Brown Traditional Edgell Leather Chesterfield Sofa

What is a Chesterfield? Definition and History

Everything you wanted to know about chesterfields…and more!

What is a chesterfield?

For many of you, you have heard the word chesterfield thrown around in interior decorating and home furnishing circles – blogs and magazines.

You may think that the word is used interchangeably with the words sofa or couch…and it is but, perhaps, incorrectly.

According to dictionary resources online, much to my dismay or personal beliefs, a chesterfield can be defined in a few ways. (I actually thought the definition was much more specific.)

Here are a few of the definitions I found:

A chesterfield is a large, overstuffed sofa or divan with a back and upholstered arms.

A chesterfield is a sofa with padded arms and a back of the same height and curved outward at the top.

And for my Canadian friends, a chesterfield can be defined as any large sofa or couch…(a little too generic for my liking…let’s make it more clear, shall we 🙂


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As I mentioned, when I found these definitions, I was a little dismayed. Having an interior decorating background, we like to be a tad more specific…or should I say, much more specific when we define pieces of home decor and furniture.

When I think of a chesterfield, first and foremost, I think of a long seating piece of furniture – i.e. a sofa or couch. Add on to that a few very specific elements which are incorporated into that design which make it specifically, a chesterfield.


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Core Features of a Chesterfield

The core elements or features of a chesterfield include:

  • Upholstered back and arms which are the same height
  • Curved or rolled back and arms
  • Tufted button upholstery
  • Turned feet or legs with wheeled castors

Let’s explore each of these elements in more detail – with the help of some pictures.

Upholstered Back and Arms of Equal Height

Most sofas – other than chesterfields – have back and arm heights which are different. The arms are most often shorter than the back – for obvious reasons.

With a chesterfield, the style is defined by the back and arms being of equal height.

Classi Chesterfield with Equal Height Arms and Back
Classic Chesterfield with Equal Height Arms and Back

While this chesterfield style of sofa may appear to be about the same size as a standard sized sofa, because the arms and back are of the same height, it takes more visual space than one with shorter arms.

Curved or Rolled Back and Arms

You may see many sofas with rolled arms but you more rarely see a sofa with both the arms and back rolled.

This is a classic and enduring feature of a traditional chesterfield.

Rolled Arms and Back on Classic Chesterfield
Not sure if they designed the arms and back to be both rolled and the same height for more seating room or not – probably not but, with all of that seating real estate, it sure does make for easy lounging on the arms and back.
Typical Rolled Arm on Classic Chesterfield

Tufted Button Upholstery

The button tufting of a chesterfield may be one of the most striking and well known features or element of a classic chesterfield.

Today, the tufting can be done in different ways but, the traditional tufting is similar to this.

Button Tufting on Classic Chesterfield
Exquisite tailored button tufting typified on this leather sofa makes for that very distinctive chesterfield sofa style.

Turned Feet with Wheeled Castors

A traditional chesterfield will have turned wooden legs or feet with wheeled castors.

The turned legs means that they have been rounded and shaped by a lathe – a very traditional style of furniture leg or foot.

Chesterfield Turned Legs and Castors
Chesterfield Turned Legs and Castors
Chesterfield turned legs and wheeled castors

Chesterfield History

If you look at the history of a chesterfield, you may find some information which substantiates this / my definition.

Here is a bit of what I found when I researched the history of chesterfields.

Some Fun Chesterfield History: 

While not proven, circa 1770, it is believed that an Earl of Chesterfield (surprise!) asked for a custom sofa to be built for him. He asked that it be built for comfort while sitting without wrinkling his outfit.

Hence, the sofa was designed with a large deep seat, high backs and upholstered rolled arms. Interestingly, it has been said that the button tufting was also added so that the wrinkling of the gentleman’s garments would be avoided or prevented.

And so…the chesterfield – designed and made specifically for the Earl of Chesterfield – was born.


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The Classic Chesterfield Design

The classic chesterfield – or the original design, if you like – is a sofa designed with arms and backs of the same height, the arms and back are rolled, and the whole sofa is tufted, including the seat portion. As well, they most often include turned feet with castors.

Here is an example of a modern chesterfield done in a traditional chesterfield style.

Jennifer Taylor Baron Genuine Leather Chesterfield Sofa
This genuine leather chesterfield by Jennifer Taylor has most of the proper characteristics to make it a classic chesterfield – with a few exceptions. The grey color is not a traditional chesterfield color. As well, the feet or legs are not turned and do not include castors.

The key traditional elements include the tailored button tufting on the back, arms and seat as well as the turned rounded arms and back. Note that the seat does not have removable cushions and is fully tufted. This is what an original chesterfield would have looked like – with a few exceptions.

One main difference is that the color of this chesterfield, gray, is not what an original would have been made with. However, the style and design are very close to the original chesterfield design.

This sofa is still a great and very close example or replica of an original chesterfield – with the exception of the color and lack of fully turned legs and castors.


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Classic Chesterfield Materials

An original chesterfield would have been made from genuine leather.

And in fact, that is really the only material that can be used in describing a classic chesterfield – leather.

Sarreid Ltd Castered Rich Brown Leather Chesterfield Sofa
This classic chesterfield is made with genuine leather in a burnished brown color, aptly named cigar. Because of the quality craftsmanship and the durable leather material, this chesterfield will last a lifetime.

Today, there are other materials used to manufacture chesterfield sofas but, the original and classic is and always will be, leather.


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Classic Chesterfield Colors

While my title reads ‘colors’ plural, it should probably read simply color.

The most classic and really only traditional color of a chesterfield is brown – various shades of brown but, mostly darker versions.

This can also include very deep shades of red wine which have a lot of brown in them, and are very dark.

A chesterfield type of sofa was designed to have a very masculine feel – which when done in its original styling, color – dark browns – and material – genuine leather – exudes masculinity.


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Brown Leather Chesterfields

In my estimation, this chesterfield sofa done in brown leather with arms and back of equal heights as well as traditional tailored tufted button back and arms is a typical – but not boring – and perfect example of what a classic chesterfield was made to look like.

It is almost like it could have existed in the 1770’s.

The one difference is the seating portion which is done with cushions as opposed to a button tufted non-removable seat.

Classic Brown Leather Chesterfield Sofa
This Classically Styled Edgell Leather Chesterfield Sofa is more on the masculine side of the home decorating scale. However, the lighter brown color invokes a natural organic feel which leans somewhat to the feminine side of decoration. Either way, this chesterfield can be styled to fit a masculine or feminine decor.

Fortunately for us, it is not from the 1770’s and we can purchase a newly manufactured version of this chesterfield today.

I love this chesterfield sofa done in rich burnished brown leather – such a classic piece of furniture that will never go out of style.


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Deep Brown Chesterfield

This is another example of a modern day chesterfield design. It includes most of the classic features – rolled and tufted arms and back.

However, it does not include any castors on the feet and the sofa seats are not tufted.

17 Stories Brittany Dark Brown Leather Chesterfield Sofa
This 17 Stories Brittany Dark Brown Leather Chesterfield Sofa is a modern masterpiece of design for any library, den, or masculine living space.

Shop brown leather chesterfields here!


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Chesterfield Styled Rooms

Based on these characteristics of a chesterfield, you may be wondering where or in which room would one of these iconic sofas work.

Having a large footprint on the floor, or large scale, with the high arms and back, the dark color and the heavy leather finish, they lean to the masculine side of decor.

Hence, a traditional chesterfield will work well in any type of library, den, executive office, cigar smoking club room, or even luxury man cave, as these all tend to be more masculinely decorated spaces.

Three Posts Dark Brown Leather Lucious Chesterfield
A classic library or den setting is the perfect place for a classic chesterfield. This is an easy furniture choice to make for someone who wants a traditional and stately feel to the room.

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A traditional chesterfield in dark leather also works perfectly well in an upscale lodge, cottage or rustic setting.

Heavy, dark woods in the form of bookcases and accent tables pair perfectly with classic chesterfields to create a room which feels traditional and warm and exudes strength, richness and elegance.

It may be obvious that a classic chesterfield works well to create a more masculine space. However, with some added accent furniture and decor pieces in lighter colors and shades and / or glass and mirror (more feminine-like elements), you can take a traditional chesterfield and make the room feel more balanced, having both a masculine and feminine feel.

17 Stories Stephanie Genuine Leather Chesterfield Sofa
With the simple addition of a few lighter color throw pillows and a lighter room altogether, this classic chesterfield has been quickly and easily softened to create a more balanced feel to the room.

You get your yin, they get their yang.


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The Modern Chesterfield

The modernization of furniture – or of anything we use in our homes for that matter – is inevitable.

Even though the original design of a chesterfield was pretty flawless, it has changed.

Some of the changes are big, and some are small. Some are for style and esthetic reasons and others are purely practical.

Practical Design Changes

Let’s get practical – one of the least fun things to think about when thinking about home decor and interior design. However, it is necessary – and as long as it is done right, you may not even notice the design or style changes made to the original.

Let’s see how this applies to chesterfield design over the years.


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No Button Tufted Seating

One of the biggest design changes of a chesterfield from its original form and style is the seat portion of the sofa.

If you noticed on the original chesterfield, the seating portion is done in one solid piece and is tufted just like the arms and back.

As we have come to desire more comfort in our homes and furniture, the tufted seat was/is not very comfortable. As well, the tufting on the seat can become home to many unwanted crumbs and dirt.

Classic black leather chesterfield
A very traditional chesterfield done in black leather (not so traditional) with padded seat cushions instead of button tufting – a way to make the sofa much more comfortable and cleaning much easier.

As such, manufacturers have taken the chesterfield design to a new level by adding individual and removable seat cushions for the seat portion of the sofa.

This allows for much more comfortable seating for the tush with the added benefit of not having to vacuum each and every one of those button tufts after your kids – big or small – eat a bag of chips while watching their favorite TV show.


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Chesterfields without Castors

Another design change which has become more popular on chesterfields is static feet with no castors.

On new chesterfields with very traditional styling, manufacturers are still using turned feet but without any castors.

Three Posts Emmalyn Faux Leather Rolled Arm Chesterfield Sofa
This faux leather chesterfield has static feet – meaning there are no castors or wheels on the feet.

I think people realized that they don’t really need their sofa to be shifting around the room – especially if you have energetic kids running about.

It can be equally important to not have castors if your chesterfield is placed in the middle of your room and not up against a wall – where movement could happen just when someone sits down.

However, if you want that truly classic chesterfield style, you should look for one with the classic rolling castors.


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New Chesterfield Styles

We have discussed the classic chesterfield sofa style, with its rounded arms and back, button tufted arms, back and seat, turned feet with castors and done in a dark colored – typically brown – leather.

While these are the classic features of an original chesterfield, there are numerous style variations which have come into the market in recent years.

If you would like to see more of them, check them out here.

Shop for your new Chesterfield now!

Shop luxury chesterfields here

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