amy azzaritochairspast & present

past & present: the chaise longue + chaise roundup

by Amy Azzarito

Image above: Illustration by Julia Rothman

As all fainting Victorian ladies knew, there is nothing more romantic that a chaise longue. My mom and I had our own little struggle over the vintage chaise longue in her garage (and I’ll use this moment to say that if it doesn’t get recovered soon, I’m coming with a truck to bring it to New York!). While the name is French, the lineage of the chaise longue can be traced back to Egyptians who originated the blend of the chair and the daybed. Let me pause and say that the French have a name for pretty much every type of furniture, so identifying what is a chaise longue versus a divan, a daybed or settee can be pretty confusing. So let’s just work with the broadest definition: a long chair. (And while I’m writing chaise longue for this post — pronunciation here — I’m not offended if you write or say chaise lounge.) — Amy A.

Image above: Roman dining couch, Metropolitan Museum of Art

The favorite article of furniture in a Roman home was the lectus. Not that you should get your historic information from movies, but anyone who’s ever watched a film set in ancient Rome knows that it was customary to position three of these couches at right angles to each other for dining. The Romans did not practice upholstery, so the couches were made comfortable with pillows, loose covers and animal skins — expeditions to Africa brought pelts of exotic animals into the Roman home.

Image above: Portrait of Madame Récamier by Jacques-Louis David (1800, Louvre)

The shining moment for the chaise came in 1800, when the chair received the ultimate marketing treatment guaranteed by ad execs everywhere to sell any product: a beautiful woman draped all over it. The chaise had already been a fixture in high-society homes, but Jacques-Louis David’s portrait of Madame Récamier on a chaise longue sparked such a popular interest in the piece that to this day, it is often referred to as the récamier. (Of course, why have one name when you can have many? The French also call this piece a turquoise, lit de repos, veilleuse and a duchesse.) When women received guests from the chaise longue, they were expected to hide their bare feet with a small throw made of embroidered silk. (For artistic effect, David left Madame Récamier’s feet bare.)

CLICK HERE for more chaise longue history + a chaise longue round-up!

Image above: Jean Harlow making the most of the chaise

For the Victorians, the chaise longue was a central part of every over-furnished living room (the Victorians loved their furniture). The chaise was also important component in Freudian psychoanalysis, wherein patients reclined as their dreams were interpreted. Then in the 1930s, the chaise longue was associated with Hollywood glamor. Any leading lady worth her salt — think Greta Garbo, Jean Harlow or Gloria Swanson — would drape herself seductively across a chaise longue for photos and film shoots (preferably clothed in a satin nightgown).

Image above: Charlotte Perriand on the B306 Chaise Longue, 1928

Like Hollywood starlets, modern designers embraced the form of the chaise longue. Le Corbusier together with Charlotte Perriand and Edouard Jeanneret designed the Chaise Longue B306 — one of the best-known modern pieces. The chaise longue was perfect for the modern discussion about society and modern living: it was functional, could be used in any room (both indoor and out) and was easy to mass-produce. That the form of the chaise longue has pleased everyone from Roman Caesars to the pickiest modern designers says a little something about its mass appeal.

Facts to Know

  • Madame Récamier, subject of Jacques-Louis David’s painting, was married at 15 to Jacques Récamier, who was 30 years her senior. It is believed that he was in fact her natural father and married her to make her his heir.
  • When the 24-year-old Charlotte Perriand, who would co-design the Chaise Longue B306, first went to Le Corbusier’s studio in 1927 and asked him to hire her as a furniture designer, his response was, “We don’t embroider cushions here.” Only after seeing the rooftop bar that Perriand had created in glass, steel and aluminum did Le Corbusier apologize and invite her to join his studio.

Books to Read

  • Chairs by Judith Miller — Judith Miller is pretty much the last word on antique connoisseurship. She shares 100 of her favorite chairs in this book.
  • Chairs: A History by Florence de Dampierre — Seriously one of my all-time favorite books. If you have a thing for chairs, put this one on your list!
  • The Phillips Guide to Chairs by Peter Johnson

So if all this talk of the chaise longue as the perfect piece of furniture has whet your appetite, here are a few of my favorites. Although honestly, I’m dying to find something perfect at a flea market (Please Brimfield! Make it happen!) and have it recovered by Nightwood. In the meantime, I’m going to console my chaise longue-less self with a macaron. Preferably the salted-caramel variety.

Image above: 1. Zoe Throw, $135; 2. Brasserie Ramekin, $10; 3. Lee Industries Chaise; 4. Duchess Chaise Longue, $1,743; 5. Paulette’s Macarons; 6. Rubber Vase, $39; 7. CMYKIT Pendant Lamp, $17; 8. Continental Chaise, $1,185; 9. Herringbone Cushion, $48

Image above: 1. Hello Sunshine Bag, $275; 2. Heirloom Watermelon Seeds, $2; 3. Karlskrona, $169; 4. Ben Collection Bowl, $8; 5. Banda Chaise, $398; 6. Fruit Infusion Pitcher, $26; 7. Tunisian Basket Weave Glasses, $25; 8. Wall Planter, $72; 9. Barrow Lounger, $329

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  • Great roundup! I love chaises, and really want an armed chaise that coordinates with our PB Square couch in our library, but I can only ever find ones with just one arm. I may give up and go with something from Ikea, since that’s more in our budget anyhow.

  • I love chaises longues ( high school french tells me this is the correct plural, non?). We had one growing up and my brother and I would fight over it and invariably end up sharing. It felt so luxurious to have your feet up. I’d live to have that chaise longue now. Oh and my mother always pronounced it longue not lounge so I do!

  • Loved this post…what interesting historical background and a lovely round-up of chaises also…my absolute favourite is LC-4 by Le Corbusier…one day i’m going to make that investment!! xx meenal

  • Ironically I actually have a chaise that I do not want. It is a fat, unsightly contemporary style that was given to me by my boyfriend’s mother because it was dirty and being replaced. It must GO. But in theory, I do like chaises. Just not that one. *shudder*

  • As always, these past and present are such a delight, and so educational to boot.
    P.S. For a creepy read, I highly recommend The Victorian Chaise-longue by Marghanita Laski. It’s about this woman from 1950’s Britain who falls asleep on her chaise-longue and wakes up to discover that she’s trapped in another woman’s body about 100 years into the past (i.e. during the Victorian age). It’s a short, terrifying read, and great fun.

  • Hi from France !
    Do you know the exquisite word : ” une méridienne”?
    I would say that the number 4 in the indoor list is a méridienne .
    And that word means also “afternoon nap”, charming isn’t it ?

  • great info on the chaise, it’s so nice to learn some of the history behind my favorite living room piece. I love that B306 Chaise lounge, what is a design marvel!

  • This was really interesting! I love learning the history about different design elements. Thanks!

  • Please tell Genevieve from HGTV the correct pronunciation of ‘chaise’. She always says ‘shay’ and it’s like chalk on a blackboard to me.

  • I have my late Grandmother’s Louis XVI chaise and I absolutely treasure it. They illustration for this article looks quite a bit like it. I’ve had to contend with the broken leg on it for years, which I’m sure was a result of us kids acting like monkies on it as children. It was my bed when I slept at my Grandparent’s, so it has always had such senitmentality attached to it!

  • ‘macaron(s) caramel au beurre salé’ can soothe everything indeed!
    such an interesting post – thanks ! i highly regret not bringing back a pretty daybed from the far east – ack! and no macarons in the vicinity to console me! (loved the chaise longue pronunciation link. :) nice touch!)

  • Yet again, Design*Sponge is in tune with my thought process. All week I have been debating whether to buy a chaise that is at my local second hand/thrift store and recovering it (in Mod Green Pod, of course) and now I see a similar one in past and present !!! (No.4) I am hot fotting it straight down to the shop – fingers crossed its still there. Thanks Amy for providing me with ‘the sign’ that that chaise needs to be mine!! Mel

  • We can pull more weight than the fair ladies of bygone years but there are some days when you wish you could kick off your shoes and drop into one of those when you came in through the door!

  • I love this! What a wonderful feature and there are such a variety of chaises! I love the ancient Roman ones and the super sleek modern ones. how will i ever choose?!

  • Is it me or does Jean Harlow look a tad bit psychotic in that picture?

    I’ve always wanted a chaise. I found one for free one time (60’s gold) that I would have been happy with, but my husband nixxed it.

    ::sigh:: I will have to wait until the fateful day when I can afford a new one.

    • Annwin – Totally! lol! And I feel your pain on the lost chaise. Bummer. xo -Amy A

  • Thank you so much for this. It is perfect timing as I am planning my tiny, perfect retirement condo (it’s early, but can’t resist mentally interior decorating it), which will consist almost entirely of places to read and nap!

  • I love my chaise lounge. It’s got an art deco shape, with a floor lamp in back, and a small round table in front, and back(for a pile of books and mags) It’s over20 years old, with torn upholstery, & to re-upholster it, would cost more than I paid forit. So it’s covered w/a throw, and pillows- it’s my favorite spot, in my living room.

  • Someday I will have a chaise (with a full bowl of macarons to munch while on it of course;)… I do have that fruit infusion pitcher and LOVE it (got ours on amazon)! Such a refreshing summer treat to keep in the fridge with lemon, lime, or mint.

  • I LOVE these histories xxxooo And what perfect Harlow photo to include!

    Thanks as always :)

  • I love these little history lessons! The french are so fabulous, everything just sounds so nice in french, doesn’t it?! Great Post!! XO

  • excellent post! it is kind of my life’s goal to own a chaise lounge. well, that and be a curator.that white one, number 4 is to die for.

  • Here’s a twist…it is my husband who has been lusting over the propsect of a chaise longue in our master. He pictures himself watching tv from it and reading. Since I love my bed and plan to continue to read/watch tv from there, I just told him I don’t want it to become a glorified closet! So he searched and searched and found something that we both could live with (really clean lines for me, two arm for him). Problem is now it’s on backorder and won’t be delivered for many weeks. He can’t wait! Thanks for the post.

  • Well done Amy! That is a truly comprehensive insight into the history of the chaise longue. I was curious to find out more about their origins and your article has provided just that.

    You began your article by speaking about fainting women and it would’ve been interesting if you’d expanded on that point. Otherwise great!

  • My mother and I are interested in selling her vintage chaise longue but have no idea of the value of it. There is such a wide spectrum of values. How do you know what it is worth. I believe she bought it in the 60’s and had it reupholstered once. Any information you can give me is appreciated.