A Guide to Sofas

Tara Dickinson
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Home Style Guide To Different Types of Couches


A sofa is a sofa is a sofa. Or is it a couch; a loveseat; a sectional? Unless you’re an interior designer you undoubtedly had no idea that there are several different foundational elements of sofas to consider. Do you know to pay attention to its various components, from the silhouette, to the cushions, to the tufting? The what?! Tufting is, “...the look that's achieved when layers of fabric are tightly stitched into a pattern—forming indents that are evenly positioned throughout. Typically, these depressions are secured with a button, knot or ribbon, although a more modern take is to leave them bare.”

Back to sofas...since this is an important piece of furniture for your home, the place where you will gather with friends and family, a place to relax, let’s make sure to get the perfect fit for your lifestyle and home decor design. Since a sofa will be with you for many years, maybe generations to come, consider the future as well. Will your family be expanding? Or downsizing? Moving or staying rooted for good? Things to ponder.


How To Choose A Sofa

The best way to get started is by answering some questions about your sofa use:

  1. Is it a show piece or a functional piece, or a combination of both?
  2. Do you need a comfortable napping piece?
  3. Is a sleeper sofa important for your many guests?
  4. Limited space? Need compact seating?
  5. Are reclining seats a must-have?
  6. Is style more important than function?

Once answered, moving to the next phase of sofa selection will narrow down the options.



Review the definitions below to find what works best for your space and your needs.

Chaise Sofas- a chaise sofa combines the sexyness of a lounge to stretch out as well as an upright area to sit in.

Loveseat Sofas- are smaller and typically only seat two. Come in many styles and loads of optional features. Very nice item for compact areas or when super coziness is wanted.


Reclining Sofas- aka the lazy boy! Today’s models are like mini cities unto themselves, with cup holders, built-in storage, massagers, and even USB ports.

Sectional Sofas- ideal for large families, entertaining, and filling up space in large rooms.

Sleeper Sofas- no extra guest room in the house but you love to host? This versatile unit gives you double the use when needed.


When measuring the layout, plan to leave about 16″ of space from the couch to the coffee table (or ottomans) and about 30″ between the couch and other pieces of furniture. Standard sofa sizes range from 72 to 96″ long and 30 to 40″ deep, seating three people comfortably.



There are three main categories of couches: modern, traditional, and transitional.

  1. Modern- clean lines, low profiles, few embellishments.
  2. Traditional- curved silhouettes, carved legs, upholstery, skirts.
  3. Transitional- combined elements of modern and traditional, sophisticated designs, limited embellishments.

Some of the most popular and common sofa styles come in these genres:

  • Coastal: breezy, beach style, blending seaside motifs, nautical accents, and weathered wood with shades of white and blue.
  • Farmhouse: country-chic textiles, distressed materials, antique styles combined with modern elements for comfortable, oversized sofas in neutral colors.
  • Hollywood: chic and elegant, opulent use of metallics, shimmer, and shine to turn up the glam factor.
  • Mid-Century: emphasizes function and clean lines, with pops of whimsy, geometric shapes, tapered sofa legs, and organic curves.
  • Rustic: distressed woods, rusted metals, and natural fabrics are the foundation of this rugged aesthetic, sprinkled with splashes of color.


Take some extra time to review the basic construction and design elements so your sofa will last into posterity.

Arms- The arms are part of a couch's defining style, giving it anything from a dramatic look to a scaled down zen feel, to a completely cozy and comfortable vibe. Low arms can serve as headrests for lounging; rolled arms look more traditional; padded (saddle) arms have an ample look; and finally, track arms are straight and fit nicely in tight areas.

Cushions- cushion number basically denotes seating space. People usually feel very strongly about having either attached or removable cushions. Both have their pros and cons; you’ll have to decide what’s best for your situation.

Frame- a hardwood or metal frame will last the longest over time. Particle board frames are lighter and cost less but will not be as durable.

Material- do you need durability for large family constant use, or is your situation simpler, maybe a one or two person household? Consider this first before you choose the material which can either be long lasting, stain resistant, and hardy or require a more delicate hand.

  • Fabric- includes natural fibers from cotton, to chenille, to synthetics, and wool. Care instructions will explain cleaning methods and durability.
  • Faux leather- is breathable, more eco-friendly, and degradable.
  • Leather- has a great many variations in grade, treatment style, and price.
  • Microfiber- feels like suede, is easy to clean, durable, and moisture resistant.
  • Velvet- comfortable, soft, rich colors, but a bit difficult to clean.



“The Cabriole sofa is characterized by an exposed wooden frame (often carved); continuous, equal-height back and arms; distinctive curved legs with concave lower portions and convex upper ones; and no separate back cushions.”

  • bowed leg look
  • continuous, equal-height back and arms with curvy legs
  • typically seen in mid-century modern sofas
  • ornate, timeless designs
  • soft fabrics and velvet upholstery
  • refined, elegant design


“The Camelback couch traditional, classic line which has an arched back that rises to a higher point in the middle and again slightly at the ends. It usually has rolled arms and an exposed wood frame.”

  • named for the camel’s hump
  • arched middle and high points at both ends
  • elegant style for a traditional and formal appeal
  • works well with other decors too, modern, boho, shabby chic 


“The Chesterfield sofa’s signature feature is its partial button tufting. The design is highly versatile: it looks feminine and decorative when upholstered in linen or velvet but takes on a Gentlemen's Club feel when done up in leather.”

  • same height arms and back
  • tufted upholstery
  • rolled out arms=regal & comfortable
  • associated with a masculine look
  • grandiose style is statement maker in an open, airy space
  • usually upholstered in leather; also works in other fabrics, including velvet

English Rolled Arm

“An English arm is stuffed on the interior sides and flat on the exterior to create a clean line up the side of the piece. Equal parts classic and comfy, it’s popular for a range of design tastes.”

  • tight back cushions
  • lose seating cushions
  • rolled arms, lower than the back


“The Lawson was created for a businessman named Thomas Lawson around the turn of the 20th century. The ornate, fancy designs of the Victorian era [were replaced] for a cleaner, more modern look. It has since turned into the most common, most American version of a couch: clean, boxy lines but with just enough give and comfort.”

  • simple, comfortable design
  • modern style
  • three back cushions is traditional
  • versatile design, in every size and fabric option
  • boxy shape with low arms
  • no ornate details 


“Tuxedo couch is an overstuffed sofa with upholstered arms, either straight or curving slightly outward, at the same height as the back.”

  • clean lines, sleek & modern
  • box shape
  • arms same height as the back


Sofas can easily be a main statement piece for the room, or they can be neutral settings to showcase accents. Functional or decorative; firm and stern or completely enveloping. There is a sofa for every desire and decor. Hopefully the tips above will help you determine the right size and shape for your space. In the end, it is about letting your personal style make the final decisions.


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