History of the Chesterfield Sofa
Apparently many Canadians refer to any sofa as a Chesterfield but this is news to me as I've always associated the name with a particular type of classic, large, leather couch, with a padded, buttoned upholstery - very solid and disguished looking and very British. According to the Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, the term Chesterfield is generally used to describe a sofa created in honour of Philip Stanhope, the fourth Earl of Chesterfield (1694-1773).
True Chesterfields (as opposed to any old couch) are indeed very distinctive, with a low rolled back and thick, supportive, yet extremely comfortable padding. Chesterfields look even better with the patina of age and as they are made from good quality leather, they're hardy and virtually never wear out, unless you treat them abusively. Perhaps they might survive even then.
Who was the fourth Earl of Chesterfield?
Philip Stanhope, the fourth Earl of Chesterfield, was an eminent man of letters; a statesman and a whig (a political party in the parliament of England). Born in 1694 and died in 1773, he lived a long life for the times but was not, at least according to Hugh Chisholm, in the 1911 version of the Encyclopedia Britannica, of a particularly admirable character:
Chesterfield was selfish, calculating and contemptuous; he was not naturally generous, and he practised dissimulation until it became part of his nature....
In spite of his brilliant talents and of the admirable training he received, his life, on the whole, cannot be pronounced a success.
Hmmm...well if nothing else, he did inspire a sterling piece of furniture in the Chesterfield couch.
Chesterfield Sofas for Straight Backs and Psychoanalysis
Most armchair (couch?) historians suggest the Earl commissioned the couch himself from a cabinet maker because he wanted a piece of furniture that would allow gentlemen to sit with their backs straight and avoid uncomfortable movements and positions. In any case, there is general agreement that the Chesterfield and the Earl are intertwined in history.
Ah now..lie back and tell me all about your mother...
Chesterfields also have a strong association wth psychoanalysis as they represent the classic 'psychiatrist's couch', as represented in literature and film. Evidently Freud did use a Chesterfield in his consultations - he was exploring the unconscious and needed to create a relaxed comfortable environment in which to do it. Thus, while his patients drifted off gently on the Chesterfield he would conduct his psychoanalysis.
Why Own a Chesterfield?
Well if it's good enough for Freud...
As a piece of furniture, traditional Chesterfield couches are about as good as it gets. Long regarded as an elitist piece of furniture, hand crafted by skilled tradesman and out of most people's reach, they are genrally more expensive than the average sofa, however you are buying a quality piece of substantial leather furniture that will outlast most other couches.
One thing is certain...the Chesterfield will never go out of style. Furniture fads come and go but the Chesterfield endures. Its presence would add comfort, luxury and distinction to any home.
Amazon Price: $41.95
Amazon Price: $39.95