Aristocratic in conception as well as appearance, the Chesterfield sofa has become one of the most instantly recognisable furniture designs in history. There's a great story surrounding its origins, although as with all legends the evidence is anecdotal at best.
Lord Philip Stanhope, the fourth Earl of Chesterfield (1694-1773), supposedly commissioned the first Chesterfield sofa. Lord Stanhope was in many ways the ultimate gentleman; a renowned writer, politician, public speaker, and all-around wealthy aristocrat.
Unsurprisingly, then, he was something of a trendsetter. The Earl desired a sofa that a gentleman could sit on without creasing his suit. He employed a local craftsman to come up with something to fit this brief, and the result was a very early version of the Chesterfield sofa we know and love today.
Whilst no historical documents directly testify to this, the Earl was famous for writing two works: Letters to his Son and Letters to his Godson. These letters essentially detailed how to operate in society; how to flatter, please, impress, and such-like. Ironically, Stanhope's son is reported to have embodied quite the opposite of these traits, but nonetheless, these works demonstrate the Earl's keen interest in being the perfect gentleman.
We recognise Chesterfields for their tall back, finished at the same height as scrolling armrests, and deep buttoned upholstery. Early Chesterfields had no suspension system and tufting kept the horsehair stuffing in place instead. Tufting involved tightly pulling the upholstery back and securing it in place, creating the well-known 'buttoned down' look. On early Chesterfields, this buttoning was far from comfortable and felt very stiff and tough. According to the story, Lord Stanhope actually requested this discomfort himself. He wished to deter unwanted guests from waiting for an audience with him for too long.
In Victorian Britain, the Chesterfield evolved to look more like the design we know and love today. Comfort was increasingly seen as a priority, especially after Howard & Sons invented coil-sprung upholstery in the early 1800s. The integral design feature of a Chesterfield, the buttoning, has endured remarkably. This iconic look feels both traditional and fashionable, preventing a 'slouchy' sofa feel. The depth and texture of the buttoning keep the eye entertained whilst giving the sofa a sturdiness. Wealthy families rushed to incorporate a Chesterfield into their homes, often coordinating its leather or velvet upholstery with luxurious surroundings. These iconic sofas then migrated into gentleman’s clubs and hotel lobbies, and the Chesterfield firmly established itself as a classic.
Chesterfields have long stood for sophistication and luxury, and they still represent these ideals today. They are instantly recognisable when you walk into a room, and yet they can suit a wide range of interior styles. They look equally at home in an industrial loft-style apartment as they do in a polished drawing room. Their seminal design and effortlessly cool appearance make them a staple of the interior design world.
Click here to browse the Chesterfields in our collection.