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Victorian Sofas

FINDING THE PERFECT VICTORIAN SOFA—MADE EASY

Ah yes. The Victorian era: the time of Tennyson, corsets, and let’s not forget, the indulgence of the decorative arts. During the Victorian era, which spanned from roughly the 1830s until the precipice of the 20th century, no single style of furniture dominated, resulting in designers drawing inspiration from an array of styles like Gothic, Tudor, Rococo, and Neoclassical and fusing them with a modern sense of refinement. For those who owned expansive Victorian homes, the going trend was to cover virtually every surface with a cache of meticulously crafted objects—perhaps most notably of which was the Victorian sofa.

As the Industrial Revolution marched on, furniture—including Victorian sofas—became increasingly mass-produced. As customization plummeted, designers opted to integrate elaborate, small-scale carvings and embellishments to lend a sense of signature artisanship. To the modern-day eye, Victorian couches look relatively custom, with curvaceous silhouettes accented by weighty, dark wood frames, high backs, tufted upholstery, and cabriole legs, but to Victorian-era purveyors, the only details that would have stood out as hand-crafted would have been fanciful ornamentation at the couch’s apex or apron.

While some Victorian sofas look remarkably similar to demure French settees, many others are far less reserved, featuring dramatic, double-arched backs that lend them a tete-a-tete feel. Others showcase elaborate Baroque-inspired woodwork or a common stylistic hallmark of the day; an oval-shaped, wood-bordered, upholstered inset located at the crest of the sofa’s back. The reclaimer, a single-arm sofa that teeters between a settee and a chaise lounge is yet another example of a twist on the Victorian sofa format. Gracefully curved arms and an asymmetrical back make the reclaimer an exuberant piece that will infuse any room with a sense of the unexpected.

If a Victorian settee or sofa feels too outmoded for your interior’s mood, consider the effect a reupholstered Victorian sofa could have on your space. Much like French bergeres, Victorian sofas are more-than-willing candidates for a neoteric fabric refresh. Rules need not apply when it comes to reupholstered Victorian sofas, but if you survey designers you’re likely to find they’re partial to re-casting Victorian sofas in prints that make them feel exuberant and funky rather than strictly sophisticated. Global fabrics like ikats, suzanis, and mud cloth are all prime for procuring pièce de résistance status as are impeccably tailored velvets. Because most Victorian sofas have a wrap-around silhouette that cocoons occupants just the slightest, they present the unique opportunity for a two-tone upholstery job. If the prospect of syncing up dual prints gets your heart racing, consider pairing a pattern with solid fabric to lower the stakes.

Spunky as they may be when outfitted in 21st-century fabric, Victorian sofas aren't an easy swap for a modern-day sofa. Their compact proportions make them more akin to a love seat than a sofa, and their high arms and back give off an air of formality that isn't in exact synchronization with most modern interiors. If you are thinking about deploying a Victorian couch, consider using it in scenarios similar to the ones you would use an accent chair in. Parked in a corner of a bedroom, or stationed next to a fireplace, a Victorian sofa can add interest and gravitas without drawing attention to its seating limitations.