Sofas and couches have formed an integral part of our interiors for hundreds of years to lend a comforting place on which to rest. Furthermore, the variety of styles available range from plush, traditional models to sleek, contemporary designs. However, have you ever wondered what is the difference between a sofa and a couch, and does it matter?
What Is the Difference Between a Sofa and a Couch?
The difference between a sofa and a couch may not seem obvious. Also, we take both terms for granted, blissfully unaware of the fundamental differences between the two. Because both words form a part of everyday speech, we don’t consider the question, what is the difference between a sofa and a couch.
Essentially, there remain two distinct differences between a sofa and a couch. A sofa has two armrests and a uniform back, while a couch usually features one armrest or none at all. Also, a couch has a tapered back.
A Little Bit of History
It is amazing how the meaning of a word may help us better understand a function. As such, the origins of the words sofa and couch help us to grasp the fundamental differences between the two iconic pieces of furniture.
The origin of the word sofa
The word sofa originates from the Arabic term, suffah. This word literally translates as a bench covered with blankets and cushions.
It forms an evocative picture in our minds when we think of the beautiful old Arabian Nights tales with banquets and food-laden tables. Suffahs offered comfortable platforms by which a person could comfortably lounge while feasting
The origin of the word couch
History tells us that the word couch evolved from the French word, couche, which means to lie down. However, the related Heraldic word, couchant, means lying down with the head up. Therefore, the word couch, as we know, derives from these two terms.
Couches proved very popular during the Victorian era, which saw an increase in manufacture because of the industrial revolution.
A Brief History of Furniture
While we consider, what is the difference between a sofa and a couch, it is worth knowing a little bit about the history of furniture.
Our homes would feel empty and uncomfortable without our furniture. Consequently, the places in which we live become our homes because of the comforts we place in them.
Imagine having to sit on the floor. It would feel very uncomfortable, and more often than not, cold. The industrial revolution and the invention of mass-produced furniture made all the difference to our modern society because it made what was previously a luxury, affordable to the masses.
Step back in time
Over the years, the design and functionality of furniture have changed dramatically. Before the 17th century, European homes did not use furniture because most of the furniture we know today did not exist.
Sometime between 1670 and 1730, an explosion of creativity and ingenuity saw the design and creation of furniture. This included the invention of the sofa and couch as we know them.
While primitive versions of the sofas and couches existed in antiquity, it wasn’t until the industrious craftsmen of the 17th century re-imagined them that they started to resemble what we see today.
Invention breeds comfort
Our modern homes contain two significant inventions, the sofa and the table. These two simple pieces of furniture had a significant impact on the way we use our homes. Can you imagine a world where tables don’t exist? Where would you eat? Where would you work?
Similarly, before couches and sofas came along, we used boxes and crates on which to sit. We may well be sitting here reading, what is the difference between a stone and a crate, instead of what is the difference between a sofa and a couch. It almost doesn’t bear thinking about.
However, by the early part of the 18th century, small tables and sofas in many styles found favor to transform the way we use our homes.
Vive la France
French artisans dominated the sofa industry with high demand for their products across Europe. Royalty and the wealthy wanted to furnish their homes in what they called back then, the modern style.
By the late 1600s and the early 1700s, French furniture, and in particular the sofa, were in high demand.
The Sofa Revolution
Surviving prints advertising sofas from the period show noblewomen with their arms draped over the back of sofas. Also, they sit with their legs outstretched. This was seen as quite scandalous for the time because it suggested that sofas could make people freer, more relaxed, and even sexier!
This revolution in sofas caused the wealthy to go sofa mad. It was fashionable to fill every room with sofas, and in some instances, several sofas in one room!
The sudden rush of sofa addiction provoked an alarming reaction from German visitors to the French Court. They claimed it no longer looked like a court because you saw people stretched out full length on sofas.
The insinuation was that sofas represented a mortal sin. Because nobles would recline in an ungodly fashion across the sofas, this was seen as incredibly decadent and in some cases, offensive.
Size Always Matters
What is the difference between a sofa and a couch? Another essential difference is associated with the size of each type.
Sofas are designed to allow for more seating space. Consequently, a sofa will take up more floor space. According to interior design convention, a sofa may provide seating space for four or more. However, sofas may prove considerably larger than that.
Consider the corner sofa. Some corner sofas incorporate a large lounging seat on which you may stretch out. Because they are designed in modular format, you may expand on them to add additional seating capacity. Therefore, the size is restricted only by the room you have available!
However, the couch offers a far more compact form of seating. By convention, a couch provides accommodation for two to three people. Therefore, a couch may prove better for many of our homes where floor space is restricted.
Also, a couch may have a pull-out bed concealed within. This may prove a little confusing because we usually associate this with sofa beds.
However, as we discuss the question, what is the difference between a sofa and a couch, we realize this is not strictly true. In fact, they should be called couch beds!
In Design Terms
As an interior designer, I would more often than not recommend a sofa for more informal rooms because of their nature. You see, you are meant to lounge across a sofa. Therefore, they look and feel more comfortable in a casual environment. Most of us like to lounge across our sofas as we watch television or relax reading a book.
However, if a client specified a more formal, smart appearance, than I would recommend a couch. A couch provides a structured, neat vibe because of the way they appear. When you consider their more compact size and more rigid build, they give out a completely different feel to the luxurious, soft atmosphere of a sofa.
What Is the Difference Between a Sofa and a Couch and Does It Matter?
We have seen some crucial differences between a sofa and a couch. The question is, does it matter?
As an interior designer, I think it does matter. When deciding whether to buy a sofa or a couch, there remain some crucial factors to consider.
How big is the space?
As we have discussed, a couch is smaller than a sofa. If the space is too small, then a couch may prove the only viable option, especially if other furniture such as tables or armchairs, occupy the space.
However, if space is not an issue, then we must consider function.
How does the client use the room?
Is the space a formal sitting room or a casual lounge? For instance, in a formal sitting room where you entertain guests, then a more formal look and feel are required, so a couch feels right for the application.
However, if it is a family living room, and space allows, the sofa may work, space permitting. For instance, a place used to relax and watch the television should feel cozy and welcoming. Therefore, the plush, comforting feel of a sofa will work really well.
Additionally, it is essential to know how many people will use the furniture to allow for the correct volume of seating.
The style of the sofa or couch
Is it a modern or traditional setting? It is pointless, placing a sleek modern couch or sofa in a room which looks traditional! Any furniture you place in a room must suit its environment, or the scheme will not work.
How to get the furniture inside
Always measure the space and ensure you may easily get your chosen furniture inside the building and the intended room.
Many sofas and couches come in modular form, which means you may easily disassemble them to get them into the required space. However, there have been instances where my clients had to remove windows to get the furniture into the house. This is a costly exercise, so it is crucial you know how to get the furniture into the area before you purchase.
What Is the Difference Between a Sofa and a Couch, Answered
In short, a couch is smaller than a sofa with the sofa feeling less formal than the couch. Each has its unique properties and applications, and it is worth giving a little bit of thought to these differences before you make your purchase.
Do you have a sofa or a couch? What is it that you like about your furniture? Do you have any tips for choosing the perfect seating? Why not let us know in the comments below.
We look forward to hearing from you.