Art, Architecture, Design & Travel

Chaise Lounge or The Day Bed : The Story of Rest and Relaxation

The Story of Rest and Relaxation: The Development of the Daybed, from Ancient Egypt to Today

The daybed is a bit of a novelty in modern households—perhaps superfluous with present-day amenities, manners, and recliners. But it wasn’t always so. On the contrary, the highly functional daybed was a pivotal evolution in seating furniture, with roots in history that run as deep as the chair.

Before pressing on into the daybed’s story of rest and repose, a quick look at terminology is helpful for avoiding confusion about what’s what. There’s often a loose distinction between sofas, settees, daybeds and couches, but here’s a helpful tip: if the settee evolved from the armchair, with slender legs and chair-like arms, the sofa, with its long frame and sturdy supports, evolved from the daybed.

But the daybed’s significance goes further than that.

Suggesting a posture somewhere between sitting up and lying down—outside of the bedroom—the daybed was a completely unique addition to the roster of modern domestic furniture when French craftsmen created it for their aristocratic customers around the 16th century. Known as a “chaise longue” in France (a long chair), a “daybed” in England, and a “couch” in America (derived from the French verb coucher, meaning to lie down), these luxurious, stylish versions weren’t actually the first daybeds in history.

Ancient Daybeds: Egypt, Greece & Rome

As with most modern furniture, the daybed was alive in well in Ancient Egypt and Ancient Rome. It provided a spot to rest, eat, or do almost anything, in repose. In Egypt, chaises longues were used for resting in the hot desert climate, and more elaborate versions for burial. For Egyptians, the bed was the most important piece of furniture behind the chair, so this in-between piece identifies a bit of ingenuity on the part of the Egyptians. Seen in hieroglyphics, these daybeds were crafted from simple, rectangular wood frames, with interwoven strips of fabric like a mattress.

In ancient Greece and Rome, reclining was a totally acceptable (if not solemn) posture in social settings, so the presence of the daybed seems pretty natural. In Greece, even meals were taken lying down, propped up on one elbow on a u-shaped triclinium (couches surrounding a central table). In Rome, the daybed was perhaps the most important piece of furniture, used in bedrooms, libraries, and dining rooms. Called a lectus, this long wooden seat was fitted with one high side, like a headboard, stacked with pillows and criss-crossed with leather straps to support a rush- or horsehair-stuffed mattress. This lounging bed was used for reading, writing, eating, and lively discussion, and sometimes had two sides and a back—a precursor to the couch.

The Chinese Platform Bed: Social Seating for the Upper Classes

In China, starting around 206 BC, platforms were the most important form of seating—as important as chairs, especially for social situations. They echoed the elegant, horizontal lines of Chinese architecture, and complemented the formal arrangements of furniture dictated by feng shui. Elevated seating was crucial: in a culture where almost everyone was seated at floor level, it was a big distinction. By the end of the 9th century, Chinese platforms had evolved from box-like structures to having legs, opening up artistic possibilities: decorative openings (kunmen) with scalloped edges, carved aprons, and carved feet.

The platform bed (chuangs) was used for sitting, sleeping, scholarly pursuits, or as work surfaces. Often, when two or more people lounged on one, a small table was set between them on the daybed for eating or playing games. Daybeds (ta) were mainstays in aristocrats’ entrance halls, bedrooms, and studies, where scholars would stack books on them, lounge while reading or examining antiques, or pull them outside for relaxing in the exquisite courtyard gardens. Read more about Chinese couch beds of the Ming Dynasty.

Daybeds in France, England & America

In the Gothic period, long chests with high sides on either end called “archebanc-couchettes” were often used as “rest beds”—more precursors to chaises longues and daybeds. By the late 15th century, rooms and homes were changing, as were manners. French furniture makers were catering to the more relaxed manners of their customers. They created variations on sofas meant for lounging, and elongated chairs to accommodate a reclining posture—something now suitable in rooms meant for greeting guests. In the 18th century, this basic form would be re-imagined into the French duchesse, a combination bergère-and-ottoman that offered a more refined, bed-like comfort.

In the Carolean period in 1600s England—which produced the iconic caned chairs with elaborately carved backs and crests—the daybed (or “couch,” in America) became a more important piece of furniture in the home. Its birth marked a very clear differentiation between sleeping quarters and living quarters. These daybeds were extremely elaborate, like their chair cousins, with similar backs and legs, paw feet and caned seats, but an unusually elastic silhouette: the seats were stretched out, with an elaborate framework of carved legs and florid stretchers. The caned seats were fitted with a cushion, and some featured adjustable backs for reclining.

Furnishings were becoming a work of art, and daybeds were great canvases.

The William & Mary period in England, after the festive Flemish-influenced Carolean period, brought about a beautiful cleanliness in the lines of furniture. William & Mary-styled versions of daybeds reflected this shift, with straight backs and Baroque-style legs and stretchers.

When the curves of Queen Anne style chairs took over, daybeds again echoed this shift,with graceful cabriole legs and the new open, cyma-curved back splats seen on the iconic walnut side chairs (seen at left).

Meanwhile, in France, where the Rococo daybed gained popularity in formal salons, Louis XIV, Louis XV and Louis XVI styles churned out gorgeous giltwood, upholstered versions. With lounging becoming an increasingly popular way to while away hours, they were everywhere, and who better to imagine doing so while drinking champagne than Marie Antoinette?

By the 18th century, daybeds as elongated chairs somewhat dropped off the radar, but when they resurfaced, they were more commonly referred to as chaises longues. Chaises longues were principally developed under Louis XIV, and evolved into a variety of revival styles, from Chippendale’s Rococo to Neoclassical, to Empire style.

Regency and Empire styles took more than just aesthetic inspiration from the classics—they also borrowed the behaviors of ancient Greece and Rome. People were completely fascinated with classical antiquity, and this passion inspired a mimicry of ancient customs and manners. If new research indicated the Greeks enjoyed arguing and discussing things while reclining, Regency-era furniture makers followed suit, creating chaises longues with scrolled ends, elaborate carving, and classical detailing. A specific, new type of chaise evolved based on an ancient Grecian classic, with one end slightly higher than the other: the récamier—-named for a portrait of the lounging Madame Récamier painted by the French artist David in 1800.

If you tend to associate the chaise longue with more feminine leanings, you’d be correct! In the 1800s, women were growing more liberated, with more forward-thinking ideas and a newfound tendency to view themselves as the masters of the domicile. In which case, chaises longues and sofas were their thrones!

In America, elongated chair daybeds flowed along with the popular styles, peaking with the Federal style Grecian couch that resembled the French récamier. It was used more as a daybed, for reclining, than a couch, and its classical styling suited the United States in its new role as a budding republic—shedding Rococo style and adopting motifs of the Roman Republic. Duncan Phyfe created beautiful Empire-style daybeds and meridiennes.

In the Victorian era, famed bentwood inventor Michael Thonet‘s shop created a restbed rocker in his line of bentwood pieces. John Henry Belter and others created tufted, overstuffed Rococo revival chaise longues and meridiennes with laminated, carved rosewood crests that were pieces of elaborate “parlor sets.” Coil springs and Turkish-style cushions made these extravagant luxuries in the parlors of the well-to-do.

Today, chaises longues have maintained their luxurious aura, or grown into more utilitarian roles as outdoor lounge furniture, or dynamic parts of sectional sofas.

No matter how they’re used or interpreted, these lovely, sinuous pieces of furniture serve as reminders of a more genteel time when one was expected to pause, catch his breath, and look fabulous doing so—a relic of relaxation in a busy world.


Colonial Revival Style

Colonial Revival is the single most popular architectural style in the United States, in great part because of its richly varied vocabulary and inherent eloquence. The name of the style reflects the late-19th-century fascination with homes built by the early English and Dutch settlers, an affection that intensified through the World War I and II years before peaking in the mid-1950s. Colonial Revival is essentially a mixture of styles, all uniquely American. Roof forms such as gabled, hipped, and gambrel identify the style’s diversity that allows a greater degree of adaptation when remodeling than do the more rigidly defined architectural styles.

About one-quarter of the Washington-area Colonial Revival homes are detached two-story houses with a center hall and simple gabled roof. A good example of a center-hall Colonial Revival stands at 7 Magnolia Parkway in Chevy Chase, Maryland. Another one-quarter or so feature hip roofs that slope on four sides. The larger Colonial Revival house often has an asymmetrical façade in order to accommodate a garage or porch. The effect is a more complicated but interesting roof form, and roughly 10 percent of Colonial Revival homes are designed this way. The remaining subtypes feature variations of the primary roof forms.

Colonial revival homes built in the first wave of construction, that is, between 1880 and 1945, tend to be professionally designed and often boast interesting architectural details fashioned from highly durable materials. The so-called Neo-Colonials, built in the movement’s second wave from 1945 on, tend to dominate many of our newer suburbs; they tend to be plainer, less detailed, and more assembled than crafted. Neo-Colonials reflect the common practice of constructing a brick façade on a structure otherwise wrapped in aluminum or vinyl siding.


Clapboard and shingle are often found in the Colonial Revival, but brick is the preferred material. This is especially true for homes built after 1920 when brick veneer construction made using brick more affordable. A fine example of Colonial Revival architecture executed in brick and stone is the Woodrow Wilson house at 2340 S Street, N.W., in Washington, DC designed by architect Waddy Wood and built in 1915. An attractive brick center-hall Colonial Revival, built in the 1920s, can be seen at 3400 Newark Street NW.

Gable roofs are the typical roof form found in Colonial revival homes followed by gambrel and hip roofs. An excellent example of a Colonial revival with Gambrel roof (ca. 1900) is found at 3225 Highland Place NW in Cleveland Park. Slate shingles were commonly used until around WWII when asphalt shingles began to replace slate because of cost.

Windows are designed simply, although never reproducing the original Colonial Style primarily because, by then glass manufacturers had learned how to produce larger windowpanes that were too convenient and functional to ignore. Thus, most windows in the Neo-Colonial are rectangular with double-hung sashes, each one consisting of six, eight, nine, or even twelve panes. Multipane sashes with only a single sheet of glass serving as the lower pane, are also common.

Colonial Revivals frequently present a notable decorative entrance. This may consist of a paneled front door flanked by sidelights, a broken pediment over the door, a modest portico with columns, and perhaps a pediment supported by pilasters.


Art Deco Style


The Art Deco style manifested across the spectrum of the visual arts: from architecture, painting, and sculpture to the graphic and decorative arts. While Art Deco practitioners were often paying homage to modernist influences such as Cubism, De Stijl, and Futurism, the references were indirect; it was as though they were taking the end results of a few decades of distilling compositions to the most basic forms and inventing a new style that could be visually pleasing but not intellectually threatening.

The Art Deco style originated in Paris, but has influenced architecture and culture as a whole. Art Deco works are symmetrical, geometric, streamlined, often simple, and pleasing to the eye. This style is in contrast to avant-garde art of the period, which challenged everyday viewers to find meaning and beauty in what were often unapologetically anti-traditional images and forms.

Key Ideas

Art Deco, similar to Art Nouveau, is a modern art style that attempts to infuse functional objects with artistic touches. This movement is different from the fine arts (painting and sculpture) where the art object has no practical purpose or use beyond providing interesting viewing.

With the advent of large-scale manufacturing, artists and designers wished to enhance the appearance of mass-produced functional objects - everything from clocks and ashtrays to cars and buildings. Art Deco's pursuit of beauty in all aspects of life was directly reflective of the relative newness and mass usage of machine-age technology rather than traditional crafting methods to produce many objects. The Bauhaus school was also interested in industrial production, but in a sense The Bauhaus is the polar opposite as it refrained from artistic embellishments - preferring clean and simple geometric forms.

The Art Deco ethos diverged from the Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts styles, which emphasized the uniqueness and originality of handmade objects and featured stylized, organic forms. That crafted quality was emblematic of a kind of elitism in opposition to Art Deco's more egalitarian aim: to make aesthetically appealing, machine-made objects that were available to everyone.

Streamline Moderne, the American version of the Art Deco style was a stripped-down and sleek version of the more elaborate and often bespoke European Art Deco style. In many ways, the American style grew and evolved to have a much bigger following and use in the U.S. than in Europe.

Spirit of the Wind (1925)
Artist: René Lalique
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Lalique's sculpture nearly shouts "Art Deco," so exemplary is it of the style that had by 1930, become the American aesthetic par excellence. Spanning many media and even functions, the style was stamped on everything from luxury ocean liners and racing cars, to toasters and toilets. This piece stands on its own as a sculpture but it doubles as the added, elegant touch to the automobile for which it was designed to grace the hood. With Spirit of the Wind, the craft of glassblowing produces both a fine art sculptural object and a functional although inarguably luxurious product. Lalique was a French designer known for his glass art, perfume bottles, vases, jewelry, chandeliers, and clocks which he produced first in the Art Nouveau and then in the Art Deco style. The use of glass, a fragile and brittle material, increases the object's status as a rare and decadent purchase.

Spirit of the Wind represents a female figure, who seems to be facing into the wind, her face eagerly jutting forward, hair trailing behind her like a single, sharply ordered wing. Although only her head is visible, one can imagine her body arching into the force of the wind (maybe even like the pose of the ancient Greek sculpture of Winged Victory in the Louvre Museum, a work that likely influenced Lalique in many ways). Lalique's sculpture and car hood ornament embodies the sensation of speed. In fact, the Art Deco style was, among other things, a celebration of the machine age, which found expression in the sleek new machines for transport, such as trains, cars, motorcycles, and ships. Proponents of the movement paid homage to the social and physical liberation that technological innovations brought in the 1920s.

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Art Movements

Art Deco

Key Dates: 1920-1930

An art movement involving a mix of modern decorative art styles, largely of the 1920s and 1930s, whose main characteristics were derived from various avant-garde painting styles of the early twentieth century. Art deco works exhibit aspects of Cubism, Russian Constructivism and Italian Futurism- with abstraction, distortion, and simplification, particularly geometric shapes and highly intense colors- celebrating the rise of commerce, technology, and speed.

The growing impact of the machine can be seen in repeating and overlapping images from 1925; and in the 1930s, in streamlined forms derived from the principles of aerodynamics.

The name came from the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs Industriels et Modernes, held in Paris, which celebrated living in the modern world.

It was popularly considered to be an elegant style of cool sophistication in architecture and applied arts which range from luxurious objects made from exotic material to mass produced, streamlined items available to a growing middle class.

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