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A brief history of the sofa

The sofa may be given different names – settees, davenports, chesterfields or couches, but they all define a seat designed for more than one person. The name “sofa” likely comes from the ancient Arabic word “suffah”, which means “long bench”. In the following sections, we’ll explore the history of this staple piece of furniture.

Ancient times

The first sofas were made a long time before we at Steely Products developed trolleys and storage equipment for them. When Howard Carter entered King Tutankhamun’s tomb on November 26, 1922, he found amongst the many treasures a wooden sofa, which showed that Egyptian furniture makers were highly skilled and were able to make sophisticated wood joints.

In ancient Rome, ornate sofas were found in the more affluent households.

The Oak Period

During the period between 1500 and 1650, most households had only a small number of furniture pieces. A settee was a luxury item that only the rich could afford. They were made from oak, which is why this is known as the “Oak Period”. The sofas were more like oak boxes that several people could sit on. Some added oak arms and seat backs, which made them similar to the pews found in churches.


Houses in Britain a few hundred years ago tended to be cold and draughty. Fabric wall coverings were made to help keep out the cold. It became fashionable to have fabrics similar to wall tapestries fitted to the wood sofas. This was the precursor to upholstered sofas.

The Germans had the idea of using horsehair to pad seats. In Britain, surrounded by the sea, dried sea moss was found to be useful as seat padding. Then, a seat cushion filled with down was used to upholster sofas. Buttons were used to decorate them to create a more luxurious appearance.

The Walnut Period

In the early 1600s, sofas were still mainly benches or boxes with some padding. In what is known as the Walnut Period, between 1660 and 1730, a new type of furniture known as the “double chair” was created. It looked like two chairs stuck together, with central legs to support an elongated seat.

These chairs gradually developed into intricate, well-designed furniture with full upholstery.

Storage and moving

Throughout the development of the sofa, unless it was made inside the home, furniture makers had to be able to move it. Horses pulling carts made from wood were adequate for the job. Two men could lift a sofa and carry it some distance with no equipment needed.

Nowadays, using carts and asking workers to carry sofas long distances is regarded as a health and safety hazard. At Steely Products, we have developed a sofa trolley made from tubular steel, which can safely and easily store and move up to two sofas at time.

Sofa design continues to change and evolve, and we will be here to supply the sofa trolleys required to move them. To find out about the range of equipment we make for the furniture trade, call us or use the form below.

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