You might think that antique furniture needs special care and attention, that it would not be suitable for a busy family home – but oak box settles are eminently practical pieces of furniture. Rugged and with built in storage space, they make the ideal hall seat.
Settles are, in essence, a bench with high back and arms. One of the earliest forms of furniture, they evolved from fixed benching surrounding fireplaces. Designed to protect the user from drafts, and often doubling as sleeping platforms, the settle later evolved into smaller, freestanding pieces. By enclosing the base and hinging the seat, it was made even more useful by doubling as a storage space – and the box settle was born.
Box settles have been made for hundreds of years. Examples survive from the 16th Century, often found with intricately carved details, and they were in regular production until the 1920s and 1930s. However, some of the most simple and beautiful were made during the Georgian period (1714-1837). Simple panelled backs and bases, relatively narrow, and with the oak aged to a rich dark patina – they are visually appealing and fit with ease into modern home furnishing schemes. Moreover, oak in incredibly hard-wearing and can survive a few knocks in the course of daily use. A decorative, contemporary cushion can be added too for comfort! Of course, the bonus of such pieces of antique furniture is that after you have had years of use from it, it will still be standing strong and will still retain value should you wish to sell it on.
A particularly appealing example sold recently at Tennants for £1,700. Dating from the early 19th Century, it had a lovely rich surface and was in good condition. However, examples can be picked up for a few hundred pounds. Box settles appear fairly frequently at auction and are sometimes listed as box benches or monk’s benches, and as with all antiques, always check condition prior to bidding! So keep your eyes pealed at your local salerooms for this practically perfect piece of furniture.