There are actually only around 21 different types of sofas (couches) out there, and these can be easily categorised by their size, arm and back shape.
Some are are more distinct than the other, but this guide would turn you into a sofa expert in no time!
Let’s start with the basic types:
Different Types of Sofas classified by Function
Typically we use the word “sofa” quite loosely here as it is defined by Merriam-Webster.com as a “long, upholstered usually with arms and a back and often convertible into a bed”.
I personally wouldn’t think a sofa should convert into a bed, and would call that a sofa bed if so.
Nonetheless, there are other furniture which can thread on that grey line:
1. The Ottoman
The ottoman is typically used as a coffee table, and in other countries it’s known as a footstool – for obvious reasons.
This piece traces back in the Ottoman Empire, where it used to be a centrepiece for seating in what we call the “living space” today. Overtime it has become smaller and acts more of a complementary furniture piece to the sofa.
2. The Armchair
Fun fact: The chair wasn’t popular until the 16th century – benches, chests and stools were the common seating pieces.
Now armchairs come in all shapes and sizes, almost like a luxury sofa for a single person.
By 1928, the recliner (La-Z-Boy) was invented with some with a built-in massage function even.
3. The Loveseat / Sofa
In all fairness, the loveseat is pretty much the same as sofa aside from it being smaller. In other countries we refer to them as a 2 seater or a 3 seater, which kinda makes them slightly different types of sofas only.
Be it sofa (Arabic origins: suffah), couch (French origins: couche) – all of us would have a similar image in mind.
4. The Sectional / Modular Sofa
Sectional / Modular sofas are definitely another type of sofa, or arguably a combination of sofa pieces put together to create the ultimate living room seating arrangement.
The larger families are, the more it makes sense to have more sofas in the same room to accommodate everyone.
Sectional types of sofas allow the flexibility of expanding seating sizes, or downsizing by taking away smaller sections should they not be needed.
5. Sofa beds / Futons / Clik-claks
While this isn’t a crowd-pleaser, the sofa bed serves a dual function for homes who like to have guests over.
Due to the growing trend of having smaller apartments, sofa beds are becoming a necessity. Hopefully in the near future they’ll be a lot more comfortable.
Identifying a Sofa by Arm Shape
Different types of sofas can also be classified into the armrest shapes they have – there may be more, but we’ve managed to narrow down to 9 of these most recognisable ones.
6. The Classic Round Arm Sofa
Some people may call this Grandma’s couch, mostly because it’s a classic piece that has stood beyond the tests of time.
Back then, the round arm sofa would have been accompanied with a floral or patterned slipcover / upholstery.
Today, it’s almost usually a white linen or neutral fabric that gives this centrepiece more class by being stealthily beautiful.
7. The Retro Square Arm Sofa
Some would consider this contemporary as well, but I think everyone can agree that this is another timeless look for these types of sofas.
Once you add a skirted slipcover, it creates a different look and feel altogether for the space.
8. The Hard Wedge Arm Sofa
If you visit IKEA as often as we do, then you may instantly recognise IKEA’s flagship sofa and series – the Stockholm. Even the 1.5 seater looks luxuriously massive.
Only very recently in 2017 are the arms of the Stockholm sofa no longer wedged, which is a shame because I thought that made it very premium looking.
You can find our review on the IKEA Stockholm sofa here.
9. The Rounded Wedge Arm Sofa
Another common looking sofa would be a more rounded wedge arm sofa like so:
This rounded feature gave many of these couches or sofas a “designer” look, mostly because it was a bit more unique than the classic round or square arm sofas.
10. The Sloped Arm Sofa
An oldie but a goodie, this is another well-loved design that is making a comeback.
If you’ve been to IKEA lately you might have noticed the IKEA Farlov Sofa – something reminiscent of some Restoration Hardware sofas.
To find out more about the IKEA Farlov sofa, you can read up on our full sofa review here.
11. The Belgian Roll Arm Sofa
Speaking of Restoration Hardware, here’s a sofa type that probably represents them better:
Due to its hybrid construction of a sloped + round arm sofa, slipcovers would be slightly more difficult to make for it – especially online. If you’re looking for slipcovers for this type of sofa, then it’s best for you to have it made locally.
12. The English Roll Arm Sofa
Another Restoration Hardware classic, IKEA has also managed to replicate their own version i.e. the IKEA Stocksund.
This is also a sofa that’s hard to slipcover, but if there’s an existing template for it – shouldn’t be a problem.
Personally though, the standard square arm sofas are the more timeless pieces that would work for any living space. It feels that getting a Belgian or English roll arm sofa would just limit the number of styles you can create for your room once you’re bored of it.
You can find our full review of the IKEA Stocksund sofa here.
13. Sofas with no Arms
Okay, this technically shouldn’t be here but since we’re categorising sofas based on their arms – this is a consideration.
Sometimes you just want something with easy access from the sides, or you just want a super clean minimalist look.
But when you want to leave your remote controls by your side, this may not be the best type of sofa to get.
14. Sofas with Wooden Arms
Simple type of sofas can also be timeless, especially the ones with wooden frames.
Most of the time the cushions come upholstered and probably in leather, giving a very retro vibe. IKEA actually sold a discontinued model called the Lillberg (pictured above) which has all the cushions separated, making it extremely easy to slipcover for multiple looks.
Types of Sofa Backs
Lastly, the sofa’s back is the last bit that gives a sofa its character and name. Let’s take a look at some popular ones:
15. Straight Back / Tuxedo Sofas
The general definition of a Tuxedo sofa is when the backrest of the sofa is leveled/flushed with the height of the armrests.
This is actually a pretty common sofa – by that definition, even a “Chesterfield” sofa falls under this category (as well as the round arm).
Why these are called Tuxedo sofas – we’re not too sure actually, but it could be because these sofas were popular with parties and people wearing Tuxedos back in the 1900s.
16. High Back Sofas
Contrary to the straight back sofa (and Google images), we define the high back sofas as simply having a backrest that’s not leveled with the armrests.
Also pretty commonly found, arguably as popular as (or more than) the Tuxedo sofa.
17. Round Back Sofas
Now here’s one that’s definitely less common than the other basic shapes.
For pretty obvious reasons I feel actually.
If your sofa looks like a giant mushroom in your living room, would you get rid of it?
18. Camelback Sofas
Some may consider this an antique piece but it’s actually still quite popular today even after 300 years.
The downside is that it’s a piece that definitely needs to be re-upholstered should it even get dirty.
As pretty as it is, practicality is still pretty important to me (and I’d imagine, for many of you out there too).
19. Wingback Sofas
Another classic which can be found in many luxurious homes, this style of sofa is actually starting to disappear in modern times.
However, the wingback chair is still quite a popular item – in which IKEA even decided to create their own version.
I can see why though, feels like a King’s throne when sitting on it actually.
You can read our full review of the IKEA Strandmon here.
20. Barrelback Sofas
A very straightforward sofa type that’s been aptly named as such since the curvature of the back extends all the way to the arms.
The entire sofa or chair ends up looking like a barrel, which I believe many would consider very cosy.
21. Rollback Sofas
Another classic which we find tricky to slipcover, it is also gradually being phased out by the more squarish looking types of sofas or couches.
Typically this sofa is accompanied by rounded arms as well, which also makes it a “Grandma” sofa in my opinion but once it becomes endangered – we might have to fork out big bucks to get our hands on this.
Can my sofa be slipcovered?
After all that, it’s pretty conclusive to say that they don’t make sofas like they used to anymore.
But if your sofa is still structurally sound and you’re here trying to find out whether your sofa can be slipcovered – check out this infographic
Hopefully this blogpost has been informative and interesting 🙂
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