Definition: a light article of seating furniture meant to hold two or more sitters; developed in the mid-17th century (examples exist as early as 1620, though the name didn't appear until 1716); can be plain, like an expanded bench with arms and a back or, more typically, has an upholstered seat, back and sometimes arms; popular throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, its style varies greatly according to period, but is usually characterized by open sides, slim arms, fairly shallow seats and exposed legs
The word "settee" may have derived from "settle", a centuries-old high-backed bench for several occupants. Early settees were often scaled-down, upholstered versions of settles (see photo, More Images). But in the latter 1600s, when furniture-makers began perfecting curved and padded chair forms, the settee took a giant leap forward in comfort, becoming more of an elongated version of an upholstered chair than a swaddled variety of rigid bench.
Also Known As: settle (erroneous), sofa
Example: Though the words are often used interchangeably, a settee tends to refer to a lighter, smaller and more formal-looking piece than a sofa.
See also settee in Furniture on About.com.
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