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The history of the Love Seat and other Valentine's essentials

Updated: Aug 14, 2023

It’s getting to that time of year again, isn’t it? The time of year when the world goes bonkers over cards, chocolates, and flowers.

The time when going out for dinner means taking out another mortgage, and when being a Red Rose is the equivalent of being a Turkey in December.

We all know that St Valentine’s Day can be something of a “marmite” day, but how many of us know the origins of the day and its customs?

And, more “interesting” still (I use the word loosely here), how many of us know the origins of the nearest furniture link to romance I could find….the Love Seat

Ok, let’s start with St Valentine’s Day…. Why is it called that? Well, we have those pesky Romans to thank for it.

Apparently, in the early days of Christendom, Emperor Claudius II executed 2 men for practising Christianity.

They both happened to be called “Valentine”. The date? 14th February. The Catholic Church was understandably a bit miffed about this and declared the men Martyrs…. They became overnight sensations…... And there you have it; the rest is definitely history.

But that doesn’t explain where the romance comes in.

That’s all a little unclear, but during my research, I found references to pagan rituals (some of them naked), some fella called Galatine (a Lover of Women), and the odd sacrifice of man and beast.

So, given its dark beginnings, it has got to be one of the biggest, most successful marketing strategies ever in the history of the world. Perhaps Hallmark was around in the day?

Speaking of….

Cards are a relatively new phenomenon but can be attributed to one of the original martyrs writing a farewell note to his lover and signing it “your Valentine”. I’m not sure how true this is, but I think Hallmark has got a lot to answer for in more recent times.

Chocolates are linked to St Valentine’s Day because chocolate was originally prescribed as a medicine for people with broken hearts…. I wonder if you can get them on the NHS??

We all associate Red Roses with Valentine’s Day, but in fact, many different flowers were sent by lovers to symbolise different things.

For example, red roses symbolise passion, and tulips are said to represent perfect love, whilst a dahlia signifies commitment.

Anyway, enough romance. Let’s get this piece back on a furniture track……

The modern Love Seat, as we know it, is a seat for two people to sit, facing each other. But it didn’t start out like that.

Believe it or not, the humble two-person settee was the forerunner to the "Love Seat".

And the settee (the word “settee” comes from the old English word “setl/settle), was originally made of solid wood with no upholstery. These large chairs (or settees), were designed to accommodate the huge, voluminous skirt fashions of the 17th Century. But as skirts shrank and padded upholstery became more established, the chairs were used for 1-2 people to sit side by side and talk.

At some point in the 19th Century, we saw the first models of two chairs facing each other.

These were designed to make having a private conversation whilst in public much easier. But it wasn’t called a “Love Seat”. Given its function and its new S shape, it was given the catchy name of a "Social" seat.

It wasn’t until the early 20th Century that we started calling it a “Love Seat”.

This romantic label made it much more appealing, and sales went through the roof.

The Love Seat was THE piece to have in the more affluent homes, where lovers could sit and gaze into each other’s eyes, where they could whisper sweet nothings to each other, where they could plan to run away together, all whilst ensuring the social proprieties of the day were observed, divided as they were, by an armrest!

Another great Marketing Strategy, perhaps????

And, just so you know, the word "couch" is from the French "Coucher", meaning to lie down, so it was essentially more of a day bed.

A "sofa" is from the Arabic "Soffah", meaning raised platform with cushions.

So, there is definitely a difference between the Sofa, Settee, and Couch, and now you know what it is.

You’re welcome!

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