It’s All Greek (or Latin, or Celtic) to Me: The Origin of Furniture Vocabulary Part II

Last spring we looked at the origin of the names of various pieces of furniture, including chair, table, mirror, and clock.  We have also looked at the history of more specific types of furniture, such as the Pembroke table or corner chair in other posts.

Today we are offering round two of this etymological adventure.  Today’s furniture names originate from a historical character, an English town, and last but not least, a family member.

Chesterfield Sofa

A Morris & Co Design for a Chesterfield Sofa in one of their printed cottons rather than leather

The Chesterfield Sofa

The Chesterfield sofa, a sofa that is defined by its distinctive deep buttoned, quilted leather upholstery and low seat base, originated with Lord Phillip Stanhope, the 4th Earl of Chesterfield.  Chesterfield was a close friend of Voltaire and was respected as a writer and philosopher in his own right.  He apparently ordered a local craftsman to create a piece of furniture for him that would allow him to sit comfortably upright without wrinkling his garment.  Leather was the ideal material for the commission, and the sofa’s rolled arms and equal back and arm height made it ideal for sitting upright.

Elie Williams

Charles Willson Peale’s portrait of Elie Williams showing him sitting in a Windsor Chair Metropolitan Museum of Art

Windsor Chair

Windsor chairs with their simple turned spindle backs and sides attached to a solid sculpted seat are named after the English town of Windsor.  Although the style of chair had been made since the 16th century, the name came about when King George I got caught in a storm and had to take shelter in a local cottage.  He was offered a simple chair with the spindle design which was very different from the chairs in his palace.  He promptly ordered a set to be made for the palace.  The design became popular in America around the same time.  The painting above by the American artist Charles Willson Peale depicts the sitter sitting in a Windsor chair.

A George II Mahogany Longcase Clock Mackinnon Fine Furniture Collection

A George II Mahogany Longcase Clock Mackinnon Fine Furniture Collection

Grandfather Clock

The origin of the term grandfather clock takes us to Yorkshire: the American songwriter Henry Clay Work was staying at the George Hotel in Yorkshire.  During his stay, he enquired to the owners as to why the pendulum clock in the lobby was not working.  He was told that the clock stopped working after the previous owners, two brothers, passed away.  This story inspired Work to write a song named ‘My Grandfather’s Clock’ in 1876.  The name has stuck ever since.

One thought on “It’s All Greek (or Latin, or Celtic) to Me: The Origin of Furniture Vocabulary Part II

  1. Pingback: Designer Spotlight: Bennett Leifer Interiors | The Source

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