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
- 7. Bridgewater
- 8. Camel back
- 9. Cabriole
- 10. Chaise Lounge
- 11. Sleeper Sofas
- 13. Loveseat Sofas
- 14. Divan
- 15. Settee Sofa
- 16. Recliner Sofa
- 17. Tuxedo Sofa
- Sofa Sizes Chart
- 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.
Check out the following curated collection of the most popular sectionals (modern, mid-century, traditional, l-shape, u-shape, reclining, leather, fabric and more:
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 35 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].
Check out these gorgeous chesterfields – scroll the arrows:
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).
Lawson Sofa Gallery
4. Mid-century Modern
From 1940 to 1970 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.
Check out this amazing curated collection of mid-century sofas:
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.
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.
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.
8. Camel 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 camel back sofa designs (that are a more comfortable than the antique featured here).
Camelback Sofa Gallery
Scroll the collection with the arrows.
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.
Cabriole Sofa Gallery
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.
Browse our collection of chaise lounges
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.
Sleeper Sofa Collection Gallery
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.
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.
Futon Bunk Bed Combo Gallery
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.
Loveseat Photo Gallery
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.
Settee Examples (Photos)
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.
Recliner Sofa Gallery
Browse our diverse collection of reclining sofas.
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).
Our Tuxedo Sofa Gallery:
Sofa Sizes Chart
Here’s a set of diagrams setting out sofa dimensions according to the number of people it accommodates.
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.