CILSS Antique Upholstered Sofas and Settees


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The terms settee and sofa have been used since the early 18th century. Although today considered interchangeable - both describe an antique upholstered seat with a back and arms which is large enough for at for at least two people to sit comfortably - there is a slight difference between the two. Strictly speaking, the term sofa applies to larger pieces on which a person could recline. Both sofas and settees were usually made as part of a set of seating furniture. 

They evolved from the wooden settles of the Middle Ages, and by the first half of the 17th century settees of a design similar to the back stool were being made. After the Restoration in 1660, the demand in Britain for furniture based on continental styles prompted the development of settees that resembled upholstered wing chairs of the William and Mary period. One style that remained popular throughout the 18th century was the chair-back settee which, as the name suggests, consisted of two or more wooden chair backs joined together, with a single upholstered seat. 

In the 19th century, sofas, like most other forms of antique upholstered furniture, were being made in a variety of styles, including rococo revival and Gothic revival. The chesterfield, which originally appeared in about 1880, as the first fully upholstered settee and put spring upholstery to good use. No one knows for sure whether its name derives from the Derbyshire town or from one of the earls of Chesterfield. 

One variant of the sofa is the daybed, a long upholstered seat on legs, with a fixed or adjustable head, and sometimes foot, and usually inclined to allow the user to lie in comfort. Daybeds have been used since the 17th century. Perhaps the best-known daybed is the Regency chaise lounge, which has one or two scrolled ends and an upholstered, often down-curving, back. 







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