In modern life, the sofa is the center of family life, the home theater, the conversation pit, the remote office, the place we relocate to when the bed isn’t working out.
The sofa presumes, or manufactures, a level of intimacy between its occupants, both physically and emotionally. It’s much harder to whisper your deepest secrets from across a coffee table than from the next cushion over.
But sofa-level leisure and comfort hasn’t been available to everyone for all that long. Back in Lord Chesterfield’s day, there wasn’t a lot of lounging time for anyone but the very uppermost crust. The Louises of France leaned into daybeds and canapés with a flourish, but they did not bring their subjects along for the ride, and we all know how that turned out. And those fainting couches of the Victorian era? It’s not likely that fainting scullery maids had quite such a soft place to land as their mistresses did (nor were their corsets quite so restrictive of normal breathing - it’d be hard to get down to scrub a floor encased in whalebone).
A reclining lady with a fan by Eleuterio Pagliani (1826-1903)
A modernist cloud sofa in situ
But when the 20th century ushered in the modern era, along with a middle class ready to assert their right to a weekend and good design, the sofa was standing ready to democratize relaxation. The sofas of the Modernist period were the brainchildren of designers who harnessed manufacturing efficiencies to bring an aesthetic revolution to the masses. These couches had big style, big ideals, and bigger cushions. They took the sculptural aspects of their carved wood predecessors and rendered them on a large, upholstered scale.
Modernist sofas came as a unit complete with attached table, or so modular that they could be deconstructed into any imaginable configuration. Don’t like your guests quite well enough to cuddle up next to each other? Just turn your sofa into chairs instead - a concept that in pandemic-educated hindsight seems quite practical.
The Modern Art & Design Auction includes a number of sofas that debuted in the mid-20th century and have persisted as design stars ever since. They carry their weight when it comes to sophistication and comfort. View featured Modern sofas below.
The Modern Art & Design Auction
Thursday, November 18th at 10:00am EST