The history of a chesterfield

The History of the Chesterfield Sofa

Kathryn Moczulski
Kathryn Moczulski

For the last few years, the Chesterfield sofa has made an impression on the world – and it isn’t going anywhere anytime soon! But have you ever wondered of the history of the chesterfield sofa? 

You may have heard a few terms to describe seated upholstery furniture. Canadians often call all sofas “Chesterfields.” Brits call their sofas anything from “divans” to “davenports.” Americans use the word “couch” and “sofa” interchangeably to the horror of the design community. Here at COCOCO we take the traditional approach and call our back and arm tufted styles Chesterfields

Theories abound for the true origin story of the Chesterfield, some more grandiose and fable-like than others, none can be definitively confirmed. However, the earliest documented Chesterfield was in the late 1700s, making this style more than 250 years old!

The Chesterfield has transcended through centuries of interior design trends due to its not-so subtle elegance and surprising versatility.

What Makes a Chesterfield?

A chesterfield 

  1. Is a tight back sofa 
  2. With rolled arms
  3. Has tufting on the back and arms, usually a diamond tuft pattern
  4. The back and arms are all the same height
  5. Chesterfields also often have nailhead trim
  6. Is typically upholstered in leather or velvet

Where did the Chesterfield sofa come from?

Our favorite likely origin story begins with the 4th Earl of Chesterfield  – Lord Philip Stanhope (1694-1773). The Earl of Chesterfield was a wealthy member of the gentry known for forming and leading the “Broad Bottom” party –  No, that does not reference wide behinds, but a political party that focused on cross-party appeal. Two theories surround the earl:

  1. It is rumored that he commissioned the new upholstery style to prevent wrinkling in gentleman’s pants.
  2. Another curious theory is that the then shallow-set buttons that held the tufts were purposely positioned to discourage long-lasting visits. Gentlemen had to endure requests from their tenants, apparently, that gets tiresome, and the lumpy buttons help shorten those meetings.

Fortunately 100 years later, Queen Victoria ushered in a style of elegance and comfort. She had the tufts set deeper and added more horsehair for a plusher seat.  A matching set of tartan-covered Chesterfields were the centerpieces in her sitting room at Balmoral Castle in Scotland.

history of the chesterfield
Queen Victoria made this trend take off after making improvements to the chesterfield model.
History of the Chesterfield
Queen Victoria's famous drawing room with twin plaid chesterfields.

As the British conquered lands and built an empire, they brought along customs of high tea and luxurious chesterfield sofas, spreading not only their culture but also their good taste in interior furnishings.  The Queen wasn’t the only notable fan of the Chesterfield. Sigmund Freud found that having patients lie in repose on a Chesterfield was an effective way to gain access to his patient’s minds.

Another proof of this enduring style is that antique Chesterfields, like this Victorian Era horsehair-stuffed beauty, have sold for over $25k! You can think of your COCOCO Home Chesterfield as an heirloom piece your grandchildren will fight over. 

 

Thankfully we are in the 21st century and the comfort and structure of chesterfields have continued to improve with companies like ours doing things the right way. See how our chesterfields are made in this video: 

 

I want one, too!

There are a few things to keep in mind when you are designing your own COCOCO Home Chesterfield. Overall depths range from 34″ – 46”, giving the option of an upright, formal seat, or extra deep for feet up.  The rolled back of our Chesterfields has an additional 4” of tufted beauty. You can choose our Brooklyn profile – great for city apartments where you won’t see the back of the sofa – and save those 4” of depth.

Have some room? GO BIG. The Chesterfield is a full-size style; the arms are 11” each – taking up 22” of length. Just give yourself at least 3 feet of walking space around your furniture.  Chesterfield sectionals and double chaises make a dramatic statement. You will have plenty of sightlines from one room to the next since the Chesterfield doesn’t take up as much vertical space as higher pillow-back styles.  

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Of course, as a custom furniture manufacturer, we create all sizes and variations of the chesterfield; from sectionals to daybeds and chaises.

We recommend choosing a fabric or leather that shows off the tufting. Full aniline leathers with dramatic pull (lots of high-low variation) and velvets with luster and directional shadowing really enhancing the artistry of hand tufting.

Now that you’ve gained your cocktail party knowledge of the classic chesterfield, contact one of our designers to turn that inspiration into reality. 

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Cornelius Showroom
North Carolina

Just a hop, skip, and a jump away from Charlotte, our Cornelius showroom is worth the drive. Come see our latest collections in a beautifully restored cotton mill. Look through hundreds of leathers and fabrics and work with our dedicated team to get the details “just right”.

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