Long chair transforms into lounge

Putting the pedal to the metal did very little to assuage the mixture of excitement and anticipation I was feeling during the short trip from my home to the grand opening of the new Villeroy and Boch showroom.

For those of you unfamiliar with this venerable European company, it was founded some 255 years ago and, now, in the eighth generation of its original founders, is the manufacturer of some of the most charming dinnerware to grace any table. To this day, it is still the world’s largest producer of ceramics.

With this spectacular history in mind, and that the night was to mark the debut of a hand-painted Soleil line of fabrics (by brilliant Los Angeles fabric artist Susan Weinberg) that would coordinate and complement Villeroy and Boch china patterns, it was no wonder that I was in such a state. In addition, a number of my furniture designs were to be displayed that evening as well.

The fabrics and the showroom were well received; but, sadly, the degree of enthusiasm engendered just wasn’t quite enough, at the time, to keep either in business for very long. But, there was an item that did stand out and did make it all worthwhile for me: my design for a Soleil chaise lounge based on a chair design that I had sold for years. My original design was influenced by the fluidity and graceful lines of the art nouveau movement.

As I say, the chaise on display that evening originally came from a Soleil chair, much the same way that the early chaise lounge must have developed from the typical chair of that time. You see, the “chaise longue” (shaz long) comes from the French, meaning “long chair.” In reality, it is a chair that one lounges in, so here in America as far back as its first appearance somewhere around the 1830s, this type of elongated chair has been referred to as a “lounge.”

To this day, I don’t suppose anyone really knows for sure just when it went from being a “long chair” to a “lounge chair,” but the real history of this wonderful piece of seating certainly goes much further back than the last hundred years or so.

It would appear that it actually began as a union of the daybed and chair. This type of seating was originally created in ancient Egypt and we’ve all seen how gods and nobles were depicted reclining on chaise lounges in Grecian art. At that time in history, they were usually carved out of wood and were quite simple in design.

The Romans used them extensively as well as they believed reclining for dining and relaxation was the only way to go. (Can’t say that I blame them!) Lying back on a couch is certainly more comfortable and relaxing than sitting up properly in a chair. Reclining, no doubt, encourages a greater level of relaxation and that’s probably why it’s become synonymous with the psychiatrist’s office.

It’s interesting to note that while the ancients of Greece, Egypt and Rome could lie with their feet up and relax, they had to lie on their sides and were unable to recline on their backs, at least not until the French took care of that sometime in the 16th century whereupon the elongated chair with legs was made deeper and the back was finally slanted to allow for a true reclining position.

Cut to the 21st century and the chaise lounge is more popular than ever — both indoors and outdoors — from the most formal traditional settings to the contemporary, straight lines and sculptural forms of some of the most avant garde designers of our time, like the brilliant and innovative Vladimir Kagan.

The Soleil chaise that I unveiled that evening at Villeroy and Boch was certainly my individual take on this classic form. I designed it with several variations in mind: as a single chaise and as one built for two, with a tight seat and back, or with piles of down fill so that one was literally sitting/lying on a wonderful soft bed.

In fact, I once had an order for two “cloud” (down-filled) chaises to be used by a husband and wife, who were award-winning poets. Subsequent to their delivery, I received a phone call telling me they were returning the chaises to be made firmer and less comfortable because instead of writing poetry when they reclined, they actually fell asleep instead! True story.

Simply put, I’ve always thought of the chaise lounge as an upholstered couch in the shape of a chair and one that is long enough to support the legs. This basic definition of a truly timeless piece of furniture is probably reason enough for its continued popularity. I mean, who among us, given the choice, wouldn’t love to sit and put our feet up? But, the chaise lounge is also chameleonlike in its ability to take on endless looks, dressed in an array of fabrics and finishes, which assures its continued integral place in our ever-changing lifestyles.

Stephen Leon is president of Soleil Design International and has been designing and manufacturing custom furniture and cabinetry for more than 25 years. He is on the board of directors of the Central California/Nevada Chapter of the American Society of Interior Designers. Questions can be sent to soleildesign@cox.net.

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