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

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Ed Hawes
cream modular sofa

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, the Model 02, our sofa beds and the Model 10.

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.

What different types of Sofas are there?

If there’s some confusion between your Sofa, Couch and Settee, then prepare yourselves. It’s time to get into the nitty-gritty of differing seating situations that can be found in our humble Sofa.

orange modular settee

The Standard Sofa

A Standard Sofa comes in all shapes and sizes, from two seatersthree seaters and the big four seater sofas, with arms, a back and comfortable cushioned seating, the Sofa has moved far from its Eastern roots, but lost none of its charm and comfort.

A Chaise Sofa

Chaise sofas are a hybrid of the chaise longue and the sofa, with an extended cushion at the end supported by extra legs to encourage reclining and relaxation.

The Corner Sofa

If you’ve got a bigger family or have friends over a lot, a corner sofa is great for entertaining everyone at once. Most people have seen a Corner Sofa, its as if two Sofas have been sewn together at a 90 degree angle and they are ideal for people who want a lot of seating in an out-of-the-way space.

A Sofa Bed

American inventor, entrepreneur and banker Leonard C. Bailey created the Sofa bed in 1899, then patented as a “fold-a-bed”. From a simple metal frame and foldable mattress, the Sofabed has become a household staple, they make it easy to have friends stay over or to snuggle up on during a cold winter evening.

What are Loveseats?

Subtly different from the armchair, the Loveseat also had a different definition when they were first invented. Although they were created with the English language in mind, Loveseats were originally described as a seat that could comfortably sit two - bigger than our current understanding of the furniture, which can stretch to seating two at a push. Despite an allusion to ‘love’, the Loveseat also found itself as a design fitted to ladies’ wide dresses and petticoats, which left no room for any company on the chairs themselves.

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 range of mid century sofas, contemporary sofas, modular sofas and Chesterfields 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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