True story: my wife and I spent the lion’s share of one of our first dates in browsing and chatting in a furniture store. I can’t remember how we ended up there, but we did and before we knew it, we had spent over 2 hours chatting on comfy sofas throughout the store. All that was missing in the place was a coffee bar.
I love sofas. I love trying them, shopping for them and of course sitting in them.
I doubt the store staff liked it all that much, but they were polite. Our furniture store date led to more dates and ultimately to getting married. We still laugh at how we actually spent much of a date in furniture store.
Since then we’ve spent many hours browsing furniture stores. If you haven’t tried it, give it a shot. It can be a lot of fun.
There 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 sofas styles to choose from.
Table of Contents
- Overview Diagram
- 1. Sectional Sofa
- 2. Chesterfield
- 3. Lawson-style Sofa
- 4. Mid-century Modern
- 5. Contemporary Mid-century Modern Sofa
- 6. English Rolled Arm
- 7. Bridgewater
- 8. Camelback
- 9. Cabriole
- 10. Chaise Lounge
- 11. Sleeper Sofas
- 13. Loveseat Sofas
- 14. Divan
- 15. Settee Sofa
- 16. Recliner Sofa
- 17. Tuxedo Sofa
- 18. Low-Seated Sofas
- 19. Pallet couches
- 20. Sofa Lounger
- Sofa Sizes Chart
- Frequently Asked Questions
- My first sofa purchase
- Pin-Friendly Version
- Sofa Styles Video
Check out the common styles and types below:
More details: See our full parts of a couch illustration and write-up here.
1. Sectional Sofa
The section sofa is a multi-piece sofa. Common number of pieces are 3 and 5. 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.
Two common configurations are L-shape and U-shape.
History of the Sectional
While you probably know the sectional sofa became popular and evolved into its present form in the 1950’s with the advent of mid-century furniture design, sectionals were build in the Victoria era. The early Victorian era sectionals were primitive being two or more sofas that were pushed together to form a larger sofa.
Oh yeah, sectionals are great because they’re easy to move… I learned that the hard way – read my first sofa buying experience at the end of this post. Learn more – read our 38 Types of Sectional Sofas article and discover 10 sectionals under $500 here.
The chesterfield sofa is known for its “quilted” or “tufted” style.
Some have the tufted design on only the back and arms (see our illustrated guide to different sofa arm styles here) while others include it on the seating bench section as well.
It continues to be a popular style with current sofa trends.
Origin of the Chesterfield
The birth of the chesterfield sofa is believed to be a sofa commissioned by Lord Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield in the 18th century. The Earl desired a piece of furniture on which a “gentleman to sit upright in the utmost of comfort allowing sitting without wrinkling the garment” [source: LondonGallery.net].
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 taught 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 created for financier Thomas W. Lawson in the early 20th century. Thomas Lawson desired a sofa that was modern in design and comfortable. Apparently, it’s a derivative design of the tuxedo sofa (see below).
4. Mid-century Modern
From the 1930’s to the 1970’s mid-century modern furniture reigned supreme, but don’t count it down and out yet. It’s making a comeback and looks that it will stay as it has now passed the test of time.
This style of sofa is all about minimalist design and clean lines. There are many varieties of this style of sofa. It’s designed to look good and be comfortable – the result is it’s not the most comfortable furniture, but in coupled with the right home design, it can look fabulous.
Popular from the mid-l930s to roughly the mid-1970s, the Mid-century Modern design movement was characterized by elegance, practicality and simplicity. In her 1984 book, “Mid-century Modern: Furniture of the 1950s,” Cara Greenberg became the first to officially name the style.
The Mid-century Modern style in America can be traced to previous popular European styles, such as Bauhaus from Germany, which also influenced the American International style. As German designers immigrated to the United States during and after World War II, they brought their Bauhaus style with them. In addition, the booming postwar economy created a class of prosperous Americans who began to escape the inner cities and develop a unique suburban lifestyle. Their newly-built homes called for coordinating furniture. Advances in technology also allowed for the creation of new materials, such as plastics, Plexiglas and Lucite. Mid-century Modern sofas and other furniture featured sleek, clean lines and both traditional and non-traditional materials, sometimes utilized in the same piece. It wasn’t unusual to see the same basic style of Mid-century Modern sofa in a choice of vinyl, wool or velvet fabric.
Contrasting blacks and whites, along with colors ranging from neutral to bold, formed the simple geometric designs found in Mid-century Modern furniture. In addition, the newer materials made for easier upkeep and care.
5. Contemporary Mid-century Modern Sofa
I’m including a section for modern sofas because it’s a commonly used term used to refer to contemporary midcentury modern furniture.
Strictly speaking, what’s commonly referred to as modern furniture is really a midcentury modern design.
Moreover, midcentury 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 Rolled Arm
The English sofa (a.k.a. English rolled 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 taughtness of the upholstery and low arms. In fact, some English rolled arm sofas have arms so low as to appear to be armless (not the case with the version featured to here.
Characterized by tight back and large, plush, loose seat cushions and distinctive tight, rounded 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 with your particular choice of furniture style. For example, you can use a straight leg for a modern décor or a turned leg for a traditional setting. If you want to blend the traditional with the contemporary, a geometric or stripe pattern works well on this type of sofa.
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 stand-out feature of the room.
If you want traditional and reasonably comfortable in a sofa, consider the bridgewater style. It’s still a staple sofa style today… but it’s not nearly as popular as it once was.
Also known as a birch-arm or English three-seater, the Bridgewater sofa is characterized by a softly-rolled back, low, slightly-rolled, low set-back arms, soft, padded loose cushions and a distinctive tailored skirt that hides the legs. Some contemporary pieces, however, feature exposed legs.
The Bridgewater is a traditional casual and subtle sofa that doesn’t overpower the rest of the furniture in the room. As did the English roll arm sofa, the Bridgewater also originated in Great Britain; and like the English roll arm, the Bridgewater is a good choice for those who want to use a slipcover to preserve their furniture. Typically, Bridgewater sofas can easily sit three.
Although most popular as a casual piece, this extremely comfortable sofa is versatile enough to blend in with any décor. A neutral fabric will allow bold artwork or other major piece to remain dominant. Velvet or rayon fabric can complement a more traditional setting. Nail-head trim can also add a formal touch to a Bridgewater sofa.
A well-constructed Bridgewater sofa features high-quality interior springs that will guarantee its comfort.
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 sofa designs (that are a more comfortable than the antique featured here).
Featuring a distinctive arched back that peaks at the center and sides, the Camelback sofa is a late-1700s product of the Thomas Chippendale furniture design studios in Great Britain. Chippendale was the first furniture style to be named for its designer instead of for a ruling monarch. During the era, English aristocracy heavily favored the Camelback sofa for their homes, largely because of the expert craftsmanship for which Chippendale was known. Chippendale’s furniture was crafted in a modified Rococo style. Characteristics of this style included elegance, lightness and an emphasis on natural curving and ornamentation.
The elegant Camelback sofa, named for its resembling a camel’s humps, is also characterized by tight upholstery, a shaped bench seat, high, scrolled arms that provide support and exposed legs. Authentic English Camelback sofas feature Queen Anne-style claw-and-ball feet. There are no separate back cushions. The Camelback’s traditional design makes it an ideal choice for placement between windows in a formal living room.
Modern types of Camelback sofas often feature one or two, rather than three, humps. Many contemporary Camelback sofas are upholstered in bold, graphic prints, bringing an updated look to a traditional sofa style.
The cabriole sofa’s trademark design element is continuous, equal-height back and arms. Often the arms curve inward creating a long line from arm to arm.
Some designs include ornate elements to them 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 in the classic cabriole design without the wood trim.
See our second featured cabriole sofa for an example of one without the wood trim.
10. Chaise Lounge
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 day bed features. Dating back to approximately 3000 BC, 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 day beds, 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 form 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.
11. Sleeper Sofas
There are many sleeper style sofas ranging from pull-outs to futons to daybeds to even bunk-bed sofa combos. We feature all styles here. See them below.
a. Pull Out Sofa Bed
Probably the most popular form of sleeper sofa is the pull out sofa bed. They’re mightily improved from 20 years ago (I know because growing up we 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.
b. Convertible Sofa
A convertible sofa differs from a pull out bed in that it doesn’t have a mattress.
The bed “mattress” results from the couch pillows as show in the image on the left.
This can be more or less comfortable than a pull-out bed depending on the quality of a 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 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” having 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 the 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 it wouldn’t be cool to ask guests to sleep on a daybed, 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.
e. 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.
The bunk bed sleeper is a great solution for cabins and vacation homes or any residence where extra sleeping accommodations are needed for kids.
13. 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 and bench at the foot of a bed. Otherwise, I’m not too keen on them because you can’t fully stretch out.
How long are loveseats? In other words, at what length does a loveseat become a sofa?
This was one bit of info I wasn’t familiar with, but after a bit of research discovered there are 4 loveseat categorizations, each depending on size measured arm-to-arm. The categories are:
- compact: one person up to 51 inches long,
- small: 52 inches long,
- medium: 58 inches long,
- full: up to 64 inches long, and
- loveseat sofas: up to 71 inches long.
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.
15. Settee Sofa
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 fore long… but they have an old world charm. In fact, they make for nice foyer pieces.
16. 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 two reclining sofas, you can make a fine home media room.
17. Tuxedo Sofa
A tuxedo sofa has high arms level with the sofa back that cuts straight across.
While not the most comfortable due to lack of reclining angle, it’s a classy looking sofa with the straight lines.
The tuxedo design is applied to loveseats and chairs as well.
Brief Origin of the Tuxedo Sofa
Interestingly, the tuxedo sofa isn’t that old, first seen in the 1920’s in Tuxedo Park, a wealthy New York State enclave. Also of note, it’s Tuxedo Park is also widely consider 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 Whales).
18. 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″.
19. 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. However, you can also create a pallet couch with its own back so it has a slight recline to it so that it’s more comfortable than against the wall.
20. Sofa Lounger
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 styles. They are:
a. Full sofa lounger
The full sofa lounger is a sleeper sofa but while in bed mode you can still sit up. Here’s an example:
b. Multi-sofa lounger
The multi lounger is a sofa with more than one lounging extensions. Here’s an example.
c. 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. Check it out:
Sofa Sizes Chart
Here’s a set of diagrams setting out sofa dimensions according to the number of people it accommodates.
Frequently Asked Questions
Below are answers to common questions about sofas.
Are Sofas a Standard Size? If so, What are the Dimensions (Length, Depth and Height)?
Sofas are available in a broad range of sizes. Most sofas will have a standard length of somewhere between six and eight feet. The standard depth is 28 to 30 inches from the back of the sofa to the front of the arm. The seat height usually measures 15 to 20 inches. As far as the height of the back of the sofa, you’ll find that its height matches the other furniture in the room for overall uniformity, typically ranging from 30 to 36 inches.
The seat depth and the height are the most important aspects to consider, both for their comfort and ease-of-use. Lower seat heights and shorter depths will be more comfortable for smaller people. And taller seat heights with more depth would work better for taller people.
Are “Sofas” and “Couches” the Same?
We tend to use both terms when we are referring to couches and sofas. But historically speaking, there is a 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, sofa tends to refer to a comfortable seating area with soft arms that’s large enough for a few people to sit on. And couches would refer to more casual seating.
Can Sofas Get Bed Bugs?
Unfortunately, their living habitat is not exclusive to bedding and mattresses. Your sofa also has the perfect living conditions that they need to survive. All they need is warmth, carbon dioxide, and something to eat, which is your blood.
Bed bug infestations on sofas can go unnoticed for a short time, making it difficult to figure out how they got there in the first place. They can actually live for a few months without feeding and may take their time getting comfortable before they strike. But once they start biting, you’ll notice the red spots on your skin and will see red blood stains on your clothing and your sofa.
They are also very difficult to get rid of. Repeatedly cleaning and vacuuming is the best approach to try to get rid of them. You can also use the services of a professional exterminator. Regrettably though, because of the different layers that a sofa has, eradicating them isn’t always possible.
What Materials are Sofas Made From?
The frame is usually made out of wood, although steel, plastic, and other manufactured boards can be used. Its padding can be as supple as down or feathers or made out of a durable foam material. It can also be padded with a combination of any of the three.
Sofa coverings are available in a huge variety of styles, textures, and colors. Leather, faux leather, and corduroy are commonly used on sofas. Natural fabrics like cotton or linen are also popular. And synthetic materials like microfiber and nylon are often seen.
How are Sofas Measured?
Sofas are measured for a few different reasons. Will it fit through the doorways leading into the room? Will it be the right size for the room? And will it be comfortable? There are a few different ways to measure it.
The length or width of the sofa could be measured arm to arm, at whichever point they are the farthest from each other. Sometimes the arms will fan out. Then, you would want to measure from the front ends of the arms.
It’s best to measure the height of the back with and without the legs, if they are removable. The measurement with the legs will give you a good idea of you much space it will take up in the room. The measurement without the legs will let you know how much space your have to get it through openings. And if the back of the sofa is not a flat, even surface, always measure it at it’s highest point.
The seating height would be the distance from the floor to the top of the seat cushions.
The depth is best measured from the side of the sofa. It would be a horizontal measurement from the back of the sofa to the most-forward protruding part on the front which is usually the arms, but can be the seat if it is curved outwards.
You’d want to get a diagonal measurement of the depth of the sofa in case it needs to be turned sideways to get it through a doorway. To get its diagonal depth, using one side of the sofa, measure the diagonal length between the bottom, back corner and the top, front edge.
Can Sofa Cushions be Washed?
Some sofa cushions have zippers, allowing the covers to be removed for washing. They should be washed on a gentle cycle and air dried to prevent them from shrinking.
For sofas where the cushions either don’t have zippers or aren’t removable, and for the arms, back, and sides, they can be cleaned with soap and water. You wouldn’t want to soak the fabric. But you could use a little elbow grease and give everything a good scrub, rinsing well and air drying.
Can Sofas be Dyed?
Just about all sofa covering materials can be dyed, including leather. It’s a great way to get a little more life out of a good piece of furniture that is showing some wear. There are plenty of DIY tutorials that you can find to walk you through the process. And you can always find a local professional to dye a sofa.
Can Sofas be Recycled?
While the entire sofa is not recyclable, many different parts of it are. If you have recycling picked up at your home, check with the company that handles it and see if they are able to pick up and recycle sofas. Or you can call other recycling centers in your area to see if they have options.
You could also take the old sofa apart yourself and recycle the parts that are reusable. Any untreated wood can be recycled, as well as most of the metal parts inside of the frame. Cushions and padding will most likely need to be sent to the landfill.
Can Sofas be Refurbished or Reupholstered?
Sofas can almost always be reupholstered as long as the frame is in good shape. You’ll want to find someone with experience dealing with both the type of sofa that you have and the upholstery that you are looking for.
Refurbishing a sofa really depends on what kind of repairs it needs. Minor repairs, even to damaged frames, can sometimes be successful. But sometimes the damage is too severe for refurbishing.
Can Used Sofas be Sold?
Used sofas can be sold, sometimes even if they aren’t in the best condition. Most used furniture buyers will be looking for pieces that have been taken care of and look like new. But if someone is looking for an inexpensive sofa to use for a short period of time, it might not matter how pretty it is as long as it’s sturdy.
Can Sofa Cushions be Replaced?
Cushions that are sagging, crooked or ruined because of repeated accidents or simply from wear and tear can be replaced. If you do a quick search, you’ll find several resources where you can order both pre-made and custom sized replacements that are available in various materials. Or, with a little finesse, finding and cutting them to size on your own could be a great DIY project.
Can Sofa Cushions be Restuffed?
Any of the materials that are used to fill sofa cushions can be replaced. Feathers, down, and even synthetic products can be easily found and used if older sofa cushions need a little more padding.
Can Sofa Cushions be Dry Cleaned?
Some sofas will actually have labels instructing you to only dry-clean them. If that’s the case, it’s always advisable to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations. Trying to clean them by washing them or getting them overly wet could cause them to fail altogether, either shrinking or pulling apart at the seams.
Professional upholstery cleaners can clean your sofa for a nominal cost. There are also a few different methods that you can research on how to clean them safely yourself.
My first sofa purchase
I’ll end this post with another brief anecdote. When I landed my first job after university, I decided to buy my first couch. I knew nothing about furniture, but I did know I wanted a long sofa so I could fully stretch out.
I found a long red couch that was super comfortable. I liked red because it would brighten up my place. The day it was delivered, I was excited. My dad and I hoisted it up and carried it to my new apartment. Lo and behold, that behemoth of a sofa didn’t fit in the stairwell. No matter how we maneuvered it, there was no getting that couch into my apartment.
That wasn’t cool. I had to return it and decided to get a sectional because it was in pieces and was a long couch. While the sectional as served me and my wife well, I still would have preferred that red couch.