Who could forget Aunt Pittypat fainting when recently widowed Scarlett O'Hara accepts a dance with Rhett Butler, or when Scarlett faints in Rhett's arms after she attacks him, and he chuckles, seeing right through her ploy to get him back? The tight Victorian corsets of high fashion during the 1800s were the catalyst for the development of the fainting couches we see in mostly traditional decor.
Fainting couches were mainly a feminine piece of furniture: upholstered with a high back on one side and an arm to serve as support when getting up. Most dressing parlors and bedrooms were outfitted with a fainting couch. In some instances, a small room with one or more fainting couches near the public parlors of a house was deemed the fainting room. Here, women could sit and catch their breath from the constricting effects of their corsets and the layers upon layers of their heavy dresses.
Another more provocative reason for the appearance of fainting couches has to do with female hysteria. The turn-of-the-century medical community had the notion of a disorder that affected women and that benefited from pelvic massages to relieve themselves of "anxiety." The fainting couch and these fainting rooms were private sanctuaries where prolonged treatments could be administered.
Much has evolved since then, and designers from the 1920s and onward have tried their hands at designing similar types of seating under the name chaise longue. Renowned architects such as Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe have designed streamlined chairs with extended leg support for relaxing and sleeping. Our attitude toward these types of furnishings has relaxed quite a bit. As a decorative piece of furniture, the chaise longue has stepped out from behind closed doors as a sculptural bit of seating, even in the most luxurious living rooms.
And let us not overlook the famous, or infamous, psychiatrist's couch. The psychiatrist's couch is a take on the fainting couch and also the chaise longue. The idea behind the psychiatrist's couch is based on the Freudian psychoanalytical theory that a completely relaxed patient will open up and make free associations of thought and divulge their most intimate desires. Of course, because of pop culture and our love of the movies, the psychiatrist's couch came to induce the opposite: fear, anxiety and distrust. The iconic psychiatrist's couch today has almost completely disappeared from offices in favor of less intimidating chairs and loveseats that promote face-to-face conversation.
Today's designers and consumers have found a renewed love affair with the fainting couch and chaise longue. There is an indisputable sexiness to chaise longues when placed in a bedroom. Some antiques and other new upholstered chaise "lounges" are placed in bedrooms and family rooms as a place to sit and read a book or relax with a cocktail or drink at the end of a long workday. My best advice is to invest in a fainting couch, chaise longue or the more contemporary chaise lounge for your stress relief. Whatever your style, relaxation is the ultimate luxury and will be popular forever.
Joseph Pubillones is the owner of Joseph Pubillones Interiors, an award-winning interior design firm based in Palm Beach, Fla. To find out more about Joseph Pubillones, or to read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.