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100 Years of Sofa Designs

Sofas have existed for several thousand years, in one form or another. The word sofa itself is derived from the Aramaic word sippa (‘mat’) and the Arabic word suffah (‘divan’). Sofas, like most items of furniture, were originally items of extreme luxury, with only the wealthy owning them. This didn’t change until the early 19th century, when the industrial revolution helped to lower the price of sofas thanks to the new-found ability to mass-produce furniture.

Nowadays, sofas are seen as a necessary item to have in one’s living room. People love a good sofa to lounge, lie down and cuddle upon. However, their image as items of luxury and decadence has not diminished. The humble sofa even became a bit of an art form, as the following sofa designs spanning the past 100 years illustrate.

Josef Hoffman, The Bloq Sofa, 1910

OK, a little over 100 years, but close enough. This is a classic sofa that has been imitated many times, with its geometric puff panels and functional, cubist design. Following the example set by British designer William Morris, Hoffman, like many other designers of the time, wanted to marry form and function as well as the ability to mass-produce distinctive designs.

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Salvador Dali, Mae West Lips Sofa, 1937

Sofas really hit the art world with Salvador Dali’s surrealist wood-and-satin sofa. This sofa was shaped after the lips of actress Mae West, and would later help spawn the creation of the ‘Marilyn Sofa’ by Studio 65 in 1970.

Dali’s sofa influenced the Anti-Design movement of the 1960s and 70s, and has had a profound influence upon designers of all decades since.

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Charles and Ray Eames, The Sofa Compact, 1954

This high-backed, maroon and armless sofa was named ‘Compact’ due to the fact it could be folded down for easy transport and storage. Simple, elegant and made with urethane cushions, this sofa is considered to be one of the most comfortable pieces of furniture ever created. Actress Mariah O’Brien, who starred in films such as Being John Malkovich, has one of these in her home, and she has said she considers the sofa “a work of art”.

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Hans Wegner, Sofa Bed, 1965

Known for his sleek, minimalist design, Hans created high quality, thoughtful and organic furniture based upon more Modernist schools of design. Hans’ work is instantly recognisable, and many of his designs have become ubiquitous around the world. His version of the sofa bed is exquisite.

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Shiro Kuramata, Sofa with Arms, 1982

Kuramata used industrial metals such as lucite and wire mesh to create his work. One of his most famous pieces is the How High the Moon chair, made entirely of wire mesh. Sofa with Arms features a chromed metal tubular frame supporting the seat and the back. The back is cylindrical and the seat square.

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Nicola L., Green Head Sofa, 1989

Nicola L. produces limited edition furniture of all sorts, usually based on the body. Heads, faces, eyes and snail shells are the most common themes in her work, with one of her most famous pieces being a chest of drawers named Femme Commode (1969). This sofa is made of wool and cotton, although whether people would want to sit on it is arguable, as her designs fetch a pretty penny at auction.

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Fernando Campana and Humberto Campana, Cipria, 2012

A nine-cushioned, colourful, ecological-fur-lined sofa stuffed with gellyfoam and fixed with an invisible metal tube. The fur is of varying lengths across the sofa, and the sofa itself is designed with a variety of shapes in order to accommodate different seating positions.

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