Languor management

What’s not to like about the 21st-century day bed, with its great looks and inviting upholstery? Nicole Swengley kicks off her shoes.

November 15 2011
Nicole Swengley

With their sculptural lines and restful promise, day beds and chaise longues – those elegant staples of Edwardian drawing rooms – are enjoying a revival. The hint of semi-medical panacea that characterised earlier versions, however, has now gone. The latest designs are glamorous, luxurious and unashamedly indulgent.

The trend’s drivers are threefold. Leaving aside their decorative aesthetic, these sit-sleep hybrids have an edge on sofas by positively inviting a reclining position. And, while that’s a luxury in itself, the portability of today’s technology – laptops, tablets, smartphones – means you can work or play in a state of serene relaxation with your head cushioned, your body relaxed and your feet up.

“People want comfort in their homes no matter how contemporary their surroundings,” says Tina Mahony, co-director of furniture retailer Go Modern. “Chaise longues are very evocative. Most people associate them with lazy Sunday afternoons and a good read or a siesta.”

Classic designs such as the iconic LC4 chaise longue (£2,640, The Conran Shop), designed in 1928 by Charlotte Perriand, Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret, have never fallen out of favour. Now, though, designers are updating the concept by reshaping them, and employing the latest materials to maximise visual impact and enhance their comfort and practicality.

Take BiKnit, designed by Patricia Urquiola (from £4,769) and launched by Moroso earlier this year at Milan’s Salone del Mobile Internazionale. This wooden chaise longue is covered with a knitted stocking-stitch weave that’s blown up in size to double as a load-bearing structure and decorative surface. This innovative, seamless material has a knitted polypropylene liner filled with polyethylene down, and is covered with a PVC sheath, so suitable for use outside as well as in. The shape, too, is utterly contemporary with a low seat and a supportive back that laptop users will appreciate.

For sheer glamour, check out the Amazone lounge chair from the Matières collection (£8,370) designed by Antonio Citterio for Hermès’ new furniture range, introduced at Milan’s Salone. Upholstered in bull-calf leather or fabric with a bronze or stainless-steel base, the recliner allows users to stretch out fully, while supported by headrest and armrests. Its aesthetic quality owes much to its well-balanced proportions and the elegant tilt of seat and back.

Some might consider a chaise longue or day bed old-fashioned, but British designer Russell Pinch disagrees: “They’re very functional, offering additional seating without dominating a living space,” he says. “They work very well as room dividers, and many of our clients use them in bedrooms or hallways.” His slender and discreet Contore Bench (£2,015) serves this purpose well.

A light, modern profile is often the result of modern engineering coupled with the latest materials. Rolf Benz’s sleek, leather-upholstered 360 chaise longue (£2,060) is a case in point. Launched at this year’s Cologne furniture fair, it won the Interior Innovation award 2011 for its contemporary aesthetic and supreme comfort.

Similarly slender is Jeffrey Bernett’s Landscape. This year B&B Italia gave his 2001 design a new rocking base, while a cushioned topper designed by Kvadrat adds comfort (from £2,267). In a similar move, Zanotta has updated Ludovica and Roberto Palomba’s eye-catching Lama leather chaise longue (£5,939) by employing a white- or black- painted steel frame and PVC weave to make it suitable for outdoor use (£4,320). Another indoor-outdoor hybrid launched in Milan was by Driade: the enveloping, circular Cape West day bed (from £2,883) is boldly patterned by a plastic weave over its aluminium structure.

Extra functionality can increase a design’s contemporary relevance. Karim Rashid’s Dragonfly (from £1,395) for Bonaldo converts from armchair to chaise longue, while Bonaldo’s Line (from £1,940) unfolds to an elongated triangular shape. Brühl’s Plupp-ap.2 (from €2,169) is particularly adaptable since the “rest” elements – backrests, headrests and table – can be push-fitted into a groove in the upholstered base, offering a variety of sitting, relaxing and reclining positions. Meanwhile, the multimedia version of Visionnaire’s Primula chaise longue (from £19,130) has a high-definition LED screen, with integral stereo audio system, attached to a stainless-steel arm, which curves over the double recliner – perfect for enjoying a movie.

Anyone seeking to cocoon themselves completely could be tempted by the immersive Long Form Library Chair (from £4,850). Designed by Thomas Mills, this day bed recently made its début in House of the Future, a design and technology showcase at Grand Designs Live in Birmingham. Reclining in a circular inner ring fitted with “intelligent” ambient lights, users are surrounded by several hundred books, while the bent plywood hull rocks gently as they read.

As day beds are a pleasure to be savoured luxuriantly, it’s natural that their essential ingredient is comfort. Dutch designer Edward van Vliet’s newly launched Button Down “dormeuse” for Moroso (from £4,997) offers homely comforts similar to a favourite sweater since the foam- and fibre-covered wooden frame is enveloped in woollen upholstery, and decorated with big buttons. Meanwhile, the indulgently thick base cushion and leather-upholstered L-shaped headrest of Antonio Citterio’s Meridienne chaise longue for Hermès (£17,670), also from the Matières collection, is sufficiently tempting to abandon all activities in favour of an easeful hour dozing or reading.

Relaxation need not be a solitary activity. Designer Philippe Nigro’s Confluences seating for Ligne Roset fits together like colourful jigsaw puzzle pieces with a day bed at each end (from £4,223 for four-seater, including two day beds) – perfect for youthful dens or big open-plan living spaces. And Dynamic Life (£2,750), designed by Matali Crasset for Italian manufacturer Campeggi, resembles a big, soft fist whose individual fingers fold out to create multiple lounging areas.

Many interior designers find day beds a practical way of “zoning” open-plan spaces. “Used in a living room arrangement, they help define a space without the visual intrusion of a high-backed sofa or chair,” says Simon Alderson, co-owner of furniture retailer Twentytwentyone. Designs with strong architectural shapes make effective space dividers, such as Heal’s Swing (£1,325), and the linear Workshop chaise with antique copper, or brushed stainless-steel base (from £2,688) created by Dutch designers Kiki van Eijk and Joost van Bleiswijk for Bernhardt Design. “There’s a trend towards less formally structured spaces, and the day bed is a liberating object as it can serve as a bench, chaise, sofa and room divider,” says Jerry Helling, president of Bernhardt Design. And Tina Mahony notes further practical benefits: “They’re excellent for spaces that are too small for a sofa and their lower lines mean they sit in a bay window without dominating the space or blocking the light.”

And as Richard Baker, MD of furniture retailer Rume, notes: “They work well at the foot of a bed, or in a hallway as their narrow width takes up less room.” Bateau-end designs, such as Rume’s Masque (from £1,150), are very effective in this context as are the art deco-inspired Melbury (from £9,500) and Celia (from £6,500) day beds designed by Francis Sultana and upholstered in silk or silk-velvet. “Day beds provide great seating at parties for conversation and a comfortable place to read or watch a film,” he says.

The chic simplicity of bench-style day beds chimes with contemporary tastes. Certain historic designs, such as Mies van der Rohe’s iconic Barcelona (£8,148 from Knoll) from 1929, retain their popularity. And earlier this year, Vitra unveiled a special edition of Jean Prouvé’s Flavigny day bed (£3,290), designed in 1945. Similarly, British manufacturer Benchmark has collaborated with London’s Rocket Gallery to recreate Jens Risom’s U620 upholstered bench (from £1,656) and T621 bench with cushion (from £1,380), both designed in the 1950s.

A number of designers, however, are updating the aesthetic with crisp, modern upholstery. Zanotta’s William (from £2,235), De Sede’s DS80 (from £3,990), Pinch Design’s Contore (£2,015) and Richard Ward’s Yasmin for Wawa (£2,245) are all exemplary. Bondo C-5 (£1,675) by Finnish manufacturer Inno is a more playful, colourful interpretation, while the strong demand reported by Simon Alderson for Day Bed One (£1,815), an organically cushioned, solid-oak day bed made by British manufacturer Another Country is attributable, he says, to “a quietly modern aesthetic created by its simplicity and soft outline”.

Out on the high street, retailers are also responding to the trend. OKA’s bench-style Manhattan chaise (£969), Marks & Spencer’s striking Glamour chaise (from £549) and Laura Ashley’s bateau-end Kidworth day bed (£950) are worth checking out, while John Lewis offers the sinuous Joel chaise with leather-channelled upholstery (£1,200) and curvaceous Sense lounger (£599). Was there ever a better time to relax?

See also

Chaises, Beds