Also known as couches, chaises longues began in the 17th century as caned day beds. In the early Regency period, chaises were upholstered in gorgeous coloured fabrics and many were decorated with carved, inlaid or painted patterns or motifs, often in ebony or gilt. The trademark ornate scrolls, at one end or both, and the delicate curved sabre legs, completed this couch’s elegant form and flowing lines.
During the later Regency period the form became heavier, with more carving. Exotic designs were fashionable, such as palmettes, crocodiles and dolphins. By the 1830s (the William IV period) the scrolls had become less pronounced, with squatter bun-style legs.
Prices for Regency chaises longues vary wildly, depending on how much work needs to be done on them, fetching anything from £800-$8,000.
When the Victorians got hold of the chaise longue they made them more sturdy, but still elegant, adding wonderful ornate carvings and, many would say, made a more comfortable seat, choosing to re-upholster the couch with springs. Often part of a nine-piece suite, the chaise longue would be arranged in the salon with a gentleman’s armchair, a lady’s version without arms to accommodate her crinoline skirt, and six balloon side chairs.
Although not as stylish as the Regency period, Victorian chaises are still wonderful pieces but tend to fetch lower prices. Prices for late Victorian and Edwardian chaises longues can be quite low. Edwardian pieces were usually in walnut with ring-turned legs and bobbin-turned rails on the back, which was very hard and uncomfortable. You can buy one for less than £400 and they are not as popular as the earliler ones.
It’s only to be expected that the chaises longues will have suffered wear and tear over the years. Some dealers sell them already re-upholstered, while others leave you to choose the fabric. Before buying you should establish from the dealer how much work needs to be done so that you can get a clear idea of the final cost.
Upholstering your chaise longue does not affect the value as long as the work is done by a skilled upholsterer. There is divided opinion among dealers on whether the chaise longue should be stripped right back to the frame or whether you should retain as much of the original springs and stuffing as possible.
Horsehair is the traditional stuffing and highly regarded by some upholsters, as it gives an authentic look. The other choice is to have the seat padded with a natural fibre – it is a matter of preference and what degree of comfort you like.
The frame is often made of beech and there may be some woodworm. A re-upholsterer will be able to advise whether the frame is strong enough. Much woodworm is inactive and no problem. Beech was favoured because the wood does not split when upholstery pins are driven in, hence its popularity.
If the fabric is slightly old and faded but you like it, keep it. If there is much damage it would be better to have it re-covered. Take advice from a skilled upholsterer who will advise on the correct period fabric. Materials can be expensive and fabric can cost up to £100 per metre. Chaise Longues look lovely in a room and their value has risen steadily over the years.