What Does the Word 'Davenport' Mean, Furniture-Wise?

It's Old-Fashioned and Has 2 Meanings

Couch in a living room
Glow Decor/Glow/Getty Images

The term "davenport" refers to two totally unrelated pieces of furniture: a type of sofa or a type of writing desk.

Davenport, the Sofa

The use of the word "davenport" for sofa began around 1900, when the Cambridge, Massachusetts, furniture manufacturer A.H. Davenport Co. created a boxy sofa, now iconic. The term can also mean a sleeper sofa. This type of sofa became all the rage, and the word "davenport" for a time a generic term for any sofa, like Kleenex for tissues.

It is rarely used today, and virtually never by anyone born after World War II. 

The Davenport company was one of the most prominent American furniture manufacturers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It made custom upscale furniture and joined with well-known architects like H.H. Richardson and Stanford White to produce grand interiors. Davenport Co. produced custom-made furniture pieces for the White House renovation of 1902; the New York Court of Appeals Room; the John J. Glessner House in Chicago; the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York; and the Henry Clay Frick House in New York City, among many others.

Davenport Co. merged with the Boston furniture maker and interior design house Irving & Casson in 1914 to form Irving & Casson -- A.H. Davenport Co. After a long decline, the once-legendary company closed in 1973.

Davenport, the Desk

The second known use for the term "davenport" is for a small British desk that is unique in form.

This desk, also called a ship's captain's desk, was originally made for a man only known as Captain Davenport, who commissioned it. It was extremely popular in the 19th century and especially in the Victorian era. The Davenport Desk has a slanting top that can be lifted up and drawers and cupboards that open on the side, not the front.

It looks a bit like an old-fashioned school desk of the early 20th century, only larger. Original examples of this desk can be found at auctions, in vintage furniture stores and online. It's still made as a reproduction and would add an interesting element to a study or living room.