This was a reality check for me: Before there were TVs and computers, chairs were sometimes pointed at other human beings.

Well, not directly at them, I suppose. After all, if you force two adults to sit in chairs at the same height, directly opposite one another, directly facing each other, with nothing in between, at conversational distances, sooner or later they’re going to come to blows. Or at least feel like doing so.

Enter the “conversation chair,” for which I admit preferring the French term tête-à-tête: Two chairs built together, expressly for the purpose that their occupants sit and talk to one another. The parties sit very close beside each other, but facing opposite directions and, often, with the security of a shared armrest between them. The confrontational body language of face-to-face seating is eliminated and the degree of intimacy of the conversation is easily controlled, by either party, simply by turning the head. A three-way versiona tête-a-tête-à-tête, perhaps?—also turns up from time to time.

The UT-Austin campus and the Texas State Capitol are very close to each other, and when I was an undergraduate in 1999, the Capitol building was open for the public to explore. You could just walk into the Governor’s outer office and sign his guest book, which I did. That was the first place I ever saw a tête-à-tête, a cool 19th-century antique, and I was reminded of it this morning when I saw this thoroughly modern tête-à-tête rocking chair prototype from NYU ITP student Annelie Berner. [via matt richardson]