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What's the Difference Between Sofa, Couch and Settee?

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Antonio Wedral
What's the Difference Between Sofa, Couch and Settee?

A comfy sofa is arguably the most important part of any living room. Giving us a soft, welcoming place to relax and unwind at the end of a busy day, the sofa is the one piece of furniture no home should be without.

As sofas are so ubiquitous, it’s all too easy to take them for granted. But have you ever stopped to think about where this beautifully designed piece of furniture comes from? And why is it that some of us sit on a sofa while others lounge on a settee or recline on a couch? To help settle the couch, settee or sofa debate for good, we decided to take a closer look at the origin of the sofa and find out exactly how it got its name.

What is a Sofa?

Before we begin discussing the differences between sofas, couches and settees, we should probably start by taking a closer look at what exactly a sofa is. The word sofa is thought to come from the Arabic soffah. Unlike modern sofas which are almost always stand-alone furnishings, a soffah was a raised part of the floor covered in cushions and carpets and generally used for sitting.

It’s thought that the word, and general design of the soffah, came to the UK via France in the 17th century. By the late 18th century, soffah had become sofa. Jane Austen mentions a ‘sofa cover’ in one of her letters, showing that it had by that time become an upholstered piece of furniture.

What is a Settee?

Today the difference between a sofa and a settee is small to non-existent. However, they started out life as very different pieces of furniture. The word settee is thought to come from the old English word setl. A setl, or settle, was a long wooden bench made from oak and often featuring an elaborately carved back.

Over the years, settee foam was added to make a soft seat and settee backs were also stuffed and upholstered. Like sofas, settee feet are often made of wood, raising the seat off of the floor. You can see the influence of early wooden settee feet in a number of our designs including the Model 01 and the Model 02.

What is a Couch?

The word couch comes from the French Coucher which means to sleep. It was originally used to describe any piece of furniture that was designed for lying on and could be applied to a bed as well as an elongated chair.

For many years, a couch was thought of as something with an upholstered middle and arms at either one or both ends. Unlike early sofas and settees, couches didn't have backs and so were better suited for use as a daybed.

What’s the Difference Between a Sofa and Settee?

These days, there’s no difference between sofa and settee and a lot of people use the words interchangeably. If you’re in the north of England, you’ll probably hear settee a little more, although it’s largely been replaced by sofa in recent years.

Sofa, Settee or Couch? What’s Correct?

Although they started out life as very different things the words sofa, settee and couch are now all used to describe exactly the same piece of furniture.

Sofa is by far the most common word used to describe your living room lounger. According to some etiquette experts, sofa is the ‘proper’ term, however all three words can be correctly used to describe your favourite furnishing.

In the US, couch is the preferred term with sofa coming in a close second place. Settee is virtually never used across the pond.

Whether you use sofa, settee or couch, it’s safe to say that everyone will know exactly what you’re referring to. So, feel free to use whichever word slips off of your tongue most easily.

If you’re currently in the market for a new sofa, settee or couch, we can help, our beautiful Model 01, Model 02 and Model 03 designs take inspiration from classic and contemporary furnishings, giving you a centrepiece to be proud of. Explore our stunning collection of fabric sofas today to find out more.

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