The word “Chesterfield” is used very liberally in the furniture world, and it can have a wide variety of meanings.
For some people, the word refers to any kind of couch. For others, it solely refers to the original Chesterfield sofa design. In reality, as the name is not a brand but rather a style of sofa, then like any cultural artefact, it is living and breathing – changing as trends come and go.
The original Chesterfield sofas were upholstered in silk and worsted velvets. In the Victorian era, as tastes changed, people experimented with patterned moquette fabrics. In some cases, they simply draped their Chesterfields in tapestry without any buttoning. As the hand sewn joints were visible, they were disguised with silk gimps, cording or nail trim.
Nowadays, we commonly expect Chesterfields to be upholstered in leather and finished with nail-trim, although this clearly differs from the original.
As such, we are often asked what is considered a ‘true chesterfield sofa’.
The question assumes that there is a single chesterfield model, and that any innovations from this remove its ‘essence of chesterfield’.
Maybe this is true to a certain extent, as we know what the original chesterfield sofa design was. However, I would argue that Chesterfield Sofas are a style, and can be adapted and changed to suit needs and trends.
In the same way that we can think of Renaissance art as a style that brought together many different artists and results, we can equally think of Chesterfield as a style.
There are many Artisans who make chesterfield sofas and many models of Chesterfield sofas, some built closely to the original design and some radically different. The style does clearly have roots in history, but we nevertheless have seen this style evolve continuously throughout the centuries.
Therefore, if we categorise the Chesterfield as a style rather than a model, we naturally ask ourselves what the main characteristics of this style. What makes something a Chesterfield sofa (or not)?
With that in mind, here are some characteristics that are quintessentially Chesterfield:
- Mahogany Bun feet - Hand turned bun shape foot that is sanded and polished in mahogany. Bun feet are generally 3cm high with a 13cm diameter. The shortness of them contribute to the low seat.
- Deep quilting - Sewn to remove the fullness created by the depth of buttons and folded into neat diagonal pleats.
- Scrolling arms - The arm is not arched out but rather sits perpendicular to the seat. Many modern variations tilt the arm on 55 degree angle.
- Nail trim - Generally polished brass. This is used to keep the fabric connected to the frame. Some modern manufacturers use staples and add the nails later for design effect.
- Low seat - The low seat is designed to support the thighs and allow the calves to drop down, Philip Stanhope opined that this ensured good posture.
- Low back - Designed to keep the back upright, the low back doesn’t allow you to lounge back into the sofa.
- Drop end or Drop arm for easy reclining - Very rarely used in modern times, however the drop arm design has been traditionally used in Chesterfield sofas since the Victorian era.
- Double cone springs - The chesterfield sofa has three or sometimes four rows of 11 swg double-cone springs. The top row sits upright on the frame whilst the second row is bent and angled over the frame edge and the subsequent rows are sewn into the backrest itself.
A Chesterfield can be thought of as a style of sofa, as opposed to a single model. And, ultimately, the value in a piece of furniture lies in the way in which it works around your life and adapts to your needs. I would argue that it is the Chesterfield’s ability to adapt throughout the ages that is responsible for its enduring position as a design icon.