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 🙂
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Today, there are other materials used to manufacture chesterfield sofas but, the original and classic is and always will be, leather.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Shop brown leather chesterfields here!
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.
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.
You get your yin, they get their yang.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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