OBJECT LESSON

OBJECT LESSON: DAYBED

The daybed is an unlikely totem of Modernism. When we talk about its design today, in the third decade of the 21st century, we instantly conjure up an image of Mies van der Rohe’s 1930 creation for Philip Johnson’s apartment in New York. Elaborating on what he had produced for the Barcelona Pavilion a year before, with a similar style of leather and frame, van der Rohe fashioned something that punctuated Johnson’s minimal interior with a sleek upholstered single horizontal line – a hand-tufted cowhide cushion on a mahogany base and steel legs, with a pleasing visual asymmetry achieved by the addition of a single cylindrical bolster cushion, placed at one end. It was comfortable and useful, and continues to be both – it works well placed anywhere without the investment of space that a traditional couch may demand. Van der Rohe’s daybed moved, 19 years later, to Johnson’s Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut where it would be photographed repeatedly. As a result, it found its place within the canon of the most classic contemporary designs of the 20th century. Its graphic delicacy was perfect for the floor to ceiling windows of Johnson’s radically modern lounge – it was visually light. And that cylindrical cushion would go on to be one of the most copied design flourishes in history.

As the little black dress is to fashion designers, so the daybed is to the world of interiors. Each designer who tackles it offers a new twist, from Poul Kjærholm’s elegant PK80 Daybed in 1957, to Virgil Abloh’s 2019 IKEA pastiche of Charlotte Perriand’s 1950s design. But the origins of the daybed are, of course, rooted in ancient civilizations, which is one of the reasons why it’s such a favorite touchstone for contemporary designers. As a concept, it is an anachronism. The form dates back to the late 7th century, when the kline was omnipresent in halls and homes: a simple rectangular bench on four legs, adorned with cushions. The kline appears time and time again in ancient Greek frescoes and paintings. It was an immensely democratic piece of furniture – easy to construct, simple and useful. During the Ming Dynasty, from the late 14th century onwards, daybeds were immensely popular, with the development of the waisted, sculptural legs that remain synonymous with Chinese antiquities. Artwork from the era depicts daybeds used in outdoor pavilions and gardens, as well as within homes.

For the last few hundred years, the daybed has been shunted out in favor of the dedicated dining chair and the upholstered sofa. To have a daybed in the 21st century is quite a statement – it is a luxury addition to a space, usually secondary to other, more comfortable furniture. It isn’t an essential, but it is a pleasure to use – it is a platform for reading a book in the late afternoon, or idle contemplation. It has been captured repeatedly on canvas over the centuries as a motif for relaxation and enjoyment – the Récamier is a distinctively shaped version of the daybed, and takes its name from the 1800 painting of Madame Récamier by Jacques-Louis David, showing its subject in a state of repose on her couch. Perhaps the most classic role for the daybed in art history is as a prop in Ancient Rome – a comfortable spot on which to settle and eat grapes with a theatrical flourish. The daybed isn’t a place to work, it’s more suited to an afternoon nap.

The BassamFellows Daybed was introduced 15 years ago, conceived of as something that would follow in the tradition of van der Rohe, Kjærholm and Perriand, but developed in a way that was even lighter than its predecessors – visually and literally. Rather than metal legs, an all-wood construction was chosen. It would pare back the lines and volumes as far as possible, with every edge slightly rolled, to soften the silhouette almost imperceptibly. The slats of wood that hold the cushions in place were both functional and attractive, while the cushioning itself was made of separate panels of leather, sewn and connected together with an inverted seam. The foam was edge-banded to create a crisp line. All of these details created a sense of comfort and luxury, without superfluous additions, but with the flexibility to change the materials used according to the tone required: Rosewood, solid teak, walnut and white ash have all been used for frames, and a wide variety of textiles have been used for upholstery, including shearling.

Instead of being simply flat, one of the key elements of the BassamFellows Daybed is the manner in which it can be adjusted according to how it is being used – a brass mechanism allows for one panel to be tilted to become a back rest, thus eliminating the need for a cushion, cylindrical or otherwise. The result works more like a sun lounger, and outdoor versions have been realised using Burmese boat-building teak for the frame, and suitably weather-proof upholstery. Other versions have been made to order for apartment buildings, including a super-lux 1.5x wide version, while the interior version has been incorporated into numerous retail environments – including the furnishing of Chanel stores. The design has also been developed as a bench for numerous lobby projects, including the Barangoo development in Sydney.

The beauty of the Modernist daybed is in its lightness of form. It is an object that takes up a minimal amount of physical space, but its sense of presence is amplified by choice of materials. It is significant that the BassamFellows Daybed is a part of the furniture at two of Philip Johnson’s existing buildings in Connecticut – the private house and HQ belonging to the founders of the company. It is at home here. The daybed is an ancient as well as modern classic, and offers every designer who works with it the opportunity to make their own mark, while showing respect for the designs that came before it.


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The kline appears time and time again in ancient frescoes and paintings. It was an immensely democratic piece of furniture. Here the wall painting Tomb of the Diver c. 475 BC in Paestum, Italy.

Roman klinai, or dining couches, were arranged in kind of a u-shape in the formal dining room called a triclinium.

Fabric was draped over the woven platform of the kline, and cushions were placed against the arm or headrest, making the Greek couch an item well suited for a symposium gathering.

The Récamier is a distinctively shaped version of the daybed, and takes its name from the 1800 painting of Madame Récamier by Jacques-Louis David.

Mies van der Rohe fashioned a daybed that punctuated Philip Johnson’s minimal interior with a sleek upholstered single horizontal line – a hand-tufted cowhide cushion on a mahogany base and steel legs.

Van der Rohe’s daybed with its graphic delicacy is perfect for the floor to ceiling windows of Johnson’s radically modern Glass House.

RICHARD BARNES

The daybed is an ancient as well as modern classic, and offers every designer who works with it the opportunity to make their own mark, while showing respect for the designs that came before it. Here Poul Kjærholm’s elegant PK80 Daybed designed in 1957.

JASON SCHMIDT

The BassamFellows Daybed pares back the lines and volumes as far as possible, with every edge slightly rolled, to soften the silhouette almost imperceptibly.

NIKOLAS KOENIG

CB-41 Daybeds, are not only housed in many residencies and retail stores, but also in hotels and spas. Here by the pool at the Francesc Macià 10 apartment buidling in Barcelona, Spain.

The BassamFellows Daybed is a part of the furniture at two of Philip Johnson’s existing buildings in Connecticut – the private house and HQ, belonging to the founders of the company. Here at the HQ with Wood Frame Lounge Chairs and a Circular Coffee Table.

MICHAEL BIONDO

The slats of wood that hold the cushions in place are both functional and attractive, while the cushioning itself is made of separate panels of leather, sewn and connected together with an inverted seam.

DAN MARTENSEN

One of the key elements of the BassamFellows Daybed is the manner in which it can be adjusted according to how it is being used – a brass mechanism allows for one panel to be tilted to become a back rest, thus eliminating the need for a cushion, cylindrical or otherwise.

MARCO FAVALI

The Daybed is a platform for reading a book in the late afternoon, or idle contemplation. A solitary indulgence.

MARCO FAVALI

The design has also been developed as a bench for numerous lobby projects, including the Barangoo development in Sydney.

LEAD IMAGE
The details of the Daybed create a sense of comfort and luxury, without superfluous additions, but with the flexibility to change the materials used according to the tone required: Rosewood, solid teak, walnut and white ash have all been used for frames, and a wide variety of textiles have been used for upholstery, including shearling.

Photography Deborah Jaffe