A Seat for Sweethearts

Do you ever run across a strange piece of furniture and wonder how it came to be? The tête-à-tête is one of those pieces for us. And it turns out that there’s an interesting history behind it!

The tête-à-tête was dreamt up in France in the 19th century to nurture intimate conversations. Chatting with a friend while leaning across a cocktail table isn’t conducive to whispering secrets. Behold the tête-à-tête: a perfect opportunity to share all the juicy gossip with a friend, with little room for the secrets to be overheard. The furniture style is also called “le confidant” – a place for confidential conversations.

The tête-à-tête became wildly popular in the Gilded and Victorian eras because it was also perfect for couples that were courting. It encouraged private conversations while also keeping the conversationalists from touching! It’s far too easy to put your hand on your lover’s knee while sitting on a sofa – but with an arm rest between you as a modesty barrier, parents and chaperones are suddenly much more comfortable. For this reason, there was a tête-à-tête in virtually every formal parlor, sitting room or large entry way.

While less popular now, we still spot tête-à-têtes from time to time, making it an unexpected delight! They work nicely as a centerpiece in a large sitting room or can serve as a bridge between two sitting areas by allowing seating that faces in two directions.

Today, there are several spinoffs to the tête-à-tête. If you add a third seat, you have an ‘indiscreet,’ which encourages intimate conversation among a few close friends. There’s also the dos-a-dos, which allows two people to sit back-to-back with two others. And, perhaps the most popular, the borne settee — a round sofa on which everyone faces outward. They all such showstoppers! We love running across borne settees in hotel lobbies and grand parlors and sitting rooms.

We may not guard our modesty with the same fervor as the Victorians, but we still enjoy sitting face-to-face with our sweethearts or friends, especially if it means not having to sacrifice comfort for conversation.

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