In the 1690s upholstered settees formed part of the lavish furnishings of state rooms in great houses, which were created to display the wealth and status of the owner to visitors. They were not generally for everday use although many such settees reached standards of comfort hitherto unknown. Often such settees were supplied for the state bedrooms, along with sets of chairs to match and were arranged gracefully around the walls of the room. The upholstery would match the hangings on the bed. The settee in the picture was probably made for Hampton Court, Herefordshire, for Thomas, Lord Coningsby (1656-1729), but we do not know which room it was for. It survives with the upholstery intact.
Walnut Settee, 1695.
Walnut legs and beech frame; upholstery in embroidery of wool and silk, the back and sides covered in glazed wool, the cushions lined with kid skin.
The upholstered cover is decorated with cross stitch embroidery with a floral pattern imitating damask, a woven fabric. The legs and stretchers between them are carved and turned walnut, ebonised (painted black to look like ebony), with traces of gold stencilling.
William and Mary settees and couches sometimes had wings at either side, with padded arms and backs, the seats with squab cushions, all being upholstered in velvet, damask, or needlework. Backs were often in the form of a double chair.
The use of needlwork for upholstered settees seems to have won favour due to the fact that Queen Mary used it much in her royal apartments. Celia Fiennes, our intrepid observer, remarks on the interiors at Hampton Court palace:
Out of the dressing room is the Queen's closet, the hangings, chairs, stools, and screen the same, all of satin stitch done in worsteads, beasts, birds, images and fruits all wrought very finely by Queen Mary and her maids of honour.
Most such settees were rather small but some were long enough to lie on, in the fashion of France, and would be called "sophas", or sofas.
Cane settees were also made in number, being cheaper (and less comfortable), although very few antiques have lasted the years.