Antique settees and sofas can add a touch of old-world charm and elegance to any space. When decorating with these vintage pieces, it’s important to create a cohesive look that enhances their beauty. Here are some tips for beautifully incorporating antique settees and sofas into your home decor.
Choosing the Right Antique Settee or Sofa
When selecting an antique settee or sofa, consider the size, style, condition, and cost.
Make sure the piece will fit the intended space without overwhelming it. Measure carefully, considering length, height, and depth. An oversized settee crammed into a small room will look cluttered.
Choose a style that fits your existing decor. Key styles to look for include:
- Victorian: Elaborate carved wood, tufted upholstery, curved silhouette.
- Rococo: Intricate woodwork, curved lines, ornate legs, and arms.
- Gothic: Pointed arch back, embellished trim.
- Renaissance: Straight back, exposed wood, often studded.
- Neoclassical: Symmetrical shape, tapered legs, delicate trim.
Examine the settee carefully for damage – ripped upholstery, loose joinery, missing pieces. Well-worn patina can add charm but major imperfections may not be worth the restoration cost.
Antique prices vary greatly. Establish a budget and stick to pieces in good condition within that range. Focus spending on structure stability over cosmetic repairs.
Placement and Layout
Strategic placement is key to a cohesive look. Consider the following placement tips:
Position the antique as a focal point, anchoring the decor. Place it on the longest wall or facing the entrance. Allow enough breathing room around it.
Utilize the settee or sofa to create an intimate seating area for conversation. Angle accompanying chairs inward and add a coffee table.
An antique settee makes a graceful entryway greeting. Flank with a console table and art above for a complete vignette.
Achieve symmetry by placing identical antique sofas or settees on either side of a fireplace or facing each other across the room.
The right decorative accents can help an antique shine. Consider mixing in:
Coordinating Era Accessories
Surround the antique with decorative pieces from the same period. Options include flower vases, candelabras, tobacco jars, cherub statues.
Layer an ornate Persian-style floral rug underneath to add softness. A muted palette prevents clashing.
Hang framed artwork in complementary antique-style frames above the piece to tie the look together. Botanical prints or still life paintings work well.
Add throw pillows to bring in print, color, and plushness. Opt for patterns like damask, paisley, or tapestry in muted vintage hues.
A nearby fireplace makes a fitting companion, exuding cozy vintage appeal. Display candlesticks, framed photos, or a mantel clock on top.
Styling and Staging
Artful styling creates an inviting, curated look. Ideas for styling antique settees include:
Stacked antique books on one end of the settee add literary charm. Vary heights, sizes, and subjects.
Place a simple glass vase with fresh flowers or greenery on a side table. Hydrangeas, peonies, and roses have a classic allure.
Drape a hand-knit quilt, crocheted blanket, or embroidered throw over one arm for texture and color.
Scatter velvet, brocade or leather cushions along the length of the settee for a relaxed yet regal impression.
Set an ornate silver tray on the settee topped with decor objects like miniature framed photos or a vintage tea set.
Repairs and Restoration
Proper restoration preserves the antique while allowing sensitive upgrades. Recommended improvements include:
Reupholster with period-appropriate fabric – options include brocade, velvet, leather, needlepoint tapestry.
Reinforce joints like mortise and tenon with wood glue and clamps. Sand away previous layers of paint.
Lightly hand-sand, then apply new stain or paint in a historically accurate shade. Consider gilding accents.
Replace missing finial balls, cabriole legs, or chair rails with custom lathed wood pieces matched to the original style.
Inject flexible epoxy resins into cracks and missing sections to stabilize without altering unique distress marks.
History and Significance
Understanding the origins of antique settees and sofas deepens appreciation of their legacy.
Early Greek and Roman daybeds with one raised arm evolved into upholstered settees popularized in 16th century Europe.
Small Georgian settees like loveseats reflected more intimate spaces of the era. Mahogany woodwork with tapestry upholstery was common.
Victorian Fainting Couches
Victorian fainting couches allowed ladies relief from restrictive corsets. Their popularity led to more ornamental and overstuffed silhouettes.
Lawson sofas, created by architect William Lawson in the 1890s, had lower backs without excessive carving for a simpler and more modern look.
Emergence of Recliners
As sofa frames incorporated springs, reclining and convertible sofas emerged in the late 1800s, reaching the height of popularity in the 1970s.
Many antique sofa styles are linked to iconic designers. Notable examples include:
- Chesterfield Sofa – An English design characterized by rounded arms and tufted upholstery, associated with Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield.
- Bridgewater Sofa – Credited to 19th century British furniture maker Thomas Chippendale, featuring curved arms, serpentine front, and carved cabriole legs.
- Duncan Phyfe Sofa – Named for cabinetmaker Duncan Phyfe, known for slender legs, Grecian style backs, and mix of mahogany and painted finishes.
- Lawson Sofa – Designed by U.S. architect William Lawson, recognized by low straight back, square arms, and geometric simplicity.
- Klismos Chair – Inspired by ancient Greek design, with tapered legs and curved back support. Popularized by Danish designer Hans Wegner.
Antique Styles By Era
Tracing the evolution of settees and sofas through history reveals changing aesthetics and sensibilities decade to decade.
1600 – 1700s
- Jacobean (England) – Heavy wood, straight arms, velvet or leather
- William & Mary (England) – Cane, leather, simple shape
- Queen Anne (England) – Cabriole legs, floral carved mahogany
- Rococo (France) – Ornate curved lines, upholstered back and seat
1800 – 1840s
- Empire – Linear and symmetrical, Neoclassical forms
- Biedermeier (Central Europe) – Sleek and simple lines
- Louis XVI (France) – Oval back, mahogany and gilded accents
1850 – 1890s
- Second Empire (France) – Tufted button upholstery, ornate wood frame
- Restoration (England) – Large rolled arms, lavish fabrics
- Eastlake – Geometric lines, combinations of wood types
1900 – 1930s
- Art Nouveau – Flowing organic lines, exotic woods
- Arts & Crafts – Simple, handcrafted, often with leather
- Art Deco – Sleek, geometric, luxurious
Caring for Antique Sofas
Preserving antique furniture requires diligent care and upkeep. Recommended practices include:
- Keep away from direct sunlight and heating vents which can damage and fade finishes.
- Dust frequently using a soft cloth. Polish with furniture wax to protect wood.
- Use furniture coasters under vases, lamps, etc. to prevent water marks.
- Avoid using harsh chemical cleaners. Mild soap and water is best for upholstery.
- Flip cushions and rotate mattresses periodically to evenly distribute wear.
- Cover the piece when not in use to limit light exposure and accidental stains or scratches.
- Consider loose slipcovers to protect upholstery fabric when not on display.
- Inspect for pests like moths. Store susceptible textiles in cedar chests.
- Maintain proper humidity levels in the room with humidifiers.
With careful selection, placement, decor, restoration and ongoing care, incorporating an antique settee or sofa infuses character and heritage into your living space. Their patina and unmatched artistry never go out of style.
Frequently Asked Questions
How much do antique sofas and settees cost?
Costs vary greatly, from a few hundred to tens of thousands. Condition, age, maker, style, materials, and size all impact price. Simple early 19th century settees may run $400-$1200 while elaborate Victorian fainting couches could list over $10,000.
Where can I find antique settees and sofas for sale?
Top options include antique stores and malls, online retailers like Chairish and 1stDibs, auctions, estate sales, and classified ads.
How do I incorporate an antique sofa into a modern room?
Use a transitional style sofa, then accessorize with modern elements like sleek tables, contemporary artwork, and simple window treatments. Neutral walls and pillows allow the antique to stand out.
How do I restore the finish on an old wooden sofa frame?
First clean grime with a 50/50 vinegar and water solution, then gently sand away oxidation and paint drips. Match existing stain and reapply in thin coats. Buff with 0000 steel wool between coats.
What are signs of an antique being a reproduction?
Machine-cut print fabric, staples or plastic ties in upholstery, fiberglass tracking marks, machine stamped hardware, plywood back panels, and uniform coloration often indicate a reproduction.
What maintenance does an antique sofa need?
Minimize direct light and heat exposure, flip and rotate cushions regularly, dust and clean delicately with mild soap and water, polish wood with wax, and store offseason with slipcovers.
Should I get an antique sofa professionally appraised?
For high value pieces, professional appraisal ensures proper identification by era, style, and maker, and determines fair market value for insurance purposes.
How do I lift and move an antique sofa safely?
Use moving straps versus lifting alone. Remove doors to allow angle through. Pad door jambs to prevent scraping frame. Step versus dragging to reposition on rug.
What are signs an antique sofa needs reupholstery?
Indicators include ripped, stained, or worn fabric, lumps or sags in padding, poking springs, musty odor, and visible seam splits along piping or arms.
Decorating with Antique Settees and Sofas: Final Thoughts
Antique settees and sofas provide unparalleled style, comfort, and heritage. But treating them as statement pieces versus just furniture requires thoughtful selection and placement. Create a cohesive look by playing to their era and proportions. Simple vintage accents and careful ongoing maintenance keep them gracing interiors for generations to come. Their journey through time only enhances their allure. So beautifully incorporate these seats of distinction into your rooms and recline easy in storied style.