No sooner do we rise from our beds than it seems we want to lie down again. And throughout the ages, accommodating furniture-makers have developed pieces for daytime repose, including récamiers, chaise longues, and fainting couches. Let’s stretch out through three centuries’ worth of antique European and American daybeds, ancestors of our contemporary recliners.
01 of 09
The ancient Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians had resting couches. But in terms of modern furniture, the first daybed developed in the late 1600s, when the headrest of a pallet started to resemble a slanted chair back. Resting on six or eight legs, these pieces were really more like elongated chairs, and—judging from this 18th-century mahogany example from Philadelphia—not very comfortable in comparison to more cushy versions.
02 of 09
Trust the French to add comfort to life—and furniture. Around the 1720s, they developed the chaise longue (which literally means "long chair" in French). Basically, it is an elongation of the newfangled bergère, or a closed armchair, on six feet allowing the sitter to stretch out comfortably. It is typical of Régence, Louis XV and Louis XVI styles.
The back was high, with encircling arms, and both it and the long, padded seat were usually upholstered. Originally, they were open-ended, as in the walnut Louis XVI-style example here; later versions developed footrests and backrests running down the length of the piece or came in two sections.
03 of 09
The original duchesse was a type of upholstered daybed or lounge chair, a variation on the chaise longue, with a rounded headrest and six to eight legs. It developed shortly after the original square-backed chaise longue, in the first quarter of the 18th century, in France, as part of the early Rococo style of Louis XV.
Sometimes there was footboard at the end of the piece, similar to the head, but lower. This version was known as the duchesse en bateau ("duchess in a boat").
Even more popular than the original duchesse was a variation called the duchesse brisée (see below), literally translated as "broken duchess." It consisted of two parts: the chair and an elongated separate (but often attachable) footstool; this secondary piece usually had a footboard. Duchesse brisée can also refer to a three-part piece—essentially two chairs with an ottoman in the middle; one chair is usually smaller than the other.
Though supplanted by other types of daybeds during the early 19th century, like the récamier shown below, the duchesse brisée made a comeback with the advent of Rococo Revival style in the 1840s. Over time, the term came to refer to any two- or three-part sitting piece, regardless of the shape of the headrests.
04 of 09
Duchess in 3 Parts
The duchesse brisée can also be a three-part piece—essentially two chairs with an ottoman in the middle; one chair is usually smaller than the other, as in this Louis XV-style fruitwood ensemble. It was known as a “duchess” in England, where it was highly popular, figuring in the designs of Thomas Sheraton.Continue to 5 of 9 below.
05 of 09
Towards the end of the 18th century, furniture styles underwent a sea change. Reflecting the Neoclassical taste, the récamier—a lighter daybed with scrolling back and footrest—harkened back to ancient Greek and Roman pieces.
The first styles had no back, but later versions incorporated a half-back of sorts. Small neck-roll style pillows, as shown with this American example, provided additional cushioned comfort.
06 of 09
With a sloping back that runs along the length of the piece, connecting the high headrest and footrest, the méridienne further blurs the line between the daybed and the sofa (though it’s not as comfortable for the person on the short end). Developed in the early 1800s, it gradually became more substantial-looking as the century progressed.
07 of 09
In the mid-19th century, a particularly curvy type of méridienne was popularly known as a fainting couch—so called because the heavily-corseted ladies of the period might collapse upon it to catch their breath. These daybeds were often oversized and wide enough for two—suggesting that a lady might swoon onto one for something more restorative than a nap. This late Classical Revival example, circa 1835-1845, is attributed to Duncan Phyfe and Son.
08 of 09
Turkish Fainting Couch
As the 19th century progressed, new coil-spring technology made daybeds ever more plush and comfortable. Like other pieces of furniture, they reflected the Victorian taste for the oversized, the ornate, and the exotic.
“Turkish-style” pieces became the rage in the second half of the century, modeled vaguely on Middle Eastern couches with skirts, tufted upholstery, and tassels, as in this combination Turkish couch/méridienne, ca. 1870.Continue to 9 of 9 below.
09 of 09
Arts and Crafts Daybed
The 19th century seems to have been the daybed’s heyday. After that, its vogue lessened, due perhaps to the smaller rooms and the faster pace of 20th-century life. But it continued to be made, in styles reflective of the relative period or maker; the term “daybed” also started to include furniture that had built-in mattresses (what we’d now call a sofa bed).
Even if they weren’t literally sleepers, stylistically these pieces seemed more bed- than sofa-like, as in this example made by L&GJ Stickley in the early 1900s. With its characteristically slatted frame, sturdy oak and boxy silhouette, it’s a very masculine sort of daybed—almost the polar opposite of the feminine fainting couch.