“Beauties in vain their pretty eyes may roll;
Charms strike the sight, but merit wins the soul.”
So wrote the great satirist Alexander Pope as he slyly observed ancient courting rituals in one of his essays.
So, with Valentine’s Day on the very near horizon—stores stocked full of cheap candy, blood-red roses, and cheesy teddy bears holding hearts—let’s delve a bit into the history of settees and loveseats, the original methods used to woo a lover.
All the way back in the 17th century, the loveseat—a small, two-seater sofa—made its entrance into the furniture world. While the word “loveseat” certainly evokes plenty of suggestion, the small sofas were not, in fact, originally created to seat a pair of lovebirds.
The design was actually intended for those Victorian women wishing to accommodate their wide, fashionable skirts with seemingly miles-long layers of fabric and wooden hoops. (These dresses actually proved to be something of a “chaperone” when it came to separating couples.)
But then something else happened. As it tends to do, fashions changed. Skirts became slimmer, more tailored. As a result, there was more space on a loveseat or a settee. Now a woman could sit and chat with a potential suitor in relatively close proximity.
Another amalgamation of the loveseat or settee is the courting couch, aptly named for the physical upholstered barrier created between two people sitting on the piece of furniture. The courting couch rose in popularity during the Victorian era, sometimes called a “tete-a-tete,” which allowed a pair of lovebirds to converse face to face while keeping them physically apart. The “tete-a-tete” goes by plenty of other names as well—the chaperone seat, the gossip chair, the vis-a-vis, the indiscret.
Often, the courting couches or settees featured S-shaped backs with a shared armrest between the lovebirds. The courting couches were mostly ornate. Rich, carved mahogany or rosewood legs with detailed scrollwork adorning them gave way to sumptuous brocade or silk upholstered seats, making them a striking piece of furniture in a parlor or other formal sitting area.
One example of a chaperone loveseat is on view in the American Wing of The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The piece—a rosewood courting sofa created by cabinetmaker J.H. Belter in the 1850s—resides in a home display.
However, the courting sofa or settee—or some form of it—continues to intrigue and inspire furniture designers around the world. Modern-day interpretations of the tete-a-tete work well in a space to visually bridge the gap and anchor the space between two seating areas.
The versatile pieces come in a variety of shapes, sizes, colors, and styles. While chaperone settees have roots steeped in Victorian eras, midcentury modern designers also created tete-a-tetes. And even modern, contemporary designers like John Derian have manufactured the settee, with an eye toward clean lines and functional yet stylish seating.
Taking the Furniture Into the Fresh Air
Loveseats and chaperone settees aren’t just for the indoors either. As Americans moved toward more outdoor leisure activity at the turn of the 20th century, furniture also moved into the fresh air, and outdoor loveseats went along for the ride.
These days, you can still adorn your patio with a traditional tete-a-tete S-style seat in wicker, resin, aluminum or other metals. More comfortable, perhaps, are the classic loveseats, allowing you and your date for more intimate conversation … without the barrier of an armrest.
At Summer Classics, we take those timeless design of the traditional loveseat or settee and punch it up with thoughtful, stylish accents and maximum comfort.
Our picks for loveseats include the Summer Classics Classic Wicker Loveseat with its durable patented resin wicker threaded with wrought aluminum infuses any outdoor space with a cozy elegance. The Palm Loveseat’s wrought aluminum frame coupled with plush outdoor cushions also provides the perfect setting for conversation.
And any of our loveseats work well as standalone pieces or as part of a set of furniture.
These days we show our romantic interest with texts and messages exchanged on Internet dating sites. And while we may rely on virtual communication, the fact that we need interaction shows that connecting face to face is still crucial. So, maybe this Valentine’s Day, grab your date, settle together onto a loveseat, and make a little conversation … unchaperoned, of course.