Settle Furniture – What Is It?
Since many people are gravitating to vintage or even antique home design lately, settle furniture could be making a comeback. While it isn’t an entire style on its own, this type of furniture has plenty of allure. Its origins date back to the 10th century but you can find it still today.
What type of furniture is settle? Settle furniture is originally a long wooden bench with a tall backrest and arms that may accommodate many people. It originated in Europe and was influenced by the chest, as evidenced by similar elements, with further components based on monastic choir stalls.
It might be used for a variety of things, such as a seat, bed, chest, and, in cases with hinged backrests that can be folded down to rest on the arms, a table. Other features included a footrest and sconces at the side or rear to hold candles.
Settle furniture became popular in the 16th century, with over 500 years of popularity. The design was especially popular in the homes of nobility and wealthy families. In time, it became less common but can still be found today in some European countries and the United States.
Keep in mind that settle furniture is not a style itself, rather a type of furniture that can be classified as a bench, chair, or table. Let’s dive into this unique type of furniture and see how it’s breaking into the modern world!
Origins and History
In the 10th century AD, the first version of the settle was found and it looked like a bench with armrests or as we call them today, arms. At first, settle furniture was made from wood but because of the long exposure to the elements, metal became more popular by the 17th century for outdoor use.
It was first widely used by the wealthy social class, but eventually became more universal. As the designs were improved over time, they started being used by ordinary people. By the 19th century, furniture became less popular and was replaced by other types of furniture. With a few exceptions, it has been out of use throughout the 20th century.
Characteristics Of Settle Furniture
Most of the settle furniture was made from hardwood like oak, ash, and beech. Although metal settle furniture was used for outdoor purposes, wood is the more traditional material. There are a few things that must be present for a piece to be considered settle:
- Large and tall backrest.
- The outer frame is in the shape of a bench with arms, footrests, and backrest.
- Thick cushions are made from different materials that can be reupholstered both to preserve their freshness or out of necessity.
- Completed with trimmings such as embroidery, braidwork, brass studs, and many other elements.
The design of settle furniture varies depending on the country in which it was made. The Italian version, for example, is more elaborate while the English one is simpler.
Common Uses for Settle Furniture
Settle furniture is not only beautiful; it’s also functional and comfortable to sit on. That said, there are plenty of ways in which you can make good use of this type:
- Seat: like regular chairs and benches, a settle can be used as a seat. They make great room dividers when placed at 90 degrees to each other.
- Chair: you can remove the armrests and turn them into a regular chair or even use only one instead of two in case you prefer them close together like in an armchair.
- Bed: if you live in an old house, you can try using it as a bed, perhaps in the master bedroom or even an extra room that’s not being used. When asleep, the arms double as the headboard and backrest.
- Table: settle furniture is great for holding objects on top of them, either decorative items or functional ones like a lamp and a glass of water.
- Chest: many settle pieces came with a storage chest that could be accessed by lifting the seat. You could store shoes, umbrellas, or even blankets there.
Settle vs. Chest
It’s important to understand that settle furniture is not a style itself but rather an element of other styles like Gothic, Tudor, and Medieval design.
In some cases, you can see settle furniture mixed with period chests. Although many people believe they are the same thing, there are a few key distinctions between the two. In most cases, a chest is known as a large wooden box with drawers while a settle has larger dimensions and legs. A settle can also be used as storage like a chest to hold clothing, books, or linens.
Settle Furniture Today
As I mentioned, settle furniture became unpopular throughout the 20th century, but it’s now being rediscovered.
Right after World War II, there was a big focus on larger houses with more open space to accommodate families. This led to many people discarding settle furniture because it felt too old-fashioned for their needs. Yet, since then, people have started to appreciate smaller houses that can fit the entire family in a more cozy manner.
Although most of these pieces are between 100 and 200 years old, you can still find some today in good condition. You will not see any new ones being manufactured in the original style today. However, some modern pieces of furniture are taking some inspiration from settle furniture.
Modernized Settle Furniture
Although different, some modern pieces of furniture found today have striking similarities to settle furniture of the old days. Some examples include:
- Captain chairs – this is a popular style of chair with a high back and large arms like in settle furniture. You can find it in different colors, styles, and materials. Many use this style of chair in a formal dining area or a sitting room.
- Upholstered headboards – some modern headboards are large with wing-style edges and ornate designs or tufts. This could be seen as a settle-inspired design.
- Day-beds – there are a few day bed styles today that have a similar multi-use function as settle furniture did. Many will also feature large arms on the side and a larger backrest which becomes the bed when folded down.
The Future Of Settle Furniture
Home design and styles are constantly coming and going. Right now, many people are gravitating towards minimalist and versatile furniture. So it wouldn’t be too surprising for this style to come back with its multi-use functions.
As new technologies develop over time, we may even start to see some settle furniture that comes with electronic and modern functions like USB charging ports or LED lights.
Of course, it will be changed to fit the current trends, but as I said before, many people are liking the older/vintage style of home decor right now.
Where Are Settle Furniture Pieces Found?
Settle furniture is much rarer to find compared to other types of furniture, but you could see it in museums or antique stores. You might also be able to find them in auctions if you look hard enough.
Usually, these are family heirlooms passed down from someone’s great-grandparents. It is unlikely to find any brand new pieces today.
Are Settle Furniture Pieces Valuable?
So let’s say you go to an estate sale and discover a vintage settle piece. The question on your mind is if you should snag it due to its high value.
In most cases, a vintage settle is an antique, and, as such, it has a certain value. However, it always depends on the condition and if you have an interested buyer. You may have to do some research on your piece to determine when it was made and how much it’s worth.
Are Settle Furniture Pieces Comfortable?
While settle furniture pieces are comfortable, it’s important to understand that there are various types of seats. Some may be more suited for what you need based on the material they’re made from.
How to Protect a Settle Furniture Piece?
Although settle furniture pieces are still used today, it’s important to take good care of them. They can easily get scratched so you should always use coasters and mats under glasses and try not to put too much weight on them. You should also avoid using any harsh chemicals or cleaning products to clean them.
Can You Build Your Own Settle Furniture?
Of course, you can build your settle furniture! If you have experience with woodworking, carving, and knowledge of how to make your sturdy furniture, then this could be your next project! You can find plenty of photos online of settle furniture pieces. You can find a style you like and go from there adding in your flair!
If you like to upcycle or re-purpose old furniture, you can try and find an old bench and turn it into a settle piece. You can even purchase settle table plans which will come with detailed step-by-step instructions making them easy to follow. And you never know, you could find a niche market of people who love this style of furniture that you could build and sell to!