There are about 21 different types of sofas (couches) out there, so if you’re confused about which one yours is, that’s understandable. But you don’t have to be!
Start by looking at a single element of your sofa – most styles can be easily categorised by their size, arm and back shape, and we’re going to show you how. Some are are more distinct than others but worry not, this guide will 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. It is defined by Merriam-Webster.com as a “long, upholstered seat usually with arms and a back and often convertible into a bed”. (I personally don’t think a sofa should convert into a bed, and would label those as sofa beds if so.)
Nonetheless, there are other furniture which can tread 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 reason.
This piece traces its history back to the Ottoman Empire, where it used to be a centrepiece for seating in what we call the “living space” today. Over time it has become smaller and acts as more of a complementary furniture piece to the sofa.
Some of our favourite ottomans: the IKEA Ektorp ottoman (with storage); Muji T2 Footstool; Pottery Barn Raleigh Tufted Upholstered Round Ottoman
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.
By 1928, the recliner (La-Z-Boy) was invented, some with a built-in massage function even.
Some of our favourite armchairs: The classic: Pottery Barn Basic Armchair; IKEA Farlov armchair; Crate and Barrel chair-and-a-half.
3. The loveseat/sofa
The loveseat is pretty much the same as a sofa, aside from it being smaller. In other countries we refer to a loveseat and sofa respectively as a 2 seater or a 3 seater, which just makes them slightly different types of sofas.
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 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 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 it down to nine of these most recognisable ones.
6. The classic round arm sofa
Some people may call this Grandma’s couch, 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, you’ll often see it in a white linen or neutral fabric for that farmhouse chic.
One of our favourite round arm sofas is the iconic IKEA Ektorp, and it’s successor, the Uppland.
7. The 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 completely different look and feel altogether.
One of our favourite square arm sofas: the Pottery Barn Buchanan Square-Arm sofa.
8. The hard wedge arm sofa
If you visit IKEA as often as we do, you’ll instantly recognise IKEA’s flagship sofa and series – the Stockholm. Even the 1.5 seater looks luxuriously massive.
Recently in 2017 the arms of the Stockholm sofa were changed so that they’re no longer wedged, which is a shame because I thought the wedged arms made it very premium-looking. (Read our full review of the IKEA Stockholm sofa here.)
Some of our favourite hard wedge arm sofas: the IKEA Stockholm sofa; the Article Ceni 83″ 3+ Seater Sofa; the Rowe Darby sofa.
9. The rounded wedge arm sofa
Another common looking sofa would be a more rounded wedge arm sofa. This rounded feature gives many of these couches or sofas a designer look, because it’s a bit more unique than the classic round or square arm sofas.
Some of our favourite rounded wedge arm sofas: Pottery Barn Greenwich sofa; IKEA Tomelilla sofa; Arhaus Emory sofa.
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, a little reminiscent of some Restoration Hardware sofas. (You can read our full IKEA Farlov sofa review here.)
11. The Belgian roll arm sofa
Speaking of Restoration Hardware, here’s a sofa type that probably represents them better. A classic Belgian Roll style (and the slipcovers for it) can be hard to find, due to the hybrid construction of a sloped and round arm sofa.
Some of our favourite Belgian Roll sofas: Restoration Hardware Belgian Roll Arm sofa; Havertys Laney sofa.
12. The English Roll arm sofa
The English Roll is another Restoration Hardware classic – though IKEA has managed to replicate their own version, the IKEA Stocksund. (You can find our full review of the IKEA Stocksund sofa here.) This is also a sofa that’s hard to slipcover.
Some of our favourite English Roll sofas: the IKEA Stocksund; Ethan Allen Oxford sofa; Pottery Barn Carlisle Upholstered sofa.
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.
Some of our favourite armless sofas: Williams Sonoma Paxton Armless sofa; Restoration Hardware Cloud Armless sofa/single-seater; Freedom Cannes sofa.
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.
Some of our favourite sofas with wooden arms: IKEA Lillberg; Freedom Tidal sofa; Room And Board Erickson sofa.
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 level 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 are these 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
In contrast to the straight back sofa (and Google images), we define the high back sofas as simply having a backrest that’s not level with the armrests. Also pretty commonly found, and arguably as popular as (or more than) the Tuxedo sofa.
Some of our favourite high back sofas: IKEA Kramfors sofa; Restoration Hardware Modena Track Arm 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?
Some of our favourite round back sofas: Pottery Barn Charlston; Ethan Allen Hyde sofa.
18. Camelback sofas
Some may consider this an antique style 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).
Some of our favourite camelback sofas: Ethan Allen Audrey sofa; Havertys Dakota sofa; Havertys Abilene sofa.
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. IKEA even decided to create their own version, the Strandmon armchair. (Find our full review of the Strandmon here.)
Some of our favourite wingback sofas: IKEA Strandmon sofa; Ethan Allen Caden Settee; Pottery Barn Thatcher Upholstered Settee.
20. Barrelback sofas
A very straightforward sofa type that’s been aptly named 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.
Some of our favourite barrelback sofas: Ethan Allen Channing sofa, Pottery Barn Harlow Upholstered Sofa, Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams Vera sofa.
21. Rollback sofas
Another classic which we find tricky to slipcover, the rollback is 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.
Some of our favourite rollback sofas: Pottery Barn Chesterfield Leather Sofa; Ethan Allen Chadwick sofa; Williams Sonoma Bond Chesterfield sofa.
Looking to save your old sofa?
It’s pretty conclusive to say that they don’t make sofas like they used to anymore.
If your old sofa is still structurally sound and you want to add a few more years to its life, consider getting a tailored slipcover for it. It’s a simple alternative to upholstery (which is so so expensive) or tossing out your beloved couch for a new one. (To figure out whether your sofa can be slipcovered, check out this infographic.)