11 August 2011

Feeling faint?

Ever since glimpsing my grandmother's pale aquamarine satin chaise longue through the barely-opened doorway of her perennially darkened boudoir, I have always been fascinated by these whimsical inventions.  (I once entered the room and pressed a small hand down on the cushion, eyes widening as my chubby fingers vanished into a soft quicksand of down.)  According to the dictionary, there are several types of these lovely long chairs:
  • The Duchesse brisée (literally Broken duchess in French) is divided in two parts -- the chair and a long footstool. Or two chairs with a stool in between them.  The origin of the name is unknown. (Perhaps it has to do with a magician, his assistant, and a "sawing in half" act that went terribly wrong...?)
  • A récamier has two raised ends, and nothing on the long sides. It is sometimes associated with French Empire (neo-classical) style. It’s named after French society hostess Mme Récamier (1777-1849), who posed elegantly on a couch of this kind.  (Is there any other way to pose on such a thing?)  She had her portrait painted in 1800. The shape of the récamier is similar to a traditional lit bateau (boat bed) but made for the drawing room, not the bedroom.
  •  A méridienne has a high head-rest, and a lower foot-rest, joined by a a sloping piece. Whether or not they have anything at the foot end, méridiennes are asymmetrical day-beds. They were popular in the grand houses of France in the early 19th century. Its name is from its typical use -- rest in the middle of the day, when the sun is near the meridian.  (So much more elegant than "napping post".)
  •  A fainting couch (my personal favorite) has a back that is traditionally raised at one end. The back may be situated completely at one side of the couch, or may wrap around and extend the entire length of the piece much like a traditional couch. However, fainting couches are easily differentiated from more traditional couches, having one end of the back raised. (And the comatose woman draped over one end must give it away as well.) Fainting couches were popular in the 19th century, and were particularly used by women. This was because women in Victorian-era societies almost universally wore corsets which put substantial strain on the wearer's midsection and restricted blood flow.  When a woman would ascend stairs in a house or other structure, she would often feel faint -- and a well-appointed home or building would have a fainting couch at the top of every set of stairs for her use. Some houses would take this to the level of having separate fainting rooms where these couches would be the featured furniture. (Apparently one had to time the spell carefully to coincide with the proximity of said fainting room, or make sure there was some hale and hearty fellow nearby who could carry you there.)
Somewhere in the attic there is a frame very like this one that I long to have upholstered and put to good use for mid-day naps or long afternoon reads. (Or perhaps artfully placed on the 2nd floor landing so I can rest after each arduous ascent.)  But as charming as this might be, my penchant for tables, chairs, bookcases and writing desks has reached critical mass and I'd be hard pressed to find anywhere in the cottage where a chaise longue would fit. For now, the frame will remain in the attic, and I shall continue reading (or napping) on the couch. And collapsing as needed on the top stair with an eau-de-cologne soaked hankie pressed on my brow.

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