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Daybeds: What are they good for?

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Some say “nothing.” Curbed investigates

A daybed designed by Vienna studio chmara.rosinke for a 2014 competition sponsored by Hermès.

We’ve been celebrating the wonderful world of furniture all week long. If you’re just tuning in, you’re in luck: There’s much to pore over (12 straight hours in the country’s biggest Ikea! Conversation pits are back!).

Today, though, we turn to the dark side of furniture. Specifically, the discord and confusion when it comes to daybeds, which recently found themselves the subject of a New York Times shopping roundup.

So, what are daybeds, really? Are they of any use at all? Is a chaise longue a daybed? What of fainting couches? And when, if ever, is a bench a daybed?

The daybed—in its most common contemporary incarnation—is a bed-like, sofa-shaped piece of furniture with an upholstered, mattress-like seat, a high back, and two low sides (where arms would be on a couch). If it sounds like a useless hybrid, this editor would argue that in eight out of nine times, it is.

A Google search for “daybed” returned these...handsome hunks of metal and wood, each of which is one-part bed, one-part sofa.

There are also modern daybeds that further blur the line between bench and bed by scrapping the high back and sides altogether in favor of a more streamlined look. Case in point: a daybed (confusingly called the Barcelona Couch) by one Mies van der Rohe. It comes with a cylindrical lumbar pillow; the black-leather version will run you $10,065 at Design Within Reach.

Chaise longues have been in use since at least the 18th century. Here, a “Méridienne” fainting couch in “Young Woman Reclining in Spanish Costume (1862-1863),” by Édouard Manet.
Wikimedia Commons

What makes this—and other options, like this “sleeper daybed” from CB2 or this George Nelson-designed option from DWR—a “daybed” and not a bench? Perhaps its width and cushiness? After all, a bench could be a mere plank of wood supported on timber pegs. You likely wouldn’t take a siesta on one. And a chaise longue—that staple (and stereotype) of psychiatrists offices—has more structured, sculptural sides.

The daybed’s appeal seems to be in its very hybridity—and in its status: It offers a place to nap or curl up with book and the implication that its owner has the freedom to do so, even if the realities of modern life make indulging in those sorts of relaxing pursuits nearly impossible for most of us most of the time.

And when it comes to what it’s called, the likely (though less satisfying) option for why a “daybed” can look so different from the one next to it is simply that English is a malleable, ever-changing language. These upholstered not-quite-lounge, not-quite-sofa pieces needed a name, so we repurposed a word that once had a more specific meaning. Tell us, Curbed readers, where do you stand?


Daybeds: yea or nay?

This poll is closed

  • 62%
    Yea: Versatile and fun!
    (120 votes)
  • 37%
    Nay: Useless and a waste!
    (71 votes)
191 votes total Vote Now