Cheers – the bar stools and the chairs
We’ll start things off with perhaps a less obvious choice. The American sitcom Cheers suffered poor ratings when it first started out in 1982 – which almost resulted in it being cancelled during the first season – but it soon quite rightly became highly popular and it survived, running for 11 seasons until 1993. It starred a number of well-known American actors including Ted Danson, Shelley Long and Rhea Perlman, and it also launched the career of then-unknown Woody Harrelson, who went on to become quite a star – starring most recently in the 2014 HBO series True Detective alongside Matthew McConaughey.
The sitcom follows a group of adults in Boston, Massachusetts from all walks of life who have barely anything in common except one thing: Cheers bar. Some of the characters are regular after-work drinkers in there (barflies may be the more accurate label, in fact) whilst others are bar and employees and management. The bar is what brings them all together, and the uniform wooden furniture reflects and reinforces that idea.
The stools and chairs in the Cheers bar are perhaps not as instantly recognisable as some of the other furniture items which will be listed later on in this article, but they are well worth a mention and an inclusion in this list, for several reasons. Firstly, they were a constant throughout all 11 seasons in the Cheers barroom, in which the vast majority of the show was set. Secondly, these stools, chairs and even the tables are a classic wooden design which you still see today in some places, probably because it will never go out of style. Thirdly, they are extremely typical of American barrooms – the wooden bucket chairs especially have a typically American look to them.
One of the characters, Norm Peterson, who appears in every single episode and is the most prominent and prolific ‘regular’ frequenter of the Cheers bar (the only one who is in every episode and the first bar regular), has his own stool that he always sits on, and which various characters in the show make reference to now and then.
Frasier – Martin Crane’s recliner
This is next on the list as Frasier is in fact a spin-off from Cheers, which you may or may not be aware. The title character, Frasier Crane, became a regular Cheers character (and thereby a regular of the fictional Cheers bar) as of the beginning of the third series, playing a psychiatrist and love interest of Diane (Shelley Long). When Cheers ended, Frasier’s character was directly transferred to Frasier, which was set in the character’s birthplace – Seattle. In the show, Frasier lives in a swanky downtown Seattle apartment with his retired cop father, Marty (and his yappy Jack Russell, Eddie).
Marty’s recliner chair is a piece of TV genius. It completely goes against every other piece of furniture in Frasier’s sophisticated pad (and is thereby very much reflective of the character himself). It is a hideous green colour with a grey and red striping pattern – something from the dark depths of the seventies by the looks of it. But it is so hideous that it looks kind of cool, in a way – not to mention the front of the arms are duct-taped, presumably due to serious wear and tear it has endured over the years.
This piece of furniture actually plays a pivotal part in the on-screen development of Frasier and his father’s relationship. Frasier makes no effort to hide the fact that he finds the chair utterly repulsive. In one episode he even buys his dad a new one without telling him, and has the old one taken away (again, without telling him), to which Marty reacts badly and explains its sentimental value, causing Frasier to go out and retrieve the well-worn chair. Comically, in a later season, Frasier accidentally wrecks the recliner and – knowing how much his father values it sentimentally – arranges for an exact replica to be made.
The coffee shop Frasier, his brother Niles and his colleague Roz often frequent is also worth a mention here. Decorated in a green and dark brown colour scheme which is quite similar to the decor of the early Starbucks stores, the Frasier coffee shop perfectly captures that nineties coffee shop image. (Starbucks, funnily enough, was founded in Seattle, where Frasier is set).
The Simpsons – the family couch
This entry is without question the most well-known cartoon couch – or piece of furniture full-stop, for that matter – in television history. The Simpson family assemble on the couch at the start of every episode, during the title credits, and it is of course the main character, father of the family and couch potato Homer’s favourite relaxation spot.
During each aforementioned title sequence, there is a joke involving the couch in some way or other. For example, during one title sequence, just before the family piles in, we see an alien sitting on the couch, clutching a drink – he leaves before the family arrives and the family sit down none the wiser. Another episodes sees the family pile in only to discover that the Flintstone family are already sat on it. Throughout the entire history of The Simpsons, the family couch has never changed or been replaced – very little has, in fact. Every character in the show adorns the exact same clothing in every single episode, bar a few exceptions here and there (such as the episode in which Homer gains a considerable amount of weight and starts wearing a dress because his regular clothes no longer fit him).
As far as couches go, it is a rather mundane one, with a very simple design and a neither appealing (nor particularly unappealing, in fairness) orangey-brown colour, but perhaps that is the entire point of it – one of the show’s main themes is the mundanity of Middle America and the lampooning of the nuclear family. This is only reinforced by the fact that the show takes place in the fictional (and intentionally very American-sounding) town of Springfield.
Friends – Central Perk sofa
A frontrunner for the title of the most popular TV sitcom of all time, Friends ran for ten seasons, starting in 1994 and ending in 2004. The first broadcast of the 2004 finale was watched by a reported 52.5 million people in the US alone, making it the most-watched individual television show episode of that decade.
Whereas the couch in The Simpsons is the most recognised couch in animated television history, the Central Perk coffee shop couch from Friends is very arguably the most famous from a regular TV sitcom. Central Perk acts as one of the main meeting places for all six of the show’s main protagonists, as they do not all live in the same apartment. The sofa is is in fact a similar colour to the Simpson family’s – but is extremely representative of that whole nineties decor sort of vibe, with its enormous size, plump cushions and disproportionate dimensions – the high arms are perched upon by the protagonists throughout all ten seasons.
The sofa endures quite a lot of wear and tear over the ten seasons – withstanding all the horsing around and squabbling which occurs on it. It is also very representative of metropolitan culture, the cosmopolitan lifestyle and specifically the rise of the ‘coffee shop’ concept, which took off worldwide in the early-to-mid nineties as coffee shops began to spring up left, right and centre in cities all over the world.
Again, like the Simpsons’ couch, the Central Perk sofa features in the opening credits of the show (where it is interestingly positioned in front of a fountain, slap-bang in the middle of a public park.
Friends – the LA-Z-BOY recliner chairs
The Central Perk sofa is not the only item of furniture of note in Friends, however. In the 15th episode of the second season, entitled ‘The One Where Ross and Rachel… You Know’, Chandler and Joey (who at that time share the apartment across from Monica’s) purchase a pair of LA-Z-BOY recliner chairs, which are of course synonymous with ‘couchpotato-ism’, with their comically puffy cushions, enormous size and its back-lowering and foot-raising mechanisms.
The Sopranos – the chairs in Dr Jennifer Melfi’s psychiatry office
When The Sopranos first began, it initially planned to be more focused on the psychiatry aspect of the storyline. For those of you who haven’t seen it, the show’s protagonist, Tony Soprano (played by the late, great James Gandolfini) is a New Jersey mob boss who seeks psychiatry after collapsing whilst cooking meat on his barbecue, which we later find out was panic attacks. The very first scene of the entire series takes place in the waiting room of psychiatrist Dr Melfi’s office.
Perhaps if isolated in another room which isn’t Dr Melfi’s office, these chairs would not be instantly distinguishable, but they are most definitely a worthy entry into this list of iconic TV furniture. Why? Well, like everything in The Sopranos, they were carefully selected and demonstrate the show’s astonishingly clever and scrupulous attention to detail. Dr Melfi’s chair is a light green colour and has a comfy-looking seat and back, whilst the arms and legs are wooden and rather angular – very similar to herself, in that she is an attractive woman yet one who is rather rigid in her mannerisms. Tony’s chair, on the other hand, is a comfy ‘tub’ chair of a more olive colour, which would probably be very comfortable for anyone but him. The chair makes Tony look absolutely hulking, imposing and intimidating (which is exactly how Dr Melfi feels about him a lot of the time) – almost like a clown riding one of those tiny motorbikes.
As the show started in 1999, these two chairs are very typical of turn-of-the-millenium furniture – very nineties-esque but a little more modern-looking.
Porridge – the bunk bed
The iconic seventies BBC sitcom Porridge only ran from 1974 to 1977 (the pilot was aired in 1973 though), and there were only 18 regular episodes (21 including the earlier-broadcasted pilot and the two longer Christmas specials in 1975 and 1976). The two main characters are a pair of cellmates at a fictional prison in Cumberland (HMP Slade), one young, tall and thin, the other old, short and fat (no offence, Ronnie). The former is Lennie Godber, a naive lad from Birmingham serving his first sentence (played by Richard Beckinsale – father of Kate), and the latter is Norman Stanley Fletcher, a loveable ‘habitual criminal’ (as stated in the opening credits) who has been in and out of prison his whole adult life.
Anyway, about the furniture: the bunk bed the pair share could not look less comfortable if it tried, and acts as an area of congregation throughout the entirety of the series – very much like the coffee shop couch does in Friends, as a matter of fact. A large part of the show takes part in Godber and Fletcher’s cell, and so the bunk bed became the natural congregation point in the absence of a couch. Often, whilst Fletcher is lay languidly on his top bunk, the comically uptight authoritarian prison guard Mr Mackay storms in and accuses him of one act of mischief or another – this is a recurring and highly amusing situation, made funnier by how comfortable Fletcher seems to be on his prison issue bunk bed.
There is definitely a psychology behind the furniture used in television series, as after all they are a form of prop. They are especially important in sitcoms as the congregation points on the set act as the main setting for many of them.Can you think of any items of furniture from classic TV shows which we may have missed? We like to think we have made a careful and thorough selection here, but if you can think of any then please point them out in the comments section below!