Always evoking a casual air, the slipcover has a history
A sofa covered in a white slipcover always wears a casual air. With looks that vary both in style and fit, the results can be laid-back or elegantly relaxed. For its origins we need to look to Europe.
The practice of covering upholstered furniture developed in Europe. In the 17th and 18th centuries fabrics were draped over upholstered seating to protect costly silk damask or velvet fabrics. Though not yet called ‘slipcovers’, the practice evolved from that of throwing plain fabric over furniture to the tailoring of covers to fit each individual piece. The Victorian 19th century saw the popularity of sofas slipcovered in colorful cotton prints both in Europe and in America. In recent times slipcovers have been used as a summer seasonal change; white in particularly for its summery fresh look.
In recent years
Tied back slipcovers
Some early slipcovers required ties to hold them in place. Today we see styles that use ties decoratively. A sofa with a tied slipcover adds an element of casual charm to the sleekly styled living room of a Manhattan penthouse by designer Bunny Williams.
(Photo by Roger Davies.)
In those early centuries, in the grand houses of England, muslin was draped over furniture to protect it from dust when the family headed to the warmer climes of southern Europe. Was Katherine Margaritis evoking that historical practice when she decorated the sitting room of her home located on the French Île de Ré? The image of the sparsely furnished room appeared in a 1990 issue of Elle Decor. Certainly she was after an ‘artsy’, casual look. Was she ahead of her time?
(Photograph by Giles de Chabaneix.)
Decorator Gabriele Sanders used a sofa and chair with a draped-over slipcover look in this wood-paneled room. European historical influences seem to be at play in the draped ‘style’ of the slipcover, a style that creates a casual yet clean-lined look.
(Photo by William Waldron.
The above three images are from Elle Decor)
Sofa slipcovers are frequently designed by interior designers to be closely fitted but the look still imparts its casualness. In this room designer Pamela Piece has used linen fabric, a fabric that speaks casual. But, is it a slipcover? Sometimes it’s hard to tell if a sofa is upholstered in a skirted style, as opposed to wearing a slipcover.
(Photo by Peter Vitale. From Pamela Piece.)
In the US, the slipcovered sofa got attention when British-born Rachel Ashwell opened her first store in Santa Monica, California, where she introduced her now famed Shabby Chic look. While she didn’t invent the ‘shabby chic‘ look, her sofa look has been credited with reawakening interest in slipcovered sofas in American decor. The sofa of Ms. Ashwell invention exaggerated the size and bagginess of this piece of furniture – in white and washable denim:
(Image source: The New York Times.)
The retailer’s version
Whatever the source, renewed interest in white sofa slipcovers lead retailers to offer slipcovered versions of sofas, in unexaggerated, ‘normal-sized’ versions. On the sites of Crate & Barrel, Ethan Allen, IKEA, Mitchel Gold + Bob Williams, Pottery Barn, Room & Board, and Williams-Sonoma, (among others, I’m sure), you’ll find sofa styles shown in white slipcovered versions.
In this room, which marries colonial style with contemporary, the sofa is from Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams.
(Designer: Patrick Printy. Photo: Laura Resen.)
The homeowners of this Hudson River Valley house, with countryish charm, selected Potomac Apartment sofas from Crate & Barrel for their living room.
(Photo: William Waldron.
This image and the one above are from Elle Decor.)
A sofa, dressed in a white slipcover, can add its charm to any style.
Perhaps resulting from shabby influence, white slipcovered sofas are often associated with county style decor, a decorating style inherently casual.
In this living room with a country air, a white slipcovered sofa from Crate & Barrel mixes comfortably with antiques. The side chairs are 19th-century French; the rug is Persian; the cocktail table is from the 1940s.
(Photo by Bjorn Wallander.)
A comfy sofa from Pottery Barn, in white slipcovers, add its touch of casual to this living room in country style. The chairs are custom; the pillow is from Archival Decor.
(Photo by Bjorn Wallander.)
In this airy country living room, the sofa – in white slipcover – is a key style component and a perfect fit. The pale chartreuse pillows are a favorite color of mine, and I love the sea grass flooring.
(Photo by Don Freeman.)
Of course, we must have a shabby chic living room in this group. Vintage finds, soft floral fabrics, and cushy white slipcovered sofa: perfectly shabby.
(The above four images are from Country Living.)
The next room, from the south of France, is distinctly rustic. Sofa and chairs in slipcovers of white linen are a counterpoint to the rusticity and add a light touch. The sofa is from the Belgian company Flamant.
(From Côté Maison, Côté Sud.)
Beach and Beach Cottage
We’d be sure to find our focus sofa in a coastal, seaside setting. Topped with pillows that reflect ocean blues, an extra long sofa in off-white is right at home in this ocean front setting.
(Photo by Lisa Romerein.)
Off-white slipcovers on a comfy cozy sofa and chairs combine with the textures of wicker and sea grass in this beach-side living room.
(Photo by Jean Allsoop.
The above two images are from Coastal Living)
In a room designed by Pamela Pierce, country elements mix with antique French Louis-style chairs and a linen slipcovered sofa.
(From Antique Shops & Designers. Photo: Jack Thompson.)
Designer Julio Quiñones paired two sofas, both robed in white slipcovers, in this informal and light-filled space with its mix of eclectic elements.
(From Julio Quiñones.)
A slipcovered sofa adds a casual counterpoint in traditionally styled rooms.
This traditionally appointed living room is by designer John Saladino. The room has a rich mix of textures, including the slipcover fabric.
(Photo by Antoine Bootz.)
Custom-made sofas with slipcovers in off-white linen lend charm and casualness in this room with its mix of antiques. The designer of the living room: Michael S. Smith.
(Photo by Simon Upton.
The above two images are from Elle Decor.)
White on White
A white sofa is fresh and crisp. When the walls are white, white upholstery doesn’t announce its presence, but merges into the room scene for an seamless effect. The relaxed and informal sofa, along with textured elements, soften the look of this all white space that has a bit of a country look.
(Image from Country Living. Photo by William Waldron.)
Modern & Contemporary
This white room, in a modern style, benefits from the contrast supplied by the relaxed sofa and chairs. In the Florida apartment, the homeowner has softened the look as well with light-toned wood furnishings.
(The image is from Elle Decor. The photo is by William Waldron.)
Designer Michael Schaible finds the combination of black and white to be peaceful. White slipcovered sofas and ottomans soften the severe look.
(Image sourced from Architectural Digest; the room photographed by Scott Frances.)
In Australia, the homeowners of this Melbourne home created a lime-washed wall effect and introduced exotic elements into their contemporary living room. The sofa is slipcovered in unique fashion.
(Image sourced from Home Life.)
An extra long sofa is draped in white linen in the Paris home of Italian designer Paola Navone. The canapé (sofa) is from Casa Milano.
(From Côté Maison, Côté Sud.)
Sources for Slipcovered Sofas
As mentioned above, many furnishings retailers offer sofa styles that have slipcovered options. Those I’ve found (with links to the sites):
Crate&Barrel. Ethan Allen. IKEA. Mitchel Gold + Bob Williams. Pottery Barn. Room&Board. Williams-Sonoma. Wisteria.
Here’s a sofa from Wisteria, which has a softly curved sofa back:
Additionally, there are these sources:
From the Italian company Flexform.
The customizable Nick sofa from Giannetti Home is Belgian inspired and upholstered in off white Belgian linen. At 1stdibs, Giannattii Home website.
Also at 1stdibs, the Swedish inspired, customizable Roma armchair in Belgian linen from Disegno Karina Gentinetta, llc. Showrooms in New York, NY, and New Orleans, LA.
White and casual
Sofas dressed with an air of informality add their charm to any room style. And, as always, white is wonderful.
Links to publications sourced for images in this post:
Architectural Digest. Coastal Living. Côté Maison, Côté Sud. Country Living. Elle Decor. Home Life (Australia). Article at The New York Times.