Who knew there are 20 different styles of sofas and couches. Learn all about the different sofas you can get including distinguishing design features here.
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.
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 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].
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.
[source: Bassett Furniture].
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).
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.