A Scarlett O’Hara-like actress puts her wrist to her forehead, exclaims her overwhelming love for the leading man and over-dramatically falls gracefully to a long, tufted elegant couch in a 1940s film.
Most likely, this couch is a chaise lounge (or chaise longue, the original French name), also often referred to as a fainting chair. And the name is quite appropriate. One theory for the name comes from the 19th century when women were squeezed into tight corsets and were prone to fainting due to blood flow restriction on their too-tight girdles. Fun, huh?
Despite the 19th century American and European imagery, it is thought that the first chaise originated in Egypt. Ancient Greek art depicts gods and goddesses lounging in this type of chair. The earliest known models were made from palm sticks lashed together with pieces of cord or rawhide. It is also known that the Romans used daybeds for reclining in the daytime and to sleep on at night. They also used it for the “accubatio,” or the act of reclining during a meal. Who knew!?
Today there are three types of chaises:
• Méridienne: This may be the most recognizable type of chaise. This piece has a high head-rest and a lower foot rest. This is the type seen in the “fainting chairs” I describe above. Fun fact: the name comes from the grand houses of France in the early 19th century, when people would rest in the middle of the day – when the sun is near the meridian.
• Duchesse brisée: This lounge is divided in two parts – the chair and a long footstool or two chairs with a stool in between.
• Récamier: This type has two raised ends and nothing on the sides.