The Chesterfield sofa is an iconic design that has graced military offices, gentleman's clubs and homes for many years. Experts believe the design originates back to 17th or 18th century Britain and the fourth Earl of Chesterfield, but this type of sofa became particularly popular during the 1920s. Today, there's continued demand from collectors and home owners alike, who want to enjoy these classic items of furniture. If you're in the market for a Chesterfield sofa, carefully consider the following antique buyer's tips.

Options available

The Chesterfield is a design not a brand, so it's important to note that there are different options available. Antique Chesterfield sofas are available through specialist dealers and/or collectors, but if you want to go for something less expensive, many furniture makers now sell brand-new replica Chesterfield sofas.

A traditional antique Chesterfield is a leather sofa with grand, outward-curving arms that are normally the same height as the back of the piece. Across the body of the sofa, you will find deep button tufting that gives the sofa its distinctive look, but this tufting is not always present on the seat cushions. Modern manufacturers sometimes mess around with this classic design, but collectors and dealers generally argue that these sofas are not true Chesterfields, which drives further demand for antique originals.

Things to look for in an antique Chesterfield

An antique Chesterfield can make a bold statement in almost any room. What's more, an antique Chesterfield will outlive most modern sofas, thanks to the quality of manufacture and design materials used. If you're looking for a good antique specimen, there are generally three things to look at. These are:

  • Condition of the leather. Leather is a porous material that needs moisture and care to stay in top condition. An antique Chesterfield may show signs of cracks and scuffs where the owner has not looked after the leather. You can restore minor damage relatively easily, but significant areas of damage may need complete restoration. 
  • Condition of the frame. The original manufacturers built Chesterfield sofas to last, but you still need to check the frame quality as much as possible. You can really only inspect areas of visible wood, but look for signs of wood worm on the feet that may indicate a serious structural problem. You can also sit on the sofa and see how sturdy it feels. You may want to avoid a wobbly or unstable Chesterfield!
  • Condition of the padding. Manufacturers once used horse hair to pad the back, body and seat cushions on a Chesterfield. Over time, this material will flatten in the seat cushions, so you should look to see if these parts need restoration. Restoration with fire-retardant, synthetic foam padding is relatively easy to arrange, although it's a good idea to choose denser padding that will last longer.

These three factors should all dictate the price you are willing to pay. Consider the costs of restoration when you negotiate the price on a Chesterfield that needs attention in one or more of these areas.

When to choose a Chesterfield

The Chesterfield design lends itself to more formal settings. While these sofas are comfortable, the design may not suit people who like to lounge on the sofa in front of the TV because the height of the arms may stop you stretching out. Antique Chesterfields are often larger than their modern counterparts, so you also need to carefully measure up your room to make sure you have the right space.

Perhaps the greatest appeal of a Chesterfield is the sofa's durability. The high-quality leather finish can withstand the rigors of children and pets alike, and this sofa is a good long-term investment, as a Chesterfield will often outlive newer products. That aside, you need to invest time in an antique Chesterfield. For example, you need to regularly apply leather conditioner to keep the material in good condition.

Chesterfield sofas continue to draw admiration from American homeowners. Talk to a furniture dealer, such as Bucks County Estate Traders, for more information or advice about these classic pieces.