What is a settee, really? While you've likely sat in one—or maybe even have one stationed in your home—have you ever thought about a settee's origins or main purpose? To get the full scoop on what makes a settee unique, we spoke with a number of designers, who weigh in on where settees originated, their main characteristics, how to style them in a home, and more.
Meet the Expert
- Alessandra Wood is the VP of Style at Modsy.
- Georgia Zikas is the founder of her eponymous, Connecticut-based design firm.
- Malka Helft is the founder of Think Chic Interiors in Westchester, NY.
- Annie Elliott is the founder of Annie Elliot Design in Washington, D.C.
Let's start with the basics—what makes a settee a settee, and what is it designed to be used for? According to Modsy's VP of Style Alessandra Wood, "A settee is generally a smaller version of a sofa that sits on raised legs and often has a high back. It’s not meant to be a loungey piece, but rather a perch upon which to sit alone or with another person."
Settees came about in the 1700s and served a key seating function. "Settees are historically more formal, smaller sofas that eventually evolved to be what we know today as the sofa," designer Georgia Zikas explains. "Back in the 1700s, they were used for primary seating, given how formal living was back then.
Settees remained popular through the 19th century, Wood explains. "You’d always find them in homes of wealthier people who entertained often as they created a great seat for a young couple to chat and get to know each other," she notes. "As ideas of comfort changed and furniture became more stuffed, settees fell out of favor as a common piece of home furniture."
Settee vs. Sofa
Sofas are much larger and cushier than settees, Zikas notes. Adds designer Malka Helft, "Settees are more delicate sofas. A good way to think about them is a sofa meets bench!"
Wood notes that when settees first came about in the 1700s, they often were not upholstered. Even though many of today's settees are covered in fabric, they're still not known for being ultra plushy. "As furniture developed over the centuries and became more stuffed and comfortable, settees appeared to fall out of favor," she elaborates. "We might see them used in areas of the home or businesses where you’d take a quick seat, but not in areas where you might want to curl up and read a book or watch TV."
Usually, in an entertaining space, a settee alone is not sufficient. "Sofas are usually the anchor seating in a living or family room," designer Annie Elliott explains. "Settees, on the other hand, are more versatile because of their small size and petite scale. A settee may take the place of two chairs in a room that already has a sofa."
In fact, in today's homes, we often see settees in spaces other than the living room. "An end of bed bench, a lounge chair in a bedroom, even a small daybed can all be considered new interpretations of the settee that work with the way we live our lives today," Zikas adds.
Just note that while sofas can fit a crowd, settees are often best utilized by just one person at a time. "Settees are almost like lounge chairs for one person, a great place to cozy up to read a book, or even a good place to sit while you're getting ready in your bedroom," Helft notes. "I love to use these smaller, individual sized sofas in my projects to add a bit more function while not taking over a space entirely with a full sized sofa."
Larger and cushier
Anchors a room
Primarily in living rooms
Often used by multiple people at once
Smaller and less comfortable
Accents a room
Can be used in any room
Often used by just one person
How to Style a Settee
No room for a settee in the bedroom? Why not try one in the front hallway? "Add a few pillows and a piece of art behind the settee to create a perfect spot to put on or take off your shoes," Wood suggests. Just don't go overboard with accessories, Elliott cautions. "Settees should not be smothered in pillows and throws. One lumbar pillow or two small square pillows is plenty, or you can forgo the pillows altogether and drape a cashmere throw over one arm."