The term chaise longue now often refers to a deck chair with a long seat for reclining and lounging, but where did this iconic piece of furniture come from?
The Origin of the Daybed
The characteristic blend of chair and day bed originated in Egypt. The earliest known models were made from palm sticks and wicker lashed together with pieces of cord or rawhide. later, egyptian bed-makers introduced mortise-and-tenon construction and wood bed frames veneered with ivory or ebony, in common use with many examples being found in 1st dynasty (3100 – 2890 BC) tombs.
Ancient Greek art depicts gods and goddesses lounging in this type of chair. The modern Greek word ‘symposion’ comes from ‘sympinein’, which means ‘to drink together’. In ancient Greece this word conveyed the idea of a party with music and conversation. The principal item of furniture for a ‘symposium’ is the ‘kline’, a form of daybed. The Greeks changed from the normal practice of sitting at a table to the far more distinctive practice of reclining on couches as early as the 8th century BC.
The Romans also used a daybed for reclining in the daytime and to sleep on at night. Developed from the greek prototype, the Roman daybed was designed with legs carved in wood or cast bronze. The Romans also adapted a chaise longue style chair for the ‘accubatio’ (the act of reclining during a meal). At Roman banquets, the usual number of persons occupying each bed was three, with 3 daybeds forming 3 sides of a small square, so that the ‘triclinium’ (the dining room of a Roman residence) allowed for a party of nine.
The ancient Chinese saw no distinction between furniture for sleeping and sitting. Long before chairs emerged into their culture, the Chinese used low platforms where either one individual or several persons lounged during daytime. Being relatively lightweight, the daybed often arranged with other furnishings on a terrace or in the garden, where fresh air and natural scenery and light could be enjoyed. Sometimes tented arrangements provided a comfortable place to sleep during the hot summer nights. Bamboo was the favoured material of construction in the Chinese daybed.
The Chaise Longue
The French chaise longue appeared in the 16th century with a design that featured four legs and a back rest for reclining on the back rather than the side. These early chaise longues were often made of curved wood, wooden caning or rattan. In England the chaise longue was found in wealthy households from the Restoration, used by women to rest during the day without having to go to their bedrooms.
The Rococo Period
The chaise longue is rightly associated with French Rococo design of the 18th century. During this period the chaise longue became a symbol of social status and was often made of expensive fabrics and rare wood, with beautifully carved feet and arm rests.
The Chaise ‘Lounge’
It is thought that the chaise longue was brought to American in the 1830′s with the wave of immigrants, where it eventually evolved into the familiar lounge chair. The earliest known example of the use of “chaise lounge”, a confusion likely based on the function of the chair, is from the January 16, 1807 edition of the British Times newspaper. It is still contested whether the official term for the chair is chaise longue or chaise lounge in the English language.