Meet the Settee, the Couch’s Smaller Cousin
Any fan of Auntie Mame, the 1958 film starring Rosalind Russell, can hardly forget the eccentric and over-the-top home of Mame. The scene with nephew Patrick receiving some sage advice from his animated Aunt sitting on a tufted hydraulic bench lifting and off the ground is especially memorable. This seating piece is often mistaken for a settee. While it isn’t, Auntie Mame probably had one in her extravagant and decorative home. Here, we explain what a settee is and how it differs from other group seating types.
What is a Settee?
While it can often be mistaken for a sofa or couch, a settee is smaller than a sofa or couch and has a slimmer, more elegant silhouette in general. They are described as having high, straight backs, shallow seats, and tall exposed legs. Unfortunately these aren’t pieces of furniture to get too comfortable in. Generally, they are considered accent furniture. They are usually fully upholstered with slightly padded, attached seat cushions and space for two people.
A settee is often placed where a quick place to rest is needed. Commercially, this could be in a waiting room or a hotel lobby or bar as the smaller size allows for more seating to be provided or where less space is available. In a home, an entryway makes for an excellent accent piece. Conversely, a room such as a bedroom or dining alcove where the primary function isn’t to relax for a long time is also a suitable placement.
The Settee’s Popular Past
In Victorian times, Louis the 14th or Chesterfield couches closely resembled settees. Sofas were smaller, less comfortable, and highly ornate in that era. A close cousin of the settee is the fainting couch that holds similar attributes while a bit longer. Though a fainting couch also had one side that was devoid of the armrest to make falling into it as one felt faint easier to manage.
Settee vs. Ottoman or Bench
It’s easy to confuse the settee with an ottoman or a bench, but there are key differences. An ottoman is a piece of low-to-ground furniture with no back or arms. Its name is derived from the famous Ottoman Empire and it was a low wooden platform piled with cushions in its original form. Today’s versions are typically upholstered. Furthermore, they double as footrests and coffee tables (to be used with a tray) and, in some cases, open to allow for storage.
A bench is an extended seat made for multiple people. It tends to be made from wood, metal, stone, or even synthetic materials, especially in the last three if used outdoors. While used in public spaces, they are also used in homes. They are popular as dining seating and in areas such as hallways and entryways as convenient places to sit while taking shoes on or off and a place to rest packages while exiting or entering a home.
Editor’s Picks: The Settee
If you decide this charming seating arrangement is for you, there are plenty of styles to choose from. Nest Casa picks some of our favorites
The Ether Cloud chair from Jonathan Adler checks all the boxes for defining a contemporary Settee design. A quirky yet chic cloud-motif on a lozenge-like form over-performs as it delivers a comfy lounge seat topped off with Ivory bouclé.
The ultimate in an accent piece, this Louis the 14th inspired couch evokes a settee from the halls of Versailles. Perfect for giving your space the royal touch.
Fashion designer Christian Siriano tries his creative hand on furniture with this quirky graphic design settee suitable for modern home design.
Borrowing a few ideas from the bench, this rare teak settee—called the NV45—was designed by famed Danish architect Finn Juhl. Its unique curves and slopes give this piece an alluring appeal.
This vintage model 770 was designed by Joseph-André Motte for Steiner in the 1950s. If you are a fan of Eero Saarinen's Womb and Arne Jacobsen's Egg chair, this unusual, space-age settee is for you.
Designed as furniture as art, this piece defies accent or conversation piece. A unique blackened steel frame creates the tufting where rich royal blue velvet peers through to soften this unique settee.