Fainting Couches vs. Chaises



chaise,chaise lounges,sofas

Defining a fainting couch may sound like the most boring thing in the world – and it may be – but speculating on why they existed and how it got its name is actually kind of interesting.

Fainting Couch Style & Similarities

A fainting couch looks a lot like a chaise longue (often now called a lounge), which is to say it’s a couch with a back of uneven height, rising higher on one end than the other.

Chaise Longue "That's L-O-N-G-U-E, for anyone who wants to pick a word fight."

Many chaises, however, have no back at all, which marks one of the few distinguishing characteristics between the two styles. It is the chaise lounge, though, that is the precursor to the fainting couch, rather than the other way around.

Chaise Longue = Fainting Couch?

The chaise longue – French for “long chair” – is thought to have originated in Egypt, where similar furniture items have been found among mummy belongings that date back thousands of years.

A more modern (though still ancient) variant cropped up later among the Greeks during a time in their history when they were doing a lot of lounging, presumably eating grapes while being fanned with palm fronds. That was around the 8th century, long before the chaise would become all the rage in Paris.

It was from France's capital, a bellwether for trending styles in the 19th century as much as it is now, that the chaise likely made the leap westward and was, at least for a time, redefined in some circles as a fainting couch. But why?

Chaise Repurposed (or Simply Renamed)

The difference between a chaise and a fainting couch is arguably one of use, much like the difference between a fiddle and a violin. The instruments are one and the same and it is how they are used that sets them apart.

The same can be said of the fainting couch. Historians posit that fainting couches were made popular in the 19th century because it was during this time that women were passing out left and right from their corsets being too tight and thus needing a place to fall. Seriously.

Some credence is lent to this supposition by the existence of full-blown fainting rooms, whereupon fainting couches were often found. In this way, location and use acted to influence the very name and design trajectory of a furniture style.

Fainting Couches Today

These days, the names for these types of backless sofas are more or less interchangeable. Sometimes you’ll find that a piece described as a fainting couch may have a more elaborate design or some additional Victorian flair, but it’s fair to say that if it’s not being fainted on it’s just not a fainting couch.

This top-selling chaise from Baxton Studio features a wooden frame, silver nail-head trim and microfiber upholstery.

This design from the Benetti's Italia Firenza Collection, crafted of hand-carved wood and plush fabric, is perhaps most evocative of the period style associated with fainting couches. 

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