Upstairs downstairs: Chesterfield sofas feature in life below stairs

Chesterfield Sofa

I don’t know if any of you have managed to  catch any of Fiona Bruce’s The Queen’s Palaces series so far, but if you haven’t, then it’s definitely worth a look, if only to see how the other half live. Last week’s episode was from Windsor Castle and was full of all the lavish paraphernalia you’d tend to expect with any Royal Palace – you know oil paintings the size of five-aside football pitches and more gold and silver than you could shake a stick at. What you probably didn’t notice was any sign of a Chesterfield sofa: well, not unless you were eagle-eyed anyway. Now why should that be important? Well, we normally associate institutions like the Royal Family with style and finesse, so you’d think an elegant and timeless piece like a Chesterfield settee would be in keeping with this. Yet, there wasn’t one to be seen anywhere. Granted there were lots of chaises longue and other fancy-looking pieces of furniture, but no traditional Chesterfield sofas.

However, what was shown in great detail was Queen Mary’s dolls house. Now, if you never seen this particular piece, it should be pointed out that this isn’t your regular run-of-the-mill dolls house that you might buy for your child. On the contrary, this dolls house is the business: wholly constructed by the finest craftsmen and probably the most lavish and expensive plaything you’re ever likely to see. Opulent doesn’t really do it justice. If you look very closely you’ll see that there is a miniature traditional leather Chesterfield sofa in the dolls house. As you’d expect the detailing is wholly accurate and it’s been constructed in exactly the same way as its full-size equivalent, even down to the studding on the arms and body. I’m sure anybody would be proud to own that.  What’s odd about this is its location. It isn’t upstairs, it’s downstairs in the library.

Now that may seem like a small detail, but it does speak volumes. The library is located in the basement of the dolls house along with the kitchen, the scullery and the servant’s living quarters. Maybe it wasn’t considered grand enough to be on display in the upstairs accommodation where all the rich and well-to-do might be expected to mingle. Maybe it wasn’t considered grand enough? But, is a traditional Chesterfield sofa not worthy of living side-by-side with elegant French armoires and silk-covered chaises longue? Of course it is. It looks every bit as opulent and stylish as the furniture in the rest of the dolls house, and you’d have to say a darned sight more comfortable too. Perhaps that was really the point. If you wanted to spend a couple of hours reading one of the hundreds of books in this library, you’d want to be sitting comfortably. Given the choice, what would you prefer to sit on? I think the Chesterfield sofa would get my vote every time, whether it’s upstairs or downstairs.