Petite, Pretty and Playful Vintage Settees
Often-overlooked yet incredibly versatile, settees are one of designers’ go-to pieces for making a space feel expertly designed.
Compact proportions make these furniture pieces an asset in a variety of scenarios, from space-squeezed entryways to less-than-spacious studio apartments.
Vintage settees’ petite size also makes them an excellent option to experiment with patterns. While an entire sofa that’s decked out in houndstooth check might be a bit too stylistically hedonistic, a settee in the same pattern can feel perfectly apropos.
If you’re interested in snagging an antique settee for your space but you still have questions about how to use one most effectively (or questions about the styles available), we’re here to help!
Read on to get decorating tips for new and vintage settees and learn all about some of the most quintessential styles.
What is a Settee?
The most common question we hear about settees: What’s a settee versus a sofa? Typically, settees are a bit shorter than a standard sofa and often possess a taller, straighter back.
These characteristics result in a more formal presentation than a sofa. Many designers, in fact, liken them more to a bench with a back.
Settees’ origins story is similar to love seats: They were originally designed to accommodate women who wore voluminous skirts in the 17th century. The extra width of a settee’s seat provided support to heavy petticoats.
Once skirts had slimmed down in later centuries, they allowed enough room for two people to sit and socialize at close range.
The settee derives its name from the “settle,” a pew-like wooden bench with a high back and arms that was usually long enough to accommodate three or four occupants at a time.
In 17th century France, most settees featured exposed wooden frames, square backs and seats and tapered legs. Today, numerous styles exist. Empire and Chippendale styles were both adopters of the settee, as were later trends like Italian Modernism.
Settees are still widely produced in both revival and contemporary styles.
Where Should You Use a Settee?
Because settees are both shorter and more formal-looking than the average sofa, they are not generally used as a substitute for sofas. Rather, they maintain a unique set of uses that are entirely their own.
Read on to discover four of our favorite ways to use a small settee.
Use a Settee in an Entryway
Whether you have a Lilliputian-sized entry or a cathedral-sized one, everyone is looking to add more function to the home’s reception era. While consoles will always be a go-to, a settee can be a genius alternative.
Opt for a more structured bench settee if you’re forgoing a console altogether (it’ll perform more like a table in a pinch).
Or you may spring for a more relaxed backless model if you been graced with a double-wide hallway and you’ll be using a console on one side and a vintage settee on the other.
Add a Vintage Settee to a Bedroom
Believe it or not, sometimes large bedrooms pose problems. In extra-large bedrooms, oftentimes too much space exists between the end of the bed and the dresser or media cabinet placed opposite it.
While a foot-of-the-bed bench can work to fill that empty space nicely, a settee can add more dimension. To help this look go off without a hitch, try to ensure that your settee is no wider than the foot of your bed.
That said, it’s generally OK if the back of your settee extends a bit over that of your bed’s footboard.
Include a Settee in a Dining Room
If space limitations dictate that some of your dining chairs are flush against a wall, consider swapping those chairs out for a settee.
Unlike chairs, guests can slip onto a settee without having to pull it out, especially if you opt for ones with low arms.
Even in situations where space isn’t an issue, integrating a vintage settee into your dining table arrangement can recall the look of a custom banquet — without the custom price tag.
Antique Settees are Ideal in Studio Apartments
As mentioned above, settees aren’t usually suitable subs for sofas. One exception? Studio apartments.
When it comes to microscopic floor plans, a settee can wear a variety of hats without eating up the space of a typical sofa.
If you don’t have room for a coffee table before you hit the opposite wall, try utilizing a pair of poufs.
Lastly, have a wall for a sofa but it’s simply too short to accommodate a sectional? In these cases, a settee fills in like a champ. A couple more of our favorite haute settee hacks:
Use one as a living room sofa with a dining table pushed in front of it (Louis settees paired with a Tulip table are a classic decorator combo).
Snuggle one up to the foot of a bed to create an instant “living room” opposite your sleeping quarters.
Settee Styles to Know
Just like sofas, settees come in virtually every style.
That said, there are some styles that are especially iconic when it comes to settees. Case in point: French Louis XVI settees. These boxy settees are designed with tall, rigid, rectangular backs, matching seats and tapered legs. They have exposed wood frames that are often crafted of a bleached or white-washed wood.
Gustavian or Swedish settees offer a similar look.
For something more traditionalist, try a Chippendale or a camelback settee. These tend to be similar in form to French settees; however, the seat portion is fully upholstered with no exposed wood frame. The backs of these sofas will often feature the signature camel “hump.”
For those who prefer something less bench-like, how about an Italian Modernist vintage settee? Often, Italian settees are sleekly designed with aeronautic-inspired curves and antennae-like legs. They’re also likely to be fully upholstered.
Wicker settees are popular choices, especially for use in entryways and dining rooms. Add one into these spaces to dramatically alter the tenor of any room.
Find Settees for Sale at Chairish
With our hundreds of pieces in dozens of styles, you’re guaranteed to find a unique settee to accommodate any space in your home. Each settee you see on our website is vetted by our style experts.
We curate settees all across the United States and Europe — it’s like having hundreds of antique stores at your fingertips!