Questions We All Ask: Is There a Difference Between a Sofa and Couch?

published Jul 11, 2018
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(Image credit: Liz Calka)

After a long, grueling day at work, there’s nothing better than changing into your sweats, turning on the television, and relaxing on the couch in your living room. Or is it a sofa? 

Chances are, you’ve been using sofa and couch interchangeably for years without thinking twice about whether or not they’re the same. But when it comes to a sofa versus a couch, is there truly a difference, or is it simply a matter of semantics? Here, we’ll explore that question and provide you with some design inspiration for each.

Sofa vs Couch: What’s the Difference?

So what gives? What’s the difference between a sofa and couch? Is there a difference when it comes to a sofa versus a couch?  Well, it depends on who you ask. Today’s designers are looking to take the nuance out of our seating and sell it like we say it: A sofa is a couch and vice versa. 

“Today, the choice of sofa versus couch is entirely subjective and a reflection of how you live with the piece,” explains Nidhi Kapur, founder and CEO of Maiden Home. “Still, ‘couch’ is the more casual term used for a comfort-driven piece, while ‘sofa’ is the more formal and might refer to a polished, design-driven piece.” 

Brad Sewell, founder of Campaign Living, agrees. “I think it’s less of a product difference and more of a word choice,” he explains. “For example, some people say it’s soda and other people say it’s pop.”

Whether you call it a sofa or couch, it’s important to prioritize quality. 

“The first question a consumer should ask is what’s inside the piece,” Sewell says. “Knowing the integrity of the material and structure will give you a sense of what you’re getting.” 

As for the aesthetics, Kapur recommends buying a versatile style. “The best investment pieces have the elegance of a sofa, but the comfort of a couch,” she says. “Look for pieces with the design details you love, plus the proportions and comfort that suits your lifestyle.”

Below, we’ll dive into some nuances of these very similar (if not exact same) pieces of furniture.

What is a Couch?

Historically speaking, a  couch and sofa are somewhat different. The word couch comes from the French verb “coucher,” which means “to lie down.” To us, that evokes images of a deep, fluffy piece of furniture that’s just begging for a Netflix marathon. Let’s take a look at a few great examples: 

Bright and Cozy Couch

We could easily spend all day on this happy, bright yellow couch. It looks like a big ray of sunshine in the middle of this UK living room. If you think of deep, cozy seating when you think of the word couch, this one should definitely come to mind. 

Cushiony Perfection in a Couch

It may be called the Floyd sofa (a great example of how interchangeable these terms truly are), but this piece of furniture is all about comfort. Double-layered cushions provide the perfect place for movie night or hanging with the fam.

Cozy, Couch-Filled Room

The living room in this Northern Ireland home is so inviting, and that’s thanks mostly to this twin set of cozy couches. Both boast tons of pillows and blankets for the ultimate in comfort.

What is a Sofa?

Many people still think of a sofa as being slightly more formal than a couch. Indeed, the word sofa is derived from the Arabic word “suffah,” which isn’t much more than a simple wooden bench with blankets and cushions. 

Think of a sofa as a piece you might place in a parlor, a formal dining area or a sitting room. If you’re going for something more formal than an overstuffed couch, here’s a glimpse at a few of our favorites from our archives. 

Credit: Chloe Berk

Stately and Sophisticated Sofa

This mustard yellow sofa artfully pops against the dark blue background, providing a beautiful sitting space in this Brooklyn living room

Leather Sofa

The large, white leather sofa in this living space adds an air of elegance. Details like a straight back and beading around the bottom evoke a more formal aesthetic. 

Sitting Room Sofa

Similarly, beading and a single, flat cushion rather than several fluffy ones give this sofa a less couch-like appeal. This piece is well-suited to this San Francisco reading room, giving it a slightly more upscale appeal than an overstuffed couch might.