Can’t tell a `Lawson’ sofa from a `Chesterfield’? Think `Tuxedo’ is just a dinner jacket men rent for formal occasion? Don’t go shopping for living room furniture in that case, without this cheat-sheet of 9 classic sofa designs, that will turn you into a decor expert overnight
BY NABANITA DUTT
Can’t tell a Lawson sofa from a Chesterfield? Think Tuxedo is just a dinner jacket men rent for formal occasions? Imagine Camelback to be one heck of a humpy-bumpy ride tourists are subjected to in the deserts of Egypt? Well, you’re not alone.
Telling sofa styles apart can be a tricky business – and a confusing one when you’re shopping for a new living room set or merely showing off your knowledge of home décor in front of your friends.
To turn you into a décor expert overnight, Bodmin Magazine has created a quick cheat-sheet with all the classic sofa designs you need to know to ace the sofa-savvy test. And put a name to that particular style you had fallen in love with, but didn’t know what it was called.
SOFA STYLES # 1: ENGLISH ROLL-ARM
♦ ♦ ♦ Look: Relaxed and lounge-friendly. Interior designers often fall back on the English Roll-Arm style when trying to create an informal, friendly vibe in a contemporary home.
♦ ♦ ♦ Design: The English Roll Arm sofa was made famous by English furniture-maker George Smith, who calls it the Standard Arm Signature Sofa.
The style is characterized by a high back and low arms tucked into the sides, which gives its structure a casual and relaxed appearance.
Some English Roll Arm sofas wear a skirt, concealing its feet, and they have padded loose seats and back cushions.
The versatility of this sofa design ensures that it will never go out of style.
♦ ♦ ♦ Trivia: The English Roll Arm sofa is also known as the Bridgewater sofa.
SOFA STYLES # 2: KNOLE
♦ ♦ ♦ Look: A royal architecture – more a throne than a sofa, really – that was constructed with grandeur and not comfort in mind.
♦ ♦ ♦ Design: The Knole sofa (also called the Knole settee) features deep seats and a high back and sides.
The closed-in framework was meant to ward off the cold in draughty old English castles, but it also afforded privacy – a fact that aristocratic ladies of Tudor England used to full advantage when conducting illicit liaisons with their gentlemen callers.
The Knole sofa usually has decorative wooden finials on the sofa back, to which the adjustable side arms are tied with braids and tassels.
♦ ♦ ♦ Trivia: The Knole sofa was specifically created in the 17th Century for the historical Knole House, an estate home in Kent, England.
Thereafter, the fashion caught on, and modern reproductions still preserve the stately curvature of the original design without wasting time with the fussy details.
SOFA STYLES # 3: CHESTERFIELD
♦ ♦ ♦ Look: Large, solid and leather. Every tuft and button on the Chesterfield sofa’s masculine back attests to its affinity for gentlemen’s clubs, libraries and studies.
♦ ♦ ♦ Design: The first Chesterfield sofa was created for Phillip Stanhope, Earl of Chesterfield (1694-1773).
A trendsetter during his times, Stanhope wanted his furniture man to come up with a design that allowed a gentleman to sit comfortably without wrinkling his garments.
The result was a sofa design with a buttoned and quilted back, rolled arms, nailhead trim and low seat base. An ageless, timeless, male masterpiece.
♦ ♦ ♦ Trivia: At the time of his death, Phillip Stanhope was visited by his godson. From his deathbed, a very sick Stanhope called upon his butler to “give the gentleman a chair”.
The butler took this last command from his master quite literally, and after Stanhope’s passing, he went against the wishes of the family and insisted that the godson go back home with the original Chesterfield.
SOFA STYLES # 4: LAWSON
♦ ♦ ♦ Look: Laidback and versatile, the Lawson sofa epitomizes the décor direction of `American casual’.
♦ ♦ ♦ Design: The Lawson sofa was designed for a famous 20th Century financier called Thomas Lawson.
Tired of Victorian frills and fusses, he ordered his furniture-maker to think of a sofa that chose simplicity and comfort over stately style.
The original design has three attached back pillows above three seat cushions. The arms are lower than the back and can be a `small roll’, `sock arm’ or square.
The back is not upright, but pitched at a very restful angle. Sometimes, the Lawson sofa is dressed in a skirt.
♦ ♦ ♦ Trivia: Because of the positioning of its arms, the Lawson is considered to be the sofa that is best suited for afternoon naps. Rest a throw pillow on one arm, and then lie back, relax…and sleep.
SOFA STYLES # 5: TUXEDO
♦ ♦ ♦ Look: A clean, modular structure that becomes a focal point without overwhelming the décorative aspects of the rest of the room.
♦ ♦ ♦ Design: Invented in the 1920s, the Tuxedo is one of the first sofa designs that shook off the yokes of classicism and took the first few baby steps toward modernized home décor.
The lightweight design with tightly tailored upholstery features arms that are of the same height as the back.
The legs are exposed and there are no back cushions to spoil the appearance of its neat, spare silhouette.
♦ ♦ ♦ Trivia: The sofa gets its name from the same place that men’s tuxedo eveningwear did: Tuxedo Park in New York.
SOFA STYLES # 6: CAMELBACK
♦ ♦ ♦ Look: The signature `hump’ on the Camelback has become an abiding design feature that is now reproduced in many kinds of modern sofas.
♦ ♦ ♦ Design: Besides the hump, another attribute that distinguishes the Camelback sofa is its widely-flared arms that roll outwards and can be used to lean against.
The angle of the back is slightly inclined to allow people to sit in a less rigid posture.
The Camelback has been in existence since the 18th Century and was first made popular by the English cabinetmaker, Chippendale.
♦ ♦ ♦ Trivia: There are many variations of this style in the market. Designers have added their own unique twists to the basic structure, and one Camelback is very unlikely to look like another.
SOFA STYLES # 7: CABRIOLE SOFA
♦ ♦ ♦ Look: A neat, elegant silhouette in the neo-classical French parlor style.
♦ ♦ ♦ Design: `Cabriole’ is a term that was used to describe a carriage or a cab in the 18th Century. This sofa mimics the cab seat’s structure with the trim of the back curving into arms in one seamless sweep of exposed wood.
The wood trim may display some baroque styling with elaborate carvings, which is set off by the simplicity of tightly-fitted upholstery. No back cushions.
♦ ♦ ♦ Trivia: Not to be confused with Cabriole `legs’ – the elaborate ball-and-claw foot design famously associated with Queen Anne and Chippendale furniture.
A modern version of a Cabriole sofa may or may not have Cabriole legs.
SOFA STYLES # 8: EMPIRE
♦ ♦ ♦ Look: Fabulously ornate, with strong design influences from the Romanesque era.
♦ ♦ ♦ Design: The Empire style of furniture began in France during the reign of Napoleon (1804-1815), who was fascinated by the classical fashions of ancient Rome. A French immigrant, Charles-Honoré Lannuier, was the first cabinetmaker to introduce the Empire style to America, and it has been a popular reproduction piece ever since.
The structure shows off an elaborate back frame, `roll-over’ arms that curve smoothly into the upholstered seat and cornucopia, animal paw or heavy plain-scroll legs. Often, the Empire style displays elements of its close cousin, the French Directoir style.
♦ ♦ ♦ Trivia: Design motifs carved into the woodwork of the Empire sofa reflected Napoleon’s own preferences for some – such as sphinx, rosettes, honeysuckle and bees (Napoleon’s personal symbol).
SOFA STYLES # 9: MID-CENTURY MODERN
♦ ♦ ♦ Look: Clean, spare lines with a tufted back and retro details.
♦ ♦ ♦ Design: The democratic, for-the-people design trend that took over the Western world from 1940 to 1970 has re-emerged as a fashionable décor choice in the last few years, reviving the market appeal of the Mid-Century Modern sofa. These tufted sofas are straight with neat, squared lines and low-slung arms. The exposed metal or wooden legs are low and generally square or slightly tapered.
♦ ♦ ♦ Trivia: The Mid-Century Modern sofa has become a by-word for urban condo living. If you’re looking for a style that’s smart, practical and suitable for small spaces, there are few rivals to this one.
♦ ♦ ♦ Be patient: If you haven’t found the sofa that meets your expectations, wait until you do. Don’t rush ahead and purchase something you think you might get to love in the long run. Sofas are a focal piece of furniture in our homes, and you honestly don’t `get used’ to something that’s going to be staring back at you for many years, reminding you of the awful compromise you made. If you cannot find the right piece in stores, search online for what you’re looking for. Your determination, and readiness to wait, will ultimately pay off.
♦ ♦ ♦ Avoid trendy: It’s hard not to carnally desire some of the amazingly modern sofas we see on websites and in magazines, but here’s the thing: this will be an `investment’ piece, something that you’ll keep in your living room for many years. And while it’s okay to go trendy with smaller decorative items, which can affordably be changed with passing fashions, your sofa will quickly become obsolete, and then you’re stuck with it for the next 5-10 years!
Thankfully, classic sofa styles – like the ones we have described above — are always in vogue, and this is one purchasing decision that we will tell you to play safe with. Choose a solid, quality set that is timeless, and you will enjoy it for many years.
♦ ♦ ♦ Watch your ceiling: The height of your living room is an important factor when you’re about to buy a sofa. Common rule of thumb: with a low 8’ ceiling, choose low-level sofas to create an illusion of height and space. On the other hand, if the ceiling is high, go for high-back sofa styles that will hold its own and not get swallowed up by the impact of all that space.
♦ ♦ ♦ Consider daily maintenance: If you’re short on time or if you have kids, a tight-back sofa style, such as the English Roll Arm is a good bet. You won’t have to keep `fluffing’ it up each time somebody sits – or jumps! – on it. Also, remember that decorative embellishments like tufted buttons or cord set in the seam collect dust and crumbs that need to be cleaned individually. If you must have tufting, choose a square, biscuit tuft that is easy to keep clean. Consider such regular maintenance issues before you make your decision.
♦ ♦ ♦ Low sofas can be embarrassing: Contemporary sofas are built pretty low these days, and if you’re thinking of buying one, keep this in mind: women have a tough time keeping their legs together when perched so low. And older folks have a hard time getting out of them!