There exist few cultures who exhibit opulence and elegance as well as the French. When it comes to design, furniture is no different, and the chaise lounge is one piece of European innovation that is the living definition of luxury and sophistication. Aside from the recognizable basic chaise lounge design, there are some variations to the form which you may have mistaken for the same thing. Some of these include the Meridienne, the Duchesse and the Recamier.
As one of those anomalies of folk etymology, the term “chaise lounge” is actually an error of American invention. The proper term for the chair is “chaise longue,” but Americans have been mispronouncing the word since 1850 so it has become engrained into the culture. Today, both versions are accepted, though the former is by far the more popular. In its simplest description, a chaise lounge is a couch-like seat, (usually) upholstered, but in the shape of an extended chair and with four legs. The result resembles a sort of daybed, one with a headrest at one end and can have a backrest or be backless. In translation, the French word actually just means a “long chair” and so in the language the chaise lounge can refer to any number of indoor and outdoor reclining seats and deckchairs. In practice, the chaise lounge can seat two to three people sitting upright, or one person can lie comfortably with her feet suspended above the ground. As per design, these chairs can be simply adorned or famously done up with tufted cushions, ornate carvings and svelte fabrics. Antique version tend to be fancier affairs than contemporary chaise lounges, especially as today’s models include sun loungers and other stripped down outdoor furniture.
The Recamier is sometimes mistaken for a chaise lounge because of its similar appearance, but they do in fact look different. This seat was named for its appearance in the 1800 painting of Mme. Recamier by Jacques-Louis David and came thereafter to be associated with the French socialite. The chair stays true to neo-classical sensibilities, while sporting a rounded backrest which extends into two sloping armrests, thus taking on a wide U shape. They closely resemble a traditional French lit bateau, or boat bed, though designed for common areas rather than the bedroom. Predominantly backless, there are some Recamiers with backs along the long edge of the seat. The term itself Recamier can be applied to other loose types of furniture design.
Next is the lovely Meridienne. This is one of the more interesting types of chaise lounge because of its eye-catching asymmetry. The top of the chair begins with a higher than normal headrest, followed by a gradually sloping backrest down the side, and the result is something which looks like a daybed. Next to it can be found a matching footstool. The Meridienne enjoyed popularity in Western Europe during the same time as the Recamier and was meant to be used as a bed for midday naps, when the sun is closest to the meridian.
One of the oldest variety of chaise lounge, the Duchesse dates back to around 1785-95. This version has a pronounced chair-like backrest curving out into two armrests. Unlike the Meridienne, the Duchesse looks more like an armchair (albeit a distorted one) than a daybed. Why it’s called the Duchesse is somewhat a mystery, as there is no history to support whether it refers to a specific duchess. A specific and well-known take on the basic form is the Duchesse Brisee. Meaning “broken,” brisee refers to how the chair is divided into the aforementioned chair design with the addition of a long footstool. At the same time, a brisee can also be two smaller chaise lounge chairs separated in the middle by a shared footrest.