Leather Couches: A Fascinating History
Imagine entering a living room with dark, naturally-colored leather couches. The effect is immediate: you have a sudden desire to run your hand along its cool, smooth surface. The leather gives in under your touch and makes that squeaky, satisfying sound. Yes, it’s real. And you want to stay in this luxurious, inviting room forever.
Leather has been used for thousands of years for clothing, armor and even as material for building tents in nomadic tribes. The techniques for transforming raw animal skin into supple material that was easily dyed, sewn and worn or upholstered have existed for just as long. It’s an ancient art, full of history and traditions.
The leather seat, whether chair or couch, also has a long and fascinating history. Did you know it has been present in homes for thousands of years?
There is proof that the throne of Arabian rulers was made of leather. Sitting on leather was his privilege and a sign of power and wealth.
In Roman society, you could find in the wealthiest and most powerful patrician homes leather lounge chairs. The men would lie back in them while they ate, drank and conducted business, while the women would sit on regular plain wood chairs.
Because of the amount of work involved in making leather, the material was reserved only for the elite. It was very expensive, and possessing a piece of leather furniture was considered a status symbol.
Medieval times to the industrial revolution
This rather long period of time sees leather used in an increasing amount of household objects, including chairs and couches. The increase in trade between Europe and Asia and the discovery of America brought new kinds of furs and hides to Europe, increasing the interest in leather.
However, the leather-making process remained tedious and expensive, and leather furniture remained a luxury reserved for the rich. You would find leather-covered couches in the households of royal families, kings and noblemen. Ordinary people would still have access to leather in the form of clothing and small accessories, but the furniture was out of their reach.
The industrial revolution and leather furniture
We all know what happened during that time: new machines increased production, and new techniques made the fabrication of every day objects easier and cheaper. People started to give up making their own household items, as they used to do before, and started buying them from manufacturers instead.
Leather didn’t escape industrialization. Although some steps still need to be done by hand, the discovery of new dyes and tanning techniques contributed to an explosion of leather goods, including furniture.
During the 19th century, the leather sofa began making its appearance in common, middle-class households. The leather seat was no more reserved for the rich and influential.
The leather couch became a symbol of comfort and “homey-ness”; a home without at least a small leather chair or sofa was considered unsuitable for receiving people. The addition of new colors and new hides made it easier to use leather furniture in a variety of décors. And the Victorians were avid home decorators!
The 20th century
As the 20th century progressed on, technology advanced and trade increased even more between countries. The leather couch remained an essential manly piece of furniture, usually in the form of the man’s easy chair, where he would sit after a long day of work. Leather couches served as the center of the living room, where the family would gather to listen to the radio, and later, to watch television.
In the 1960s, leather couches became a trend. Clothing and furniture designers began to use leather more widely, and leather appeared in colors such as white and bright green and red. The famous pod chair often had a leather lining inside. A home was not trendy unless it had a leather couch.
Leather furniture today
Since then, the leather couch has retained its reputation of a premier, luxury piece of furniture. Leather furniture gives an instant boost of luxury and comfort to any living room and is still perceived as a status symbol, despite its democratization and cheaper prices.
Today, leather couches come in a variety of colors unimaginable before: pinks and purples and turquoises and oranges. They are now as versatile as fabric couches and will fit any style and any décor. However, too much leather can look severe; you can soften it by using throws and blankets in complementary or accent colors.
Do you have a leather couch? What do you think is the best use of leather in a living room design? Share your thoughts in the comments!