The Chesterfield sofa has a long and surprisingly complex history that stretches back over two centuries. It’s now a ubiquitous piece of furniture and no lawyer’s office or upmarket coffee house seems complete without one. Yet that hasn’t always been the case. The Chesterfield sofa was once exclusively the preserve of the wealthy and well to do: the sumptuous tufted leather couches with rolled backs and arms were once only to be found in gentlemen’s clubs and royal palaces, where the gentlemen smoked cigars and drank brandy, whilst the ladies retired. No doubt Buckingham Palace still has a few tucked away in some of its many morning rooms. It was, and still is, still regarded as a status symbol: a luxurious and classic item, but with an understated elegance that sits perfectly with the British psyche.
It’s rumoured that the Chesterfield sofa was originally commissioned by Philip Dormer Stanhope, the Fourth Earl of Chesterfield way back in the late eighteenth century. Whether that’s just another urban myth or fact, is impossible to judge. Many have laid claim to creating the Chesterfield sofa, and the actual facts may well never be discerned. However, the Earl was certainly portrayed sitting on a Chesterfield. It would be fitting and in keeping with his character if he had in fact commissioned the piece by a local cabinet maker. He was a well known writer and politician in his day, renowned for his sense of taste and style and prone to writing letters to his illegitimate son about the social ills of the day and how the nation had lost its sense of moral propriety and decency. Irony, it seemed, wasn’t one of his stronger points. Whether he ever commissioned the rolled back luxury leather couch where gentlemen could sit upright in comfort we’ll never k now, but it would certainly have been in keeping with his character.