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A brief history of the Knole sofa

Around the Houses, from Berlin to Babington, Shoreditch to Soho, you'll see the distinctive shape of the Knole sofa. With its hinged sides tied to wooden finials by fabric cords, this historic piece of furniture is said to have been the blueprint for every sofa made since it first appeared in the 17th century in a country house in Kent. Read on to find out more about why we love the Knole sofa so much and its intriguing past.

Our Knole sofas are made by George Smith in the North of England, using traditional methods passed down through the generations, alongside the best modern techniques.

Siobahn Farley, Soho House Design Director

It’s such a luxurious sofa. It’s so big, so deep and cosy – because of the high sides two people can face each other and have a private conversation, or watch a film. There are Knole sofas at Babington House in some of the larger bedrooms – most of them are covered in mohair. I’ve even seen someone lay on them at night, because it’s so big. You almost don’t want to sleep in the bed, you want to sleep on the sofa. The seats are all duck and feather filled cushions, and they have beautiful antique studding, too.

We used a quilted fabric to cover the Knole sofa at Soho House Berlin, but now we’re doing it in mohair. It’s such a special piece and the mohair adds another level of luxury. Our full new range of fabrics are coming out later this year, which will include more mohair upholstery and extra colours.

The original Knole sofa is thought to have been made around 1640. Regarded as the distant ancestor to the modern sofa, the Knole had a more regal purpose: as a double throne chair in which a king and queen could sit beside each other, perhaps while entertaining important guests. It is widely accepted that the Knole sofa was acquired by the Sackville family as a result of Charles Sackville's role as Lord Chamberlain and Masters of the Great Wardrobe in the royal court of King William and Queen Mary. His position meant he could remove any furniture thought to be outdated. As such, Knole became home to much of the Stuart furniture from Windsor Castle and Hampton Court Palace.

The Knole sofa was a revolutionary design piece, completely different to traditional benches of the time, given its built-in back, enclosed sides, and the depth of the cushion. Its history is full of countless stories, some more fanciful than others. Some explained the unique design as a way to accommodate women's fashions of the time - the adjustable sides could be changed depending on the width of the dress. Others claim the sofa had residence in the lady of the house's bedchamber, granting her privacy with her lover. With one side dropped for comfort, the other could remain upright for the sake of discretion.

The iconic sofa has an incredibly rich history. The original, being over three hundred years old, remains at Knole House and was likely used by the likes of Vita Sackville West and Virginia Woolf. More recent incarnations have continued this tradition; Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh were famously pictured on their Knole sofa in 1946. Since then, Knole sofas have become statement pieces within many of our Houses, where they continue the connection between Knole and the artistic community.