House & Home

Settees shrug off their prim persona and fit right into modern decor

KDR Designer Showrooms in Lenexa carries the Port Eliot settee by Baker ($12,536 and up). Here its traditional shape works perfectly in a transitional room thanks to fresh and fun damask upholstery.
KDR Designer Showrooms in Lenexa carries the Port Eliot settee by Baker ($12,536 and up). Here its traditional shape works perfectly in a transitional room thanks to fresh and fun damask upholstery. KDR Designer Showrooms

It’s pretty, petite and has a reputation for being prim thanks to its minimal padding, straight-back posture and penchant for populating Victorian parlors.

But today’s settee is so much more versatile and fun.

“People think: ‘It’s something my grandmother or my mother would have had and that’s too stuffy for our house,’” says Keith Wardlaw, founder of Plus Modern Design of Kansas City. “But you’re seeing a lot more retailers introducing it like Crate & Barrel and West Elm with a new twist to it. And they may not refer to it as a settee but as a sofa for a dining table.”

Settees upholstered in fun, modern fabrics can ooze personality and, according to Jennifer Bertrand, HGTV “Design Star” winner and owner of Bertrand Designs in Weatherby Lake, offer a touch of East Coast luxe without being overly formal.

“It’s how you upholster a piece,” Bertrand says. “For casual use maybe you do it in down with loose-fitting fabric or a slipcover. The settee is the formal lady of the room, but she could also be in jeans.

“And I like the juxtaposition of something more casual with something more formal. It’s part of that Hamptons look making its way to the Midwest, looking the part but not being uncomfortable.”

At KDR Designer Showrooms in Lenexa, a settee from Hickory White that’s upholstered in a dark gray tweed with contrasting graphic pillows and seat cushion gets a lot of attention from designers, showroom manager Kelly Specht says.

It combines a tall wingback with a benchseat that can fit into a cozy nook or help create separate spaces in an open area, Specht says. One designer plans to use it in a formal living room with a table to make the space more family-friendly and usable for doing homework, playing games and even eating.

“Because of their smaller size, they can also be used in smaller spaces, and you can be flexible with them and move them around,” Specht says. “It’s not as big and bulky as a sofa. When people are downsizing — or right-sizing — they can fit it into the scheme or scale of the space.”

Pottery Barn, West Elm, Restoration Hardware, Pier One Imports and World Market sell settees in an array of shapes and colors, though many are labeled love seats. Online retailers such as Overstock.com and Wayfair.com also call them love seats.

Today’s settees come in bright graphic prints that are perfect for modern interiors; nubby linens and textured canvases that could work in traditional to country rooms; and brightly colored velvets — think turquoise, chartreuse and plum — that would add a vibrant touch to pretty much any space.

Wardlaw likes to incorporate settees into dining rooms and kitchens, particularly for families “because you can fit three kids into one of those where two chairs would sit. And you can use an outdoor fabric so if you get anything on it, it’s easy to clean up.”

Ballard Designs carries several settees, including the Wickham tufted settee, that can be upholstered in Sunbrella indoor/outdoor fabrics for use around a dinner table.

Bertrand used one at a game table against navy wallpaper in a client’s basement.

“We actually had multi-zone seating with benches and ottomans so they can constantly redesign for parties,” she says. “The great thing about a settee is it’s high-backed and adds a subtle sense of drama that’s needed.

“And in a basement you really had to add extra soul,” Bertrand adds. “You’re seeing beautiful silhouettes and shapes whether it’s wingbacks or tufting. They’re like the high heel shoes of furniture.”

To reach Cynthia Billhartz Gregorian, House + Home editor, call 816-234-4780 or send email to cgregorian@kcstar.com. Follow her on Twitter: @cindybgregorian.

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