The Modern Evolution of the Sofa

July 7, 2018

furniture

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In choosing the perfect sofa, take inspiration from these master craftsmen whose influence can still be found in living rooms around the globe.

Thomas Chippendale

Thomas Chippendale was a mid-18th-century cabinet-maker and interior designer whose innovations spanned several styles including neoclassical, Gothic, and rococo. He is known for his book of elaborate furniture designs that include complicated arches and ribbons. Chairs and sofas inspired by the Chippendale patterns have exposed bases and legs that curve down to the floor and may be carved. The pieces are typically constructed with dark-stained mahogany or other highly esteemed types of wood. They are upholstered with fine fabrics.

Robert Adams

Robert Adams was a Scottish architect who, along with his brother James, developed neoclassical interior designs in the mid-to-late 18th century. Their focus was elaborate architecture and furniture pieces that were designed together and echoed the same structural and ornamental themes. Adams’ furniture is characterized by light pieces with simplified classical designs like carved columns and medallion embellishments.

John Henry Belter

John Henry Belter was originally a cabinet-maker from Germany who brought his knowledge of wood carving to other furnishings. His unique method of laminating thin layers of wood together and ornately carving them defined a generation of woodworkers in the mid-1800s. His trademark Victorian sofas have curvy, S-shaped backs whose exposed wood features elaborate designs of flowers, curlicues, fruit, and birds.

Gustav Stickley

Gustav Stickley opened his first furniture company in 1883. Within two decades, he became a leader in the American Craftsman movement, which itself took inspiration from the British Arts and Crafts Furniture trend. His simple designs, with straight lines and straight-forward joints, placed an equal emphasis on form and function. Stickley-inspired sofas have plenty of simple, exposed woodwork with clear stains and finishes that let the natural beauty of the wood show through.

George Hepplewhite

Hepplewhite is another mid-18th-century English cabinet-maker with an interior design book to his name. However, unlike the other craftsmen mentioned here, no known pieces of his work still exist today. In fact, there is very little historical evidence to suggest that he ever produced couches and chairs for sale. Still, the design hallmarks of his work, featuring elegant curling arms and backs with contrasting straight legs, are elements that regularly appear on household items today. One of his unique sofa designs features a curving, non-upholstered wooden back featuring inverted arches with narrow rungs between them and delicately-patterned upholstery on the seat.

Knoll Associates

Designs have continued to evolve in the twentieth century and beyond. Hans Knoll originally started the company in 1938, but upon his death, his wife Florence continued to design and manufacture modern furniture. Their sofas feature exposed cast-aluminum legs and monochromatic upholstery, occasionally with tufting. Modern sofa designs may incorporate unembellished wood, well-defined geometric shapes, and even hard polymer elements.

Thanks to the global marketplace, furniture customers have a wider-than-ever range of choices. From antique pieces crafted by the masters to mass-produced couches to customizable sectionals, and finally, customer-designed 3-D printed furniture, the sofa has come a long way in the intervening centuries.