The Age of Comfort (Hardcover)

When Paris Discovered Casual--and the Modern Home Began

By Joan DeJean

Bloomsbury USA, 9781596914056, 304pp.

Publication Date: September 15, 2009

Other Editions of This Title:
Paperback (9/6/2010)

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A critically acclaimed historian of France and French culture identifies the moment in modern history when informality and comfort first became priorities, causing a sudden transformation in the worlds of architecture and interior decoration that would last for centuries.

Today it is difficult to imagine a living room without a sofa. When the first sofas on record were delivered in seventeenth-century France, the result was a radical reinvention of interior space. Symptomatic of a new age of casualness and comfort, the sofa ushered in an era known as the golden age of conversation; as the first piece of furniture designed for two, it was also considered an invitation to seduction. At the same moment came many other changes in interior space we now take for granted: private bedrooms, bathrooms, and the original living rooms.

None of this could have happened without a colorful cast of visionaries—legendary architects, the first interior designers, and the women who shaped the tastes of two successive kings of France: Louis XIV’s mistress the Marquise de Maintenon and Louis XV’s mistress the Marquise de Pompadour. Their revolutionary ideas would have a direct influence on realms outside the home, from clothing to literature and gender relations, changing the way people lived and related to one another for the foreseeable future.

About the Author

Joan DeJean is the author of nine books on French literature, history, and culture of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. She is Trustee Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, where she has taught for eighteen years. She divides her time between Philadelphia and Paris.

Praise For The Age of Comfort: When Paris Discovered Casual--and the Modern Home Began

"[A] fascinating and surprising study." - Boston Globe "It may seem strange to think of the sofa as an agent of cultural change. Yet The Age of Comfort, a new book by Joan DeJean, a cultural historian, shows how it not only helped transform the way homes were designed but also struck a blow to longstanding norms of social order." - New York Times "In this fascinating and carefully researched volume (reminiscent of Fernand Braudel's The Structures of Everyday Life) DeJean considers the evolution of each room in the modern home. She looks at the effects of new objects on body language, family configurations and the larger community. This way of looking at history, moving outward from the particulars of everyday life, is particularly thrilling." - Los Angeles Times "In her fascinating, immensely readable new book, The Age of Comfort, historian Joan DeJean describes how the French court of the late 17th and early 18th century -- and the small army of architects and designers who attended to its needs -- transformed the way we think about personal space and furniture." - "In The Age of Comfort, Joan DeJean documents a time when the advent of the sofa, the invention of the flush toilet, the proliferation of cotton fabrics, the delineation of specific rooms for specific functions, the concept of a private life and the birth of the Enlightenment all converged, making life in Paris easier than elsewhere and making it the model the rest of Europe aspired to… Many histories that chronicle the life of an idea make it sound as if change, like the weather, happened as the result of mysterious forces, affecting everyone but brought on by no one. This one gives us the vivid personalities who broke with convention by following their own whims… You don't need to be a Francophile to read this book, but you will be one by the time you finish it." - T: The New York Times Style Magazine "Lively and engaging... DeJean chronicles the rise of comfort in late 17th-century France, weaving together the tastes, inventions, and cultural conditions that precipitated it… [She] also highlights the roles played by such influential figures as Louis XIV's mistress the Marquise de Montespan and the designer Juste Aurèle Messonnier, which enliven the historical narrative… Spanning a critical period in French history—from 1670 to 1765—The Age of Comfort is a uniquely focused social history that will find broad appeal among scholars and casual historians alike." - The Magazine Antiques

"An entertaining account of how home life was virtually reinvented in Paris from 1670 to 1765 as sofas, running water and flush toilets appeared in modern residences... Louis XIV’s and Louis XV’s royal mistresses displayed a bold vision for integrating architecture, interior decor and fashion, thus influencing modern comfort... DeJean’s latest  is well researched and brimming with anecdotes and architectural and design details." - Publishers Weekly