The “tête-à-tête” sofas, literally “head to head” in French, are coaches or better couple of coaches created by the union of two armchairs which are counterposed. They are also known with many other names, like the courting sofas or conversation bench, vis-à-vis or gossip, but perhaps that tête-à-tête is the better definition for this piece of forniture.
Below: Vis à vis”, Museo Romántico, Madrid
Their use would involve private conversations and they could occur inside villas or on the outside in the gardens. The fashion started spreading during the early 19th century in France, but the tête-à-tête sofa gradually spread in England during the Victorian Era as well as in Spain. Often they were found in big halls, and the first examples were common to have padding with the technique of the springs inside the couches, invented in that period.
Below: a finely decorated chair, once property of the Marquise de Dos Aguas
Below: the “Confident” sofa, realised during the Kingdom of Napoleon III in France
The goal of the sofa was to allow an intimate conversation without having to look in the eyes. The armrest was furthermore some sort f barrier between the two people, which would avoid embarrassing situations with the men trying to move their hands too closely: that was something that was supposed to be avoided in any way in contests of courting during the Victorian Era.
Below: American Tête-à-tête from 1887, kept at the Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York
An example of wonderful tête-à-tête sofa was realised by the architect John H.Belter around 1850-1860. The piece was characterised by the richness of floral decorations carved into the wood (picture below).
Below: American Tête-à-tête sofa, another piece at the Metropolitan of New York
The famous Spanish artist Salvador Dali designed a tête-à-tête sofa in the 30’s (picture below, thought with the help of the furniture and interior designer Jean-Michel Frank.
Below: the popular “Sofa Gala by Salvador Dalí”
Today the love coaches are very different and they rarely have the armrest in between. In some cases, however, the arm has remained, like the version below.
Below: modern version in Paris