There can’t be many people in this world who haven’t heard of Chesterfield sofas or settees. Everyone has some idea, however vague that might be, of what a Chesterfield is and what it looks like, but have you ever wondered why ‘Chesterfield’ furniture uses the name Chesterfield? Well, the truth of the matter is no one is exactly sure. Many people believe the furniture is named after the Earl of Chesterfield, as he was known to have purchased several pieces during the early years of the Nineteenth Century and was renowned in his day for being a trendsetter and an arbiter of good taste and style. Others believe that the term Chesterfield is so named because it was originally manufactured in Chesterfield in Derbyshire. Canadian historians would probably take issue with that, as they maintain the term ‘chesterfield’ is a Canadian/English name for a couch or sofa.
The terms sofa, couch and settee are a little more straightforward. The word sofa is a derivative of the Arabic word ‘suffah’ which roughly translates as an upholstered raised platform. The word ‘couch’ is derived from the French word ‘coucher’ which means to lie down or recline. The term settee is taken from an old English word ‘setl’ or settle, which was a long wooden bench with high backs and arms, capable of seating two or more people. The word first came into popular usage during the early part of the Sixteenth Century. In its day the settle, too, was a trendsetter, though never really noted for its comfort. Thankfully, it was refined during the course of the Seventeenth Century when the use of upholstering became increasingly popular.
The only thing that can be stated for certain is that in modern parlance, ‘chesterfield’ is specifically related to a style of sofa or settee: in fact the ‘chesterfield’ style is probably now the most popular style of upholstered furniture in the world. Chesterfield sofas are traditionally made, deep button pieces of upholstered furniture where the arms and the back are the same height. They are generally manufactured using traditional leather upholstery, though fabric and cord coverings are also popular.