present)
Chesterfield is one of the two most famous names in sofas and it was the English who would not be outdone that developed The Chesterfield.
The idea was simple, it had to be a couch that a bunch of people could sit on and then get up without wrinkling their clothes on it.
Lord Chesterfield had the idea and modestly named the results after himself. A Chesterfield is, to this day, an iconic and wondrous piece of furniture.
The Louis XIV and XV Sofas (The French Sofas) (1750 AD – Present)
The French heard of the Chesterfield and decided to go in for one upping and under the leadership of two King Louis’s, they opted for a whole host of new sofa designs.
This was a period in which love seats, canapes, cabrioles, etc. thrived.
The Chippendale (Sofa Pattern Books) (1700 AD – Present)
The most famous name in sofas and, perhaps, furniture is Chippendale.
And that’s because in the 18th century, Chippendale began to record the development of all household furnishings in pattern books which could be shared and circulated.
The Industrial Revolution was in full swing in this period and the cost of making a sofa was dropping like a stone.
Every home wanted a sofa and Chippendale saw to it that they could have one.
This was a period of design frenzy for couches as demand grew, so did the demand for different and interesting sofa models.
19th and 20th Century Sofas (Rapid Sofa Evolution) (1800 AD – Present)
The ensuing two centuries were a period of many design eras and each of them would see the sofa being revised again and again.
Mission-style, Rococo, Edwardian, Victorian, and more would rise and fall as the tastes of the day evolved and changed.
Even until the early part of the 20th century, the Mission-style held sway with a minimal sofa aesthetique.
Modernism (And Other 20th Century Sofas) (1900 AD – Present)
By the early 20th century, everyone in the middle class had or wanted a sofa and they wanted simple styles like Mission and Art Deco.
Modernism was the unifying style which allowed designers to bring beauty to the individual coach rather than adding beautiful embellishments.
Clean colors, clean lines, simple geometry is what made the sofas of this day shine and you can find Le Corbusier and Charles Eames’ inputs not just in furniture of the day but even today.
21st Century Sofas (And The Beat Goes On…) (2000 AD – Present)
The modern sofa is still being refined and enhanced.
Perhaps, the biggest change has been to move towards “modular sofa” design which lets families put together sofa shapes that best suit their needs.
Other big changes include the demands for sofa-beds, pull-out couches and futons that serve more than one purpose in the modern household.
Most of all, as our readers will know, there’s a growing demand for furniture that is sustainable in nature.
Final Thoughts On Sofa Design
The sofa has an exciting history and probably an equally exciting future, after all, we will always need somewhere to sit comfortably and fashions change and evolve constantly.
If you’re looking for a new sofa from any era then you should take a look at how to choose the right color sofa, and then our favorite sofa brands and our best online sofa stores too!