antique Chesterfield sofa worth it?

dupontessaJanuary 26, 2011

My husband and I are contemplating spending more than we would spend on a new sofa to get a very old Chesterfield. We saw it in the beautiful showroom of a highly respected interior designer, and the story is that it probably dates to the 1880s, was purchased by the designer in Paris, and is upholstered with horsehair. It's @77" wide, @16" high (seat) with an arm height all the way around of about 30".

The leather is not torn anywhere, but it is discolored in many areas; the cushioning of the bench, while still springy, is compressed; it has "stretch marks" between the buttons apparently from being sat on for decades; and there are large patches where the surface is crackling and flaking (just the thinnest outer skin), particularly the top of the back of the sofa. Other parts of the sofa are in very good condition, and the leather is the thickest stuff I have encountered. It also weighs a ton, and is a little creaky.

It is a wreck, but frankly this is a big part of its appeal, along with being extremely comfortable for both of us. It is a case of one man's trash being another man's treasure. I can live with that; my husband is in love with it.

But there are two things that made me go "Hmmm...": in an area where the leather had been originally tightly gathered around a button-tuft, but now is looser, I noticed that the leather on the inside (which would have been out of sight originally) is a different, much lighter color. Is it possible that the leather was treated with a dye after it was covered, perhaps at some point long after it was first made, to cover stains etc., or is there some other explanation? Also, I was inspecting the feet and realized that they seem to be screwed on. Also a late addition, or a sign of more recent manufacture, or ... ??? These things made me wonder if perhaps it is not antique at all, but a more recent piece that has simply been heavily abused, perhaps even left outside for a time in the rain & sun, before being "rescued." I don't know if this would actually make a difference to my husband, but the showroom sales rep was making a big deal about this being a one-of-a-kind piece, a museum piece, etc., and I feel they are using this to justify the high price. They have already offered to come down 20% on the price but I think it's still too high. I would love to hear what this forum has to say about the piece. The sales rep said they would be happy to work with us to get a new piece of furniture that would be similar and less expensive, but added that of course it will not have this kind of character.

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I don't know a thing about it except that I'm highly allergic to horsehair batting of any sort. I took my original horsehair pad out of the house when we got new carpet yrs ago & about croaked for next couple of days. So if anyone in the home has allergies I sure wouldn't get it. Some materials change color in light or dark but couldn't say what is going on with this piece.

    Bookmark   January 27, 2011 at 2:13AM
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I say it wasn't the horse hair you were allergic to but rather the dust and other crud in the pad.
Without pictures of the sofa it's hard to tell if it's really a veryf ine old sofa or a repro.
But I think it's very likely that it's a good old piece.
It's probably horse hide or cow hide and probably has been rubbed for years with saddle soap....which darkens the leather but also is said to preserve it.
all stuffing compresses over time....even horse hair. If that doesn't bother's fine, If it bothers you someone might be able to loosen the leather and put more stuffing in it....but then it wouldn't look like a great old sofa, would it?
As for the feet....that was the way a sofa like that would be made....much easier than trying to wrap the leather around the legs.
I say, if you love it....go for it!!! You'll never find another!
Linda C

    Bookmark   January 27, 2011 at 9:39AM
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If the leather's drying out, which is to be expected in 50 years much less 130 years, then it will need reupholstering sooner rather than later. Nothing says "class" like a nice chesterfield.

    Bookmark   January 27, 2011 at 1:48PM
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My mother had a horsehair sofa when I was a young child. I remember it being very prickly to bare legs when I sat on it. For that reason, I doubt you would use a saddle soaplike product on it. It wasn't like buckskin that all the hair had been removed. (which you wouldn't use saddle soap on either) It would be the horses skin itself. Horsehair stuffing would be made from tail and mane hairs. So, lindac is probably right about it being tanned leather, either horse or cattle. That is, if it's not "hairy".

    Bookmark   January 27, 2011 at 2:05PM
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There were uses of horse hair for upholstery. One was was in the fabric woven for the covering ....and the other was for stuffing.
The OP mentioned leather on the seat and on the back, so I assumed in this case the horsehair was used for the stuffing.
If the leather has been well treated, I don't see why it shouldn't be good for a while.

    Bookmark   January 27, 2011 at 4:04PM
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Yes, please describe the leather better. Are you saying it's a hide?

    Bookmark   January 27, 2011 at 5:17PM
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Thanks for all responses; this is great! There is no hair on the leather cover. It's a very dark brown leather, almost black in some areas. The sales rep told us it was stuffed with horsehair and I wouldn't know if this is speculation or if they really know for sure. One other detail I was impressed by is that each end of the sofa arm/back ends in a sort of "scroll" as is typical, but the scroll is made of leather that rather than being folded over itself, wraps around and down the front of the sofa in what looks like a series of tiny box pleats. It is so hard that I initially mistook it for wood, but it is indeed leather.

    Bookmark   January 28, 2011 at 10:57PM
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