All About Antique Fainting Couches and Daybeds

No sooner do we rise from our beds than it seems we want to lie down again. Throughout the ages, accommodating furniture makers have developed pieces for daytime repose, including récamiers, chaise longues, and fainting couches. Stretch out and examine designs of three centuries’ worth of antique European and American daybeds, which are the ancestors of contemporary recliners and sofa beds.

  • 01 of 09

    The Long Chair

    Chippendale Long Chair

    Prices4Antiques

    The ancient Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians had resting couches. But in terms of modern furniture, the first daybed was developed during the late 1600s when headrests started to resemble slanted chair backs. Resting on six or eight legs, these pieces were more like elongated chairs, and—judging from this 18th-century mahogany example from Philadelphia—not very comfortable in comparison to more cushioned versions.

  • 02 of 09

    The Chaise Longue

    Louis XVI Walnut Chaise Longue

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    Trust the French to add more comfort to life—and furniture. Around the 1720s, they developed the chaise longue (which means "long chair"). It's an extension of the newfangled bergère, or a closed armchair, elongated up to six feet which allows the sitter to stretch out comfortably. It's typical of Régence, Louis XV, and Louis XVI styles.

    The back was high, with encircling arms, and fully 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.

  • 03 of 09

    The Duchesse

    Louis XV-style duchesse, fruitwood, French

    Sloans Auction Gallery/Prices4Antiques

    The original duchesse was a type of upholstered daybed or lounge chair and a variation on the chaise longue. It had a rounded headrest and six to eight legs. It was developed shortly after the original square-backed chaise longue which appeared during the first quarter of the 18th century in France as part of the early Rococo style of Louis XV.

    Duchesse in a Boat

    Sometimes there was a footboard at the end of the duchesse that looked similar to the head, but lower. This version was called the duchesse en bateau, which translates to "duchess in a boat."

  • 04 of 09

    Duchess in Three Parts

    Louis XV-style duchesse brisée, fruitwood, ca. 1875-1900

    Prices4Antiques

    Even more popular than the original duchesse was a variation called the duchesse brisée, which translated means "broken duchess." It consisted of two parts: the chair and an elongated separate and often attachable footstool. The duchesse brisée can also be referred to as a three-part piece with two chairs with an ottoman in the middle. One chair is usually smaller than the other. It was known as a “duchess” in England, where it was highly popular, figuring in the designs of Thomas Sheraton.

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  • 05 of 09

    The Récamier

    American Classical Récamier

    Prices4Antiques

    Towards the end of the 18th century, furniture styles underwent a sea of changes. The récamier, a lighter daybed with a scrolling back and footrest, harkening back to ancient Greek and Roman pieces. It appeared and became popular because its Greek- and Roman-inspired details reflected the Neoclassical taste.

    The first styles of the récamier were backless. Later versions incorporated a type of half-back. Small neck-roll style pillows, as shown with this American example, provided additional cushioned comfort.

  • 06 of 09

    The Méridienne

    Classical Méridienne Example

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    The méridienne has a sloping back that runs along the length of the piece, connecting the high headrest and footrest. The design blurs the line between the design of the daybed and sofa. Developed during the early 1800s and as the century progressed, it gradually began to look more elegant with finely carved wood legs and platforms.

  • 07 of 09

    The Fainting Couch

    Victorian Fainting Couch

    Copake Auction Co./Prices4Antiques

    During the mid-19th century, the fainting couch became popular. The couch was a curvier type of méridienne that evolved because the heavily and tightly corseted ladies of the period would collapse onto it to catch their breath. These oversized daybeds were wide enough for two, suggesting that a lady might swoon onto one with a partner. This late Classical Revival example, circa 1835 to 1845, is attributed to Duncan Phyfe and Son.

  • 08 of 09

    The Turkish Fainting Couch

    Victorian Turkish Fainting Couch

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    As the 19th century progressed, new coil-spring technology (to absorb shock in upholstered seating) made daybeds ever more plush and comfortable. Like other pieces of furniture, they reflected the Victorian taste for oversized, ornate, and unusual design.

    “Turkish-style” pieces became the rage in the second half of the century, modeled vaguely on couches popular abroad that had skirts, tufted upholstery, and tassels, as shown in this combination Turkish couch/méridienne, circa 1870.

    Continue to 9 of 9 below.
  • 09 of 09

    The Arts and Crafts Daybed

    L&GJ Stickley Arts & Crafts Daybed

    Craftsman Auctions/Prices4Antiques

    This hybrid lounge-daybed, made by L&GJ Stickley in the early 1900s, is made of sturdy oak. Its masculine and boxy Mission-style silhouette is the polar opposite of the feminine fainting couches that came before.

    After the 19th century, the popularity of daybeds began to wane, likely because of smaller rooms and busier 20th-century lifestyles that had no time for swooning. The daybed began to transform itself into the recliner and the sofa bed which features a built-in mattress.