Choosing a sofa can be pretty overwhelming due to its important role in the home. Since you’ll spend a lot of time on this piece of furniture, you can’t take the choice lightly.
Apart from the few couch purchases I have made in my life, I have also spent a lot of time in furniture stores trying out the options available: learning about the origins, testing comfort, and picturing where they could fit in my home.
I aim to introduce you to different types of sofas, their names, shapes beyond the typical rectangular form, and both standard and unique styles. This will make your future sofa choice much easier.
Quicklist: Different Types of Sofas and Couches
- Lawson-style Sofa
- Mid-Century Modern
- Contemporary Mid-Century Modern Sofa
- English Roll-Arm
- Chaise Lounge
- Pull-Out Sofa Bed
- Convertible Sofa
- Bunk Bed Sleeper
- Loveseat Sofa
- Settee Sofa
- Recliner Sofa
- Tuxedo Sofa
- Low-Seated Sofas
- Pallet couches
- Full-sofa Lounger
- Multi-sofa Lounger
- Single-sofa Lounger
- Modular couches
- Track Arm
- Deep Seat Couches
There are many kinds of sofas out there — where do you start?
I’m a big fan of mid-century modern and sectional sofas. A mid-century modern sectional is my favorite couch. You may be cringing at the thought of a sectional in your living room — many people don’t like them, but I do.
Fortunately, there are many styles to choose from, including other sofa styles that you may not be familiar with.
1. Sectional Sofa
Sectional sofas are multi-piece sofas. A common number of pieces are three and five. It can be arranged in a number of configurations. The more pieces, the more configurations. Ideally, any sectional you purchase will include fixtures that connect the pieces to keep them from separating.
Due to the massive and growing popularity of sectionals, there are many, many styles, designs, and materials to choose from. Some are huge and can span large rooms, while others are much smaller, making one of the types of sofas for small spaces.
Sectional sofas differ from sectional couches, however, they are often used interchangeably. Sectional couches are also less common than the former, although they may have the same height.
Two common configurations are L-shape and U-shape.
The Chesterfield sofa is known for its “quilted” or “tufted” style. It’s more of a fancy couch compared to other couch designs featured in this article.
Some have the tufted design on only the back and arms (see my illustrated guide to different sofa arm styles here), while others include it on the seating bench section as well.
It continues to be one of the types of sofa styles that still rank with current sofa trends.
3. Lawson-style Sofa
This sofa style is designed for comfort. Its signature design element is a back comprised of pillows separate from the frame.
The reason for this design is to create a softer, more cushioned sofa with large cushions that aren’t taut within the frame of the sofa.
It continues to be a popular sofa design today. You can buy a Lawson-style sofa in many sizes, colors, and materials. In addition to being uber-comfortable, you can move the large pillows around for ultimate comfort.
History of the Lawson Sofa
The Lawson sofa is a relatively new design – the first one was created for financier Thomas W. Lawson in the early 20th century. He desired a sofa that was modern in design and comfortable. Apparently, it’s a derivative design of the tuxedo sofa.
4. Mid-Century Modern
From the 1930s to the 1970s, mid-century modern furniture reigned supreme, but don’t count it down and out yet. It’s making a comeback and looks like it will continue as it has now passed the time-test.
This style of sofa is all about minimalist design and clean lines. There are many varieties. It’s designed to look good and be comfortable — they got it half right — it’s not the most comfortable furniture, but coupled with the right home design, it can look fabulous.
5. Contemporary Mid-Century Modern Sofa
I’m including a section for modern sofas because it’s a commonly used term when referring to contemporary mid-century modern furniture.
Strictly speaking, what’s commonly referred to as modern furniture is really a mid-century modern design.
Moreover, mid-century modern should not be confused with contemporary furniture — it’s different. Contemporary is a term used for current furniture… but it’s always based on a particular design style, such as a contemporary Chesterfield or contemporary camelback.
6. English Roll-Arm
The English sofa (aka English roll-arm) is known for low arms in relation to a high back.
Upholstery is tight throughout, yet decently cushioned all over, including the arms.
While similar to the Bridgewater, it’s distinguished by the tautness of the upholstery and low arms. In fact, some English rolled-arm sofas have arms so low as to appear to be armless.
Characterized by tight back and large, plush, loose seat cushions and distinctive rolled arms slightly lower than the back, the English roll-arm sofa is a timeless piece that’s perfect for a formal living room or parlor, but also coordinates well with any modern furniture.
One trick is to customize the legs to fit your particular furniture style. For example, you can use a straight leg for a modern décor or a turned leg for a traditional setting. A geometric or stripe pattern works well on this type of sofa if you want to blend the traditional with the contemporary.
First appearing in the early 20th century in British country manors, the neatly tailored English roll-arm sofa is one of the most comfortable couches you can find anywhere.
In fact, it’s actually been described as the furniture equivalent of a “meatloaf”. This sofa is ideal if you choose to use slipcovers on your furniture. This way, you can either remove or replace a soiled or worn cover while preserving your sofa’s beauty for years to come.
Casual and comfortable define a Bridgewater sofa design. The arms are slightly rolled to the side and are lower than the sofa back.
While the Bridgewater design fits in most room designs, it’s seldom going to be the room’s stand-out feature.
Consider the Bridgewater style if you want a traditional and reasonably comfortable sofa. It’s still a staple sofa style today… but it’s not nearly as popular as it once was.
The camelback sofa’s main design feature is a higher back in the center, which descends in a continuous line into the arms of the sofa. There are also designs with two arches on the back.
This type of sofa is also recognized for exposed wood legs as well as frequently exposed wood on top of the back and arms (although not always).
While a classic design, you can buy contemporary camelback designs (that are more comfortable than the antique featured here).
The cabriole sofa’s trademark design element is a continuous, equal-height back and arms — often, the arms curve inward, creating a long line from arm to arm.
Some designs include ornate elements, such as the sofa featured here; however, more often (and especially contemporary cabriole sofas), substitute ornate for more comfortable features, such as more cushion throughout (especially the seated portion of the sofa).
Also, cabriole sofas are known for an exposed wood trim along the top of the back and arms. However, you can find contemporary cabriole sofas without the wood trim in the classic cabriole design.
See our second featured cabriole sofa for an example of one without the wood trim.
10. Chaise Lounge
Chaise lounges are still popular, especially in today’s massive primary bedroom suites.
Some chaise lounges have an arm, while others have no arms. Also, the chaise lounge is extremely popular as a patio furniture item typically found poolside.
However, for this article setting out the various sofa designs, our featured chaise lounge is one you’d find inside.
Many believe the first type of chaise lounge was of Egyptian origin and was a combination of chair and daybed features. Dating back to approximately 3000 B.C., the Egyptians constructed their primitive lounges of palm stalks that they secured with pieces of rawhide or cord. Later, affluent Egyptians reclined on lounges constructed of wood.
In ancient Greece, it became popular to recline on daybeds rather than to sit at a table for drinking or reading. This furniture featured layers of draped fabric and cushions for headrests.
The ancient Romans also used a type of chaise lounge, known as a “lectus,” for reclining during meals and banquets. The chairs were constructed of wood and featured comfortable cushions.
The words “chaise lounge” are taken from the French words “chaise longe,” meaning “long chair.” A chaise lounge is simply a sofa shaped like a long chair that can support itself structurally. The French chaise lounge became popular in the 1500s. By the time of the French Rococo period, the lounge was a social status symbol and was constructed of rare, costly materials.
Modern chaise lounge sofas are considered more of a decorative addition than a necessary piece of furniture in the home and are usually found in a bedroom or other room where relaxation dominates.
Types of Sofa Beds
Many sleeper-style sofas range from pull-outs to futons to daybeds to sofa beds to even bunk-bed sofa combos. All styles feature here, including other sofa styles that are quite uncommon. See them below.
11. Pull-Out Sofa Bed
Probably the most popular form of sleeper sofa are pull-out sofa beds. They’re mightily improved from 20 years ago (I know because growing up, I had an old wire job that offered an uneven, creaky bed).
These days, sleeper beds are well-designed and offer a great sleeping solution for guests.
A pull-out sofa bed is distinguished from a futon in that the sofa back remains upright while the sleeping surface folds under the belly of the sofa from where it is stored and pulled out.
12. Convertible Sofa
A convertible sofa doesn’t have a mattress like sofa beds or pull out couches have.
The bed “mattress” results from the couch pillows, as shown in the image on the left.
This can be more or less comfortable than a pull-out bed, depending on the quality of the mattress with the pull-out bed (the quality range is substantial).
The futon is a sofa/bed combo. Generally, the back of the sofa folds or releases downward to create a large, flat, cushioned sleeping surface.
Similar to the futon is the convertible sleeper couch, which is a couch made up of pieces that rearrange into a large flat sleeping surface. The mattress is comprised of the sofa’s cushions. The convertible-style sleeper is often a feature of sectional sofas.
The history of the futon dates back to 17th-century Japan; the word “futon” has been derived from the Japanese word for “bedding.” The Japanese stuffed cotton and wool and spread their “bedclothes” on flooring made of rice straw or “tatami.”
Because the flooring was so lightweight, the mattresses needed to be lightweight, as well, and were thus constructed of long-staple cotton. The mattresses were even portable and could be rolled up and stored when not in use.
At first, only the wealthy and nobility could afford the futon. However, with the advent of the Industrial Revolution and cotton manufacturing in the 1700s, all social classes gained access to bedclothes.
American GIs who returned home from the Far East following World War II described the comfort they experienced when sleeping on a Japanese floor mattress.
To accommodate the increasing interest in such an exotic type of bed, American furniture manufacturers created a piece of furniture that combined both a bed frame and mattress to suit particular Western tastes and preferences.
For Americans who prefer an authentic Japanese-style futon without the frame, there’s the option of stacking several mattresses to achieve the experience while sleeping higher above the floor.
While asking guests to sleep on a daybed wouldn’t be cool, it can be a great place to kick your feet up for a nap.
The daybed looks similar to a chaise lounge, except the daybed has ends or backs on each side.
The problem with many daybeds is they don’t accommodate tall people very well unless you don’t mind resting your legs elevated.
15. Bunk Bed Sleeper
The bunk bed sleeper is not a common sofa design. It’s akin to a concept sofa, but they are available.
Without question, kids love them because kids love heights as well as anything that transforms them.
The bunk bed sleeper is a great solution for cabins and vacation homes, or any residence where extra sleeping accommodations are needed for kids.
16. Loveseat Sofas
The loveseat sofa is an umbrella term for a sofa made for two people. They’re often part of a living room set.
Like sofas, loveseats come in many styles and designs, such as camelback, cabriole, etc.
My favorite use of a loveseat is to create a small sitting area in the bedroom or as a bench at the foot of a bed. Otherwise, I’m not too keen on them because you can’t fully stretch out.
A divan is a sofa without a back and is usually lower to the ground. Therefore, they require being placed against a bare wall against which you can arrange pillows for a cushioned back.
While not the most practical because you’re restricted to where you can place them, they offer some versatility with respect to pillow placement. You might like the look of a backless sofa (i.e., cushioned bench) against your wall.
The red sofa featured here isn’t 100% divan because it has some back support, but it’s ideally designed for placement against a wall for proper support.
18. Settee Sofa
A settee is a wide chair. Today’s closest version is the loveseat, but historically, settees were narrower than loveseats.
They’re also much less comfortable since they’re designed like a wide dining room chair with arms.
You can hardly sit two people on these seats, and I doubt anyone would want to sit there for long… but they have an old-world charm. In fact, they make for nice foyer pieces.
19. Recliner Sofa
The reclining sofa is a fairly new type of couch but has grown in popularity given they’re great for watching television and reading.
While not the best pick for a formal living room, they’re terrific for family rooms and media rooms. In fact, with a little carpentry work, building a platform in a TV room, and getting a couple reclining sofas, you can make a fine home media space.
20. Tuxedo Sofa
A tuxedo has a high arms level with the sofa back that cuts straight across.
While not the most comfortable due to the lack of a reclining angle, it’s a classy-looking sofa with straight lines.
The tuxedo is applied to loveseats and chairs as well.
Brief Origin of the Tuxedo Sofas
Interestingly, the tuxedo sofa isn’t that old – it was first seen in the 1920s in Tuxedo Park, a wealthy New York State enclave. Also of note, it’s Tuxedo Park is also widely considered the birthplace of the tuxedo suit, but that’s not quite true. The tuxedo suit dates back to 1865, first worn by Edward VII, then Prince of Wales).
21. Low-Seated Sofas
Another particular kind of sofa is a low-seated sofa, which spans multiple styles and can be used in different rooms such as a living room, family room, bedroom, and pretty much any type of room for lounging.
The typical height of a sofa seat is 17″ to 18″. A low-seated sofa is one where the seat is lower than 17″.
22. Pallet couches
Pallet furniture is popular. Most people build it themselves, but you can actually buy pallet furniture such as pallet sofas.
A pallet sofa is often built against the wall, where the back is the wall with cushions placed against it. However, you can also create a pallet couch with its own back so it has a slight recline and’s more comfortable than against the wall.
What is a sofa lounger?
It’s a sofa with a chaise lounge design to it. It’s been around for a while but now has its own term. Basically, it’s a sofa with an extension for putting your feet up. It comes in three sofa styles. They are:
23. Full-sofa Lounger
The full-sofa lounger is a sleeper sofa, but while in bed mode, you can still sit up.
24. Multi-sofa Lounger
The multi-lounger is a sofa with more than one lounging extension.
25. Single-sofa Lounger
This is very common and often referred to as a sectional sofa. In reality, it’s a sofa with a single chaise lounge extension.
26. Modular Couches
Modular couches are a great way to add style and flexibility to your living room. They comprise individual pieces that can be arranged in various configurations to create a sofa tailored to your specific space and needs.
Modular couches are also an excellent choice for people who enjoy entertaining because they can be easily rearranged to accommodate various group sizes and activities. You can, for example, create a large U-shaped sectional for movie nights or a more intimate conversation area by separating the pieces.
27. Track Arm
Track arms are a style of sofa arm distinguished by its clean, straight lines. They are frequently found on modern and contemporary sofas and can contribute to a more streamlined and minimalist appearance.
The track arm sofa is usually squared off and tailored in appearance compared to the English Roll Arm sofas, which are round and boast excellent sofa cushions.
Track arm sofas can easily be dressed up with decorative pillows or throws to match different décor themes and provide a timeless and understated elegance to a room. Track arms are also ideal for people with pets or children because they are less likely to become entangled in clothing or toys.
28. Deep Seat Couches
Deep-seat couches are an excellent way to enhance the comfort and luxury of your living room. They have extra-deep plump cushions and deep seats that allow you to sink in and relax comfortably. They are ideal for relaxing and lounging because they provide more support and cushioning than traditional sofas.
Deep-seat couches are also a good choice for taller people or have longer legs because they allow you to stretch out more.
Types of Sofa Sets
When buying a sofa, you can buy a single sofa or couch or buy a set. A set is two or more couch-style seating options. In some cases, a set may include an armchair. Here are the main sofa set configurations:
- Sofa and loveseat (two-piece)
- Sofa, loveseat and armchair (three-piece)
- Two sofas (two-piece)
- Three sofas (three-piece)
- Sofa, loveseat and armchair (three-piece)
Sofa Sizes Chart
Here’s a set of diagrams setting out sofa dimensions according to the number of people it accommodates.
Couch Design Overview Diagram
Can’t choose? Here’s a graphic showcasing some of the different couch styles.
More details: See our full parts of a couch illustration and write-up here.
Best Type of Sofa for Various Uses
Sunroom – Cotton Polyester Sofa
A sunroom is perfect for solitary relaxation, so comfort is essential even when choosing furniture. However, you also need to be careful with the material, especially since some fabrics don’t do so well with direct exposure to the sun. Therefore, a cotton polyester sofa would be your best bet. Polyester is engineered in such a way that it can resist fading in the sun.
Combining cotton with polyester improves your sofa’s durability and makes it more wrinkle-resistant. It would help if you also considered the humidity levels of your sunroom. Consider using a dehumidifier to protect the upholstery from mold and mildew if you don’t have climate control.
Sofa Bed – Futon
The first sleeper sofa can be traced to Japan. However, this type of sofa has been quite popular in Western culture for several decades. Unlike a sleeper bed, the futon/ sleeper sofa mattress serves as both the seat cushion and the mattress. They are incredibly popular with young adults who have embraced the van lifestyle.
You might be wondering if you can sleep on a futon every night. No evidence suggests regular sleeping on a futon is detrimental to your health. Furthermore, you can always add another layer of cushioning if you like.
Pet Hair – Leather Sofa
As a loving pet owner, you know that your sofa bears the brunt of your furry friend. Although you can train your pet not to jump on or scratch the sofa, there is not much you can do about the hair — except buy a good sofa. A leather sofa would be the best investment.
You can easily wipe the hair right off the couch. It’s also a good idea if someone in the family suffers from allergies since it’s hypoallergenic. It is also relatively easy to get stains off the leather. Besides, leather furniture gives your home a sleek appearance.
Everyday Use – Pocket Spring Sofa
A typical sofa lasts anywhere between seven and 15 years. With such a lifespan, you want your everyday-use sofa to be practical and appealing to you. A pocket spring sofa would easily pass for the best everyday-use sofa. Such sofas feature high-quality springs — the fabric acts as pockets for the springs.
Another propelling reason to get a pocket spring sofa for everyday use is that it tends to maintain its shape and support better than most other types. It is also a good choice for partners with varying weights since the pocket springs are free.
Narrow Room/ Small Space – Thin, Low-Arm Sofa
When you have a narrow or generally small space, you should strive to reduce the bulkiness of the furniture as much as possible. That doesn’t mean giving up arms on your sofa altogether. However, it would help if you go with a thin, low-arm sofa. That way, the eyes will glide right past. You might also consider getting a low-back sofa, so it doesn’t dominate the room.
Office – Velvet Armchair Sofa
A sofa is an essential requirement for any office. Sofas serve different purposes, such as the waiting area, the reception, and inside the main office. Therefore, the sofa you choose depends on the intended purpose. However, you can never go wrong with velvet armchair sofas.
There is something about velvet upholstery that you can’t possibly resist. Velvet is so luxurious — a good message for any business to send. Besides, velvet has so much creative versatility. You can choose a theme that aligns with the rest of your office décor.
Back Support (Posture) – Recliner Sofa
So many people across America have posture problems, posing serious health risks. Some problems linked with poor posture include incontinence, constipation, and heartburn. Among the things you can do to get better back support is invest in a good sofa.
The answer? A recliner sofa. Here, you can lean back when you want to relax without putting additional stress on your back. Some recliner sofas even have extra storage compartments so you can store books and snacks.
Outdoors (Patio) – Synthetic Resin Sofa
Choosing outdoor furniture is not the easiest job in the world — the most significant challenge being environmental factors. Will there be too much direct sunlight during the summer? Or do you experience heavy rains each year? To be safe, go with an engineered fabric with aluminum or steel frames, such as synthetic resins.
You can rest assured that the synthetic resin sofa won’t absorb any water come the rainy season. Neither will it be damaged in direct sunlight. Most importantly, a synthetic resin sofa requires minimal care — you can easily clean it by hosing it off with your garden hose.
Frequently Asked Questions
Below are answers to common questions about sofas.
Are Sofas and Couches the Same?
Many people tend to use both terms when referring to couches and sofas. But historically speaking, there is little difference between the two.
The word “couch” stems from the French word “coucher,” which translates to “lie down.” The term “sofa” is an Arabic derivative of the word “suffah,” which describes a wood bench with some type of cushioning.
Early couches were smaller than sofas and were usually without arms. Couches were also a little smaller in size than sofas in all dimensions. Now, a sofa refers to a comfortable seating area with soft arms large enough for a few people to sit on. And couches would refer to more casual seating.
How Many Types of Sofas Are There?
Many different types of sofas are available to suit different tastes and needs. The traditional sofa, modern sofas, modular, sleeper, loveseats, and reclining sofas are some of the most popular styles. Specialized designs, such as the Chesterfield sofa, camelback sofas, and tuxedo sofas, are also available, each with their own distinct style and features.
What Is the Most Popular Type of Sofa?
Sectional sofas are the most popular type of sofa right now. They are adaptable and can be arranged to fit any space, making them suitable for both small and large living rooms. Sectional sofas are also a good choice for families and people who entertain frequently because they provide a lot of seating.
What Sofa Never Goes Out of Style?
Chesterfield sofas are a timeless style that has been popular for centuries. They are distinguished by their deep button tufting, rolled arms, and nailhead trim. Chesterfield sofas are adaptable and can complement a variety of home décor styles. Modular sofas may also not go out of style thanks to the flexibility that they offer.
With the variety of sofa styles, you’ll surely find one perfect for your home and needs. When selecting a sofa, consider the size of your space, lifestyle, and budget. Also, choose a sofa that matches the overall style of your home and complements your furniture.