Sofas - Construction   .............................  Illustrated FURNITURE Glossary

Styles - Sofas, Daybeds, Settees, and Settles

Sofas, daybeds, settees, and settles are all elongated chairlike forms usually meant for two or more people.

Récamier: a reclining couch (for one person).


Sofas - long upholstered seating forms with arms.

Sofas were made as early as the 17th century, but these are exceedingly rare.

Thomas H. Ormsbee, Field Guide to Early American Furniture
, pp. 336, 341-2

Sofas and settees are patterned after the armchair form but with seat wide enough to accommodate two or more people. The sofa, an all-upholstered piece, is losely related to the wing chair.

It was first made in America toward the close of the Queen Anne period and the resemblance was marked, but it became less so during the Chippendale years. The sofa attained real popularity in the Hepplewhite period and from about 1800 through the Early Victorian period was such an important household piece that no American parlor was considered properly furnished without one.

The legs and exposed parts of the frame are made of walnut, mahogany, rosewood or, infrequently, of cherry.The framework concealed by upholstery is generally of pine or other softwood. Where extra strength is required,some of the parts are of maple, birch or chestnut.

Sofa construction in general is the same as that of an upholstered chair, particularly the wing chair.

With long sofas, the seat frame is usually strength-ened by two slightly concave cross braces so spaced as to divide the area into three sections.

Use of coil spring in the seat did not become standard practice until about the middle of the American Empire period. Previous to that, the basis of the scat was tightly stretched canvas padded with curled hair or other material. With some sofas, the upholstery of back and ends is tacked directly to the frame; with others, there are removable panels or frames over which the padding and upholstery material is stretched. Such panels are held in place by concealed screws.

The camel-back sofa, named for its upholstered arched back, was favored from the mid-18th to the early 19th century. The major difference among various camel-back designs is the legs:

  • Cabriole or Marlborough legs are common on Queen Anne and Chippendale examples

  • Tapered legs were used on Federal-era pieces. Delicate Neoclassical carving on exposed woodwork is a hallmark of other Federal sofas, but is less evident on country pieces of the same era.

Empire sofas usually have large-scale decoration, scrolled arms, and sometimes dolphin legs or lion's-paw feet.

Rococo Revival sofas (1840-1870) have richly carved ornament on curving forms

Upholstery: The importance of upholstery on a sofa or settee depends on the style of the piece. Many high-style examples were initially upholstered in elegant fabrics, but such original materials have rarely survived.

Daybeds and Conversational Sofas

Daybeds - extended chairs used for lounging