FAUTEUILS, A BRIEF HISTORY
Chairs are of all times, but the fauteuil is a relatively new phenomenon. Before around 1800, an ‘easy chair’ was only reserved for a very small part of mankind. In the years to follow, however, developments went very fast. The Industrial Revolution has made sure that the fauteuil became available to a large audience. This development has drastically changed the way in which the Western world thought about the seating concept.
Fauteuils as we know them today emerged in France in the early eighteenth century. These comfortable chairs were a reaction to the uncomfortable seating furniture dating from the time of King Louis XIV (1638-1715). Louis XIV set great store by a strict court etiquette whereby only the highest echelons were permitted to sit down. His death ushered in a period of less stringent social interaction.
Philippe II, Duke of Orléans, acted as Regent of France during the minority of Louis XV (1715-1723). Instead of Versailles, he choose the Palais Royal in Paris as his seat. The aristocracy also moved back to their hôtels (townhouses) in Paris. As a result, social mobility growing stronger and the rules of etiquette became weaker. The phenomenon of the salon dates back to this time: meetings at someone’s home, where intellectuals could put forward their ideas and where descent did not matter. It was in this liberal climate that the fauteuil was born: a comfortable chair that can easily be moved through the room. Ever since its introduction, it is impossible to image the interior without the fauteuil.
In Great Britain, where the Royal Dynasty had relatively little power, a similar social development took place. In the eighteenth century, here too, comfortable armchairs were introduced that were designed to be standing free. As the guilds in Great Britain were less powerful than on the continent, product innovation was easier. In France, chairs were still made in small workshops, whereas in Great Britain furniture factories with three to four hundred workers emerged as early as 1730. These factories did not only supply to the Court and the aristocracy, but also to the bourgeoisie and the fast-growing middle class. In France, guild regulations were quite stringent until the Revolution (1789): fauteuils were often provided with gilding and carving and remained luxury items. In Great Britain, however, soon enough the all-upholstered fauteuils emerged. As it was no longer necessary to finish the frame completely, production became much cheaper.
In the nineteenth century, the development of the fauteuil really took off. The introduction of coil springs around 1830 was a major innovation. It enabled the production of comfortable deep fauteuils, which met a genuine need among the Victorian audience. Especially in Great Britain, it meant the emergence of an important furniture industry exporting its products on a worldwide scale.
Until the middle of the nineteenth century, kapok was an expensive and rather sparingly applied filler. When India became part of the British Empire in 1857, kapok became much more widely available, and as a result, fauteuils became more voluminous. They were also getting increasingly comfortable. From the middle of the nineteenth century, the concept of the ‘easy chair’ in which one could take a nap, took root in large sections of society. Being seated just for relaxation is a revolutionary development. Until far into the nineteenth century, sitting was mainly an active occupation. Chairs were by no means a matter of course for everyone. In fact, the vast majority of people only sat down at social gatherings, or they were seated on benches while working or eating or attending mass.
The interaction between Great Britain and France was considerable. French fauteuils were influenced by British examples and vice versa. France and Great Britain were also leading in the rest of Europe. In addition to the sheer size of the British furniture industry, this influence is largely attributable to the wide dissemination of example books. The influence of French and British furniture designs throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth century is undeniable.
Heritage Fauteuils has chosen six models from the huge amount of models that came into being in this period. It should be noted that the objective was not to develop a complete historical overview. The guiding principles have always been the comfort and beauty of the model. The chairs in this first series are named after the reigning monarchs from the period in which the respective model originated. Heritage Fauteuils expects to expand its collection in the future.