Vintage view: parlour furniture

Kya deLongchamps loosens her stays to give a brief history of a sensuous piece of parlour furniture. 

Vintage view: parlour furniture

There’s a lovely, ridiculous story about the genesis of the chaise longue.

It is said that ladies’ corsets were laced so ferociously tight in Victorian times that they would regularly swoon.

The low, well padded chaise longue was there to gallantly break the fall as they collapsed like a detonated skyscraper down through their hoops.

The chaise is a curious style survival that well predates the 19th century.

If you’ve ever sat on a period model not pertly restored, you can recall the rolling pitch of the springs beneath the backside, the lack of a back to accommodate sitting with the feet on the floor.

It’s a low, showy lump of a thing, taken by the last arrival at any gathering.

Anyone who followed the series Rome (HBO) or was lucky enough to see I Claudius (BBC) staring Derek Jacobi and Sian Phillips, can imagine the Roman patricians reclining on what was termed a rectus.

Entertaining, relaxing and even eating on these hard low settles followed on from the use of the same daybed over the course of the entire day and night.

You could even happily take repose in the public library for a few passages of Livy on a hot, Italian afternoon.

The Chinese had their own forms of couch beds, also enjoyed for study as well as rest during the Ming dynasty and often placed in the hallway of a high ranking home.

The Egyptians and Greeks also favoured wood bed frames, which were lashed together with leather, made comfortable with woven reed, rawhide hammocks and warming textiles.

Tutankhamen’s (1336-1327BC) tomb contained a fabulous slanted daybed of two spotted cows finished in gesso and gold leaf, with a string mattress and foot board to stop the young divine from sliding off to the Afterlife before his time.

In ancient Greece, the triclinium, was formed by an interlocking U shape of 3 reclining couches and a central table for dining. Diners traditionally turned onto their left side when served. Reclining at dinner even has a name: accubation. Great for winning Scrabble.

Considering the uptight, upright manners of the 18th and 19th centuries AD, going prone outside the bedroom on a sinuous couch had an indulged, naughty flavour (keep that in mind as his lordship cranks back the Lazee Boy in front of the match this afternoon).

Louis IVX is applauded for the development of what we know as the chaise longue or ‘long chair’, with its decorate frame in a variety of styles from Empire to Neoclassic, drawing inspiration from the beds seen in the sculptures and friezes of the Greek and Roman world.

The Belle Époque in France gave way to scandalous posing around in the Parisian salon.

What better way for a woman to show off her scrumptious assets than serving herself almost horizontal on a Duchesse brisee with its very open implications of afternoon delight.

In two or three elements, it could be pushed together to accommodate 2-3 on board.

Empire dresses were loose and unreliable restraints for the décolletage, and the enthroning of gorgeous women in their domestic habitat was widely celebrated in art.

Various forms of the reclining couch emerged, including the elegant duchesse-en-bateau which embraced the sitter in a curving frame that rose around the head and feet, recalling a shallow boat.

French society beauty Juliette Récamier (1777-1849), even had a line of couches and chairs named in her honour after a number of important portraits of her reposing did the rounds.

Painters used the chaise widely to loosen up their subjects in various states of challenge or undress.

Francisco Goya’s La Maja Desnuda (c.1797) would probably still get me a phone call or two if I had used it to illustrate this story today. (Museo del Prado).

Luxurious, over-stuffed antique examples of chaises longue and French-style day beds are the darlings of interiors decorators, and interpreted widely as stand alone contemporary furniture.

The 19th century pieces are a little Hyacinth Bouquet in the wrong setting, which is a pity for a seat with such a rich, erotic history.

Le Corbusier, in a project with his cousin Pierre Jeanneret, and the young architect Charlotte Perriand, made the best stab at an urban reinvention of the chaise with the LC4 (c1928), a geometric lick of chromed steel and leather. www.cassina.com.

Is the chaise longue still misbehaving by day as it did in the past? Take a very discreet roam to the home of the Tantra chair.

I’m having tea and a nice lie down. These stays are killing me.

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