Looking for a seating option that’s a little more animated and eye-catching than your standard sofa and loveseat? Then look no further than the classic tete-a-tete. These one of a kind settees, chairs, and sofas are the ultimate furniture pieces for weekend cocktail parties, family gatherings, and posh boudoirs.  

What is a Tete-a-tete?

A tete-a-tete is a unique piece of opulent French furniture which emerged in the 19th century. “tête-à-tête” translates to “head-to-head” in French and describes the early functionality of these seats during the Victorian era.  
The traditional tete-a-tete seat features chairs with S-shaped, curved backs facing opposite directions and sharing a center armrest. Also known as a courting bench, a kissing bench, a conversation bench, or a gossip’s chair, early tete-a-tete pieces were designed to enhance many kinds of discrete, yet intimate conversations such as courtship (hence, the name “courting bench”). The early tales surrounding these chairs include stories of young lovebirds, who were under close supervision of their parents, would sit in these chairs and flirt with one another discretely. This style of bench was particularly popular during the Victorian period; thus, traditional and antique styles of tete-a-tete benches frequently reflect the ornate and opulent style of that era.  

Charcoal drawing "Sitting tête-à-tête" by Claude Simpol from the MET archive
Sitting tête-à-tête by Claude Simpol / MET Archive  

Classic and Modern Styles

The tete-a-tete concept has evolved from its Victorian beginnings. While these pieces were initially created as chairs, many forms, including sofas and benches, of tete-a-tete seating came into existence as furniture designers discovered and embraced its uncommon form.   
The classic tete-a-tete style is the settee chair. Antique Victorian tete-a-tete chairs are some of the most desired antique furniture pieces from the era.  Although the majority of these pieces feature the standard s-shaped backrest, there is seemingly no end to the variety of tete-a-tete styles. From opulent upholstered Victorian Parlor timepieces to sleek, minimalist modern wood and metal chairs, these chairs will fit in both modern and traditional styles.  For those seeking a true statement piece, consider tete-a-tete chairs with three seats instead of two. These unique chairs feature three (or more) seats arranged in a linear or, more traditionally, a circular fashion.  

Ornate wood tete-a-tete sofa with blue and gold upholstery from the MET archive
Attributed to John H. Belter / MET Archive

The tete-a-tete sofa perfectly blends form and function. Similar to the classic head-to-head chair style, tete-a-tete sofas feature backrests which are curved to face one another. Think of it as a modern chaise lounge but with a backrest on each side instead of a single backrest. This allows both individuals to have a backrest but still engage face-to-face. Needless to say, the tete-a-tete sofa concept makes for a rather eye-catching conversation piece, literally. Ornate antique tete-a-tete sofas can be found in the halls of prestigious museums such as John H. Belter’s collection of rosewood courting sofas at the The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Additionally, the concept is making a major resurgence amongst modern and contemporary furniture designers. With its interesting geometric form and clean lines, the tete-a-tete sofa pairs perfectly with the midcentury modern aesthetic. It’s no wonder midcentury modern masters like Edward Wormley include tete-a-tete pieces to their stunning collections.   
While there is no formal definition of a tete-a-tete bench, the term generally refers to wooden benches or chairs fused together by a single armrest. Unlike the stereotypical tete-a-tete styles mentioned above, tete-a-tete benches routinely include chairs which are facing the same direction. This, more standard, configuration is primarily the reason why tete-a-tete benches can be found in outdoor furniture collections.  

Contemporary Designers and Styles

Though these pieces hail from a more ornate time period, it’s not hard to find tete-a-tete furniture in styles ranging from Art Deco to Midcentury modern. Modern designers such as John Derian, Jeffrey Marks, and Edward Wormley have created collections which include sleek, modern tete-a-tete furniture featuring luxurious upholstery, bright contemporary colors, and minimalist lines. Some contemporary designers have maintained allegiance to the historic concept of face-to-face seating while others are penning their own history, like Jonathan Adler, and changing the style by eliminating traditional tete-a-tete concepts like the center armrest. Additionally, contemporary ultra-modern tete-a-tete furniture designers have taken a completely abstract approach by creating tete-a-tete furniture with unique geometric shapes, patterns, and forms.

Dunbar tete-a-tete sofas by Edward Wormley in orange and dark blue
Dunbar tete-a-tete sofas by Edward Wormley

Furniture and Interior Design Inspiration  

Want to include one of these charming furniture pieces in your home? Including an antique or modern tete-a-tete chair into your interior aesthetic may be easier than you think. Whether you are seeking dramatic form or comfortable function, here are some interior design tips on how to include a tete-a-tete furniture piece into your estate.  

Use a Tete-a-Tete Sofa in a Large Sitting Room

A tete-a-tete has the unique ability to provide a flexible seating option in a large room. Use a large tete-a-tete sofa to seamlessly blend one seating area with another. Because the sofa offers multiple seating orientations, it’s the perfect piece to bridge a sitting room with a formal living room or a formal living room with an informal dining area.

Use a Tete-a-Tete Sofa in as a Statement Piece

Modern game rooms, master bedroom suites, and reading rooms are simply begging for a piece of tete-a-tete furniture. Center an antique three-seat tete-a-tete chair in a master closet to create a glamorous dressing room aesthetic. Place a large tete-a-tete sofa in a media or game room for a fun ambiance that is still meticulously designed.  

Create Unique Outdoor Seating

Many modern tete-a-tete furniture pieces are designed for outdoor use. Transform your outdoor seating area into a comfortable social lounge with a few tete-a-tete pieces guaranteed to stimulate the conversation.  

Whether you choose a modern daybed-esque tete-a-tete sofa or a classic Victorian gossip’s chair, don’t forget to pair your new statement piece with the right decor. Paired with the perfect luxurious rug, designer throw pillows, and a stylish side table, a stunning piece of tete-a-tete furniture will blend effortlessly into almost any aesthetic. The next time you’re in the market for a unique statement piece that are sure to start a conversation, spend a little face time shopping for a timeless tete-a-tete piece.


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March 27, 2017

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