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Sofas: a quick history lesson

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Antonio Wedral
Sofas: a quick history lesson

Sofa: /səʊfə/ (n) a long, upholstered seat with a back and arms:

  • The word “sofa” derives from the Arabic “suffah”, a raised area of floor filled with drapes, rugs, and cushions for comfort.
  • “Couch” is an adaptation of the French “coucher” meaning to lay down, whilst “settee” comes from the English “settle” meaning literally to get comfortable in a place.
  • The Persian “Devan” refers to a group of rulers who typically lounged on soft furnishings led to the English adaptation “Divan”

The sofa has an interesting, adventurous tale to tell - to most, the sofa is taken for granted, a furniture staple which spends its life in the living room. Most don’t question it or give it second a thought, but the sofa has been around for longer than you think.

In fact, sofas can be traced as far back as 2000BC. For Pharaohs in Ancient Egypt (and the very wealthy in society), the only way to relax was on a luxury chaise lounge. For the less affluent, they made do on stone benches. When the Roman Empire increased in power, the sofa (again) gained in popularity, but strictly only for the well-to-do. With the fall of Rome in the 5th century, came the fall of the sofa. Sofas disappeared, retreating into hiding for one thousand years.

The sofa made its renaissance during the 16th century in Europe. Due to huge improvements in living conditions - most homes being waterproof and somewhat comfortable - there was room for a sofa resurrection. Artisans and craftsmen designed visually appealing sofas which made them popular, however, it took a while before comfort levels were on par with design - instead of foam, moss and horsehair was used.

For 200 years, design-led sofas had become statement items for the home. It wasn’t until the late 1800’s when technological advancements (sewing machines) and the industrial revolution meant sofas were open to a tsunami of affordability - and as result, a new class of customers were finally able to treat their behinds.

This affordability was timed well, at the height of sofa popularity came the increased use of the ‘wireless’. Families would sit and listen to broadcasts in the evenings, with a sofa making the experience more enjoyable.

Nowadays comfort continues to improve with differing foam and spring options used in the bodywork, and extra features, such as: sofa beds, recliners and storage, making sofas practical for living. Having said this, the design and style of the sofa is still an important aspect of the item.


If you liked this, you might also enjoy '7 ways culture shaped furniture designs'. Or if you've been inspired to invest in a new sofa then head to Model 01, Model 02, Model 03 pages.


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