One of the great pleasures gained from dealing in antiques is that from time to time it is possible to form a collection of stock that allows us as dealers, and you as our clients and customers, to see a truly representative selection of styles of one type of piece or another all without leaving our showroom. This is particularly important when it comes to styles of furniture as there are very few museums with the space to curate displays like this and, as such, it can be difficult to try and trace the development of different styles of decoration and ornament.
At the time of writing, we have a wonderful selection of sofas and settees in stock. Tastes change over time and certain pieces of furniture become more fashionable and sought-after than others but the settee is a constant. Every home needs at least one settee and so they are perennially popular and we are always looking for interesting examples. When a piece is as commonly found as a settee, selection is even more important. There are thousands of examples of antique settees available worldwide at any given moment but most would not be worth acquiring and this post will not only detail the pieces we have in stock at the moment but also attempt to explain why each of these pieces met our criteria for purchasing-what makes these pieces special and how will they add to your home and the interiors you are creating. Some of our pieces are true collectors’ pieces, others are furnishing pieces but they are all very fine examples of their kind at a variety of price points to suit most budgets.
We have decided to organise the pieces in this article somewhat chronologically and they cover most of the styles that were prevalent in both the 18th and 19th centuries in Britain.
The first piece we would like to highlight is an exceptional example of a “love seat” from what the furniture historian Percy MacQuoid termed the “Age of Walnut”.
Dating to c.1730-1750, this piece has extremely fine carving to the front legs which is an unusual and very desirable feature. Love seats are very small settees-they acquired their name because the small size leads to intimate seating arrangements, perfect for the courting couples of the day. Featuring beautifully-drawn outscrolling arms, this piece is clearly related to the designs for wing chairs of the same period, making this an interesting halfway house between a full-scale settee seating three or four at one end of the scale and a wing chair for one at the other.
Interestingly, our chair featured in Martin Miller’s Antiques Source Book for 2006. Unlike the Miller’s Price Guides which are still published today, Martin Miller’s books were an attempt to show a range of pieces available from dealers’ stocks at the time of publication, thus giving a much clearer picture than the auction estimates used in the other Miller’s publications which are still produced today. In 2006 the piece was described as “of delightfully small proportions, with acanthus and scroll front legs in walnut, the whole on an oak, ash and beech frame”. The originality of the frame was stressed in the publication and that remains true today. This is a truly lovely example which, with its small size, could be used in a variety of different locations within the home being equally useful as an upholstered hall seat or as a bedroom piece-this is certainly not a piece that needs to be confined to a drawing or living room environment.
(the love seat as illustrated in the Antiques Source Book for 2006)
Also part of our collection is a pair of walnut love seats of similar form but made c.1910 in the Queen Anne/George I transitional style.
Finding a pair of period love seats would be nigh-on impossible so these early 20th century pieces, of impeccable quality, are very useful furnishing pieces. The ornate stretchers and hoof feet catch the eye, as do the shaped front seat rails and scrolled arms. In a larger house these settees might work very well as window seats but they would be equally suitable as a pair of settees in a more modest setting. Refined and elegant, these pieces are a delight to look at and extremely practical.
After the “Age of Walnut” came the “Age of Mahogany”. With the use of mahogany, chair makers were able to experiment with ever-finer carving as the harder wood allowed greater finesse to be employed in this area. We have a truly exceptional hall settee that demonstrates this perfectly in our current collection.
This settee was almost certainly supplied by William Hallett, one of the most eminent of all the 18th century cabinetmakers and a member of the so-called “St Martin’s Lane syndicate”, a group of great makers based in and around that street near Covent Garden. Hallett became a very wealthy man through his work and retired a gentleman-a very impressive feat for a tradesman in that period.
The settee in question has shell shaped backs and seats, inspired by Italian grotto furniture of the baroque period. Additionally it has the added refinement of carved coats of arms applied to the each of the seat backs rather than the much more common painted alternative. The arms are those of a widow-Anne Basset-and the settee was almost certainly part of a suite purchased by Anne in c.1756 when, after the death of her husband, she left the family home Tehidy Park in Cornwall and moved to the nearby Haldon Hall. A suite of exceptionally similar furniture had been commissioned by Anne and her husband for Tehidy and that is also believed to have been made by Hallett’s workshop.
Aside from the design of this settee-simultaneously both exotic and rococo and yet also formal and restrained-what makes it so interesting is that it is a commission by a wealthy lady patron. Similar surviving commissions from this period are very rare indeed and, at a time when women’s role as patrons of the arts is being re-evaluated, pieces such as this take on an even greater significance. It is rare to find a piece that is both historically significant and aesthetically beautiful but this settee or bench is a superb example.
The next notable stylistic shift in the 18th century led to the development of the neo-classical style, associated by most furniture historians and collectors with the designs of George Hepplewhite, Thomas Sheraton and the architects Sir William Chambers, Robert Adam, James Wyatt and James “Athenian” Stuart. We have a chairback settee in our collection which, though dating from the late Victorian period, is very much in the style of Hepplewhite.
Hepplewhite is credited with popularising the “shield back” chair design and two of these shield backs are utilised in our piece. It is made of satinwood, painted with floral sprigs in bright colours as would have been the case with some of the most fashionable pieces of furniture made c.1780. Many pieces of “Sheraton revival” furniture made in the late Victorian and Edwardian period are immediately distinguishable from 18th century pieces due to the slimmed-down nature of the construction. Tapered legs are often rather ludicrously slim and the durability of the pieces is compromised. The present piece, however, is very definitely an exception and is as robust to look at as an 18th century piece would be. Mellow satinwood, as used on the present piece, is ideal as a decorative accent and works well with both white walls and modern décor and a room filled with carved mahogany.
We now move in to the 19th century, beginning with a fine selection of regency and George IV pieces from our stock. The prevailing taste amongst connoisseurs in this period, led by George IV himself both as Prince of Wales and as King, was also for neo-classical ornament but of a very different character to that used by the great architects and designers in the 18th century. This new movement, associated with the great collector and designer Thomas Hope and furniture designers such as George Smith, Richard Bridgens and George Bullock, favoured a heavier sort of furniture of a more “masculine” character.
Our first piece from this period is a lovely carved mahogany sofa of c.1820.
The carved motifs on this piece, especially the lyre and anthemion decoration, are very typical but are carved in particularly high relief which is unusual. The lyre form feet are charming and beautifully executed and the buttoned leather upholstery anticipates Chesterfields yet to come. This is a robust piece of great quality, suitable for any fine interior.
We also have a carved mahogany window seat of a similar design.
Also made in the same period. The design is attributed to George Oakley, another very important designer in the period with links to the royal family. Window seats are very small settees designed to sit underneath the large pier windows of the time but they look wonderful at the bottom of a large bed or lining the walls of a modern hallway in a more contemporary setting.
Another variation on the sofa or settee is the daybed or chaise longue as it is often known. We have an example in our collection made after the designs of George Smith in simulated rosewood-wood painted to resemble the distinctive grain of rosewood itself.
Our piece has the additional refinement of parcel gilding-in other words, certain areas are also gilded to give a two tone effect. Daybeds can function as settees when placed against a wall (the piece has no back) or can look decidedly sculptural when placed in the centre of a room. The proportions of this piece are particularly fine and it would be a talking point in any home.
Our final regency piece is a very special sofa, quite possibly made by the famous firm of Gillow.
This large three seater sofa is made from finely patinated rosewood and, with the exception of the carved bun feet, it relies for its impact not on carving but on inlaid cut brass work. This sort of work was the trademark of French workers such as Andre Boulle in the 17th century and, under the Francophile George IV, this sort of decoration enjoyed a new popularity in this period. A French emigre craftsman, Louis Le Gaigneur, was particularly famous in London for his skilful use of this technique and it was soon emulated by other quality makers. The inlay on this particular piece is of the highest possible quality, both in terms of its design and execution. This piece was clearly the product of a major workshop and Gillows were producing pieces of similar quality and feeling during this period. The design is, effectively, that of a daybed with an added back but it is the details such as the inlaid cresting rail and finials that make this so distinctive. A Truly extraordinary piece of furniture.
We are lucky enough to have a selection of fine Chesterfield sofas in stock at the moment and the first example we would like to illustrate is this beautiful example in deep buttoned burgundy leather, seen by many as the most classic of all colours for pieces of this type.
This sofa dates to c.1850 and is robust, practical and beautiful. The scroll arms are a lovely feature and this is a very comfortable piece, both to sit in and to live with. A lovely example of Victorian design.
In replaced patinated blue leather-a most unusual colour that works beautifully-our second Chesterfield is eye-catching in the best possible way.
This is a modestly-sized piece that would work in both a home or business interior. Chesterfields are still seen by many as the archetypal piece of “gentleman’s club” furniture and, as such, they are often seen in clubs, hotels and restaurants as well as homes. This is a fine example, c.1880, and is ready to use from the moment of purchase having been restored to exacting standards in our own workshops.
We end with two other sofas illustrating different sorts of Victorian design. Firstly we have a serpentine button back sofa.
Not a true Chesterfield perhaps but very similar in many ways, this is an interesting variation on the design classic. The serpentine outline and carved details are interesting and this piece is very dramatic in the best possible way-especially upholstered in this beautiful turquoise leather.
We end with a rococo revival settee made c.1800.
This is a very striking piece of walnut furniture in the high Victorian taste of the period. It is sculptural in design once again and so would make an interesting feature piece. It is also extremely comfortable to sit in and is not a run of the mill model. This is a distinctive piece of furniture for someone who does not want to follow the herd.
Hopefully this post has whetted your appetite for a new settee. When buying a piece like this it is important to make sure that it has been fully restored so that it is ready for many more years of use. It goes without saying that all of our pieces have been looked over by skilled restorers and reupholstered to the highest standards. If we can tell you any more about any of these pieces then do please get in touch and arrange a visit to see them in our showroom or in your home.
Wick Antiques was established by Charles Wallrock in the early 1980s. Having grown up in the Antiques world Charles developed an extensive wealth of knowledge.