Ah, the age-old debate: What to call the centerpiece of your living space that provides a soft place to sit after a long day of work? This may be an arbitrary “to-MAY-to” versus “to-MAH-to” question, but there are some subtle differences between the terms sofa and couch:
True, the definitions for both words are exactly the same, as well as the applications: In homes, sofas and couches are normally found in the family room, living room, den, sitting room or the lounge. They are sometimes also found in non-residential settings such as hotels, commercial offices, medical waiting rooms, restaurants, et cetera. And the associated activities are identical too, as both sofas and couches are used primarily for seating, but may be used for sleeping, eating, jumping, socializing, and other improvised activities.
But the word origins and regional usage for both terms are very distinct. Sofa is generally used in the United Kingdom and certain regions of the United States, and some say it communicates a slightly more luxurious and formal piece of furniture. It’s been suggested that the word sofa comes from the Old English word setl (used to describe long benches with high backs and arms, but is now generally used to describe upholstered seating). Couch is used in parts of North America—including areas of the United States as well—and Australia, and has a more casual connotation. It’s origins are attributed to the French verb coucher, meaning “to lie down” (used to describe an item of furniture for lying or sleeping on, somewhat like a chaise longue, but now refers to sofas in general). But don’t think it stops here. There are numerous other synonymous words with slight nuances, including settee, chesterfield, divan, davenport, lounge, and canapé, among others. It’s actually quite intriguing, and as we went down our rabbit hole of research for this post, we’ve been inspired to delve into the entire history of the sofa (hint: it all started in 3100 BC, with stone box beds built around the central fireplace, often made more comfortable with an animal fur or hide), to be revealed at a later date.
So why do we (at Interior Define) call it a sofa instead of a couch? It’s simple. We think sofa better illustrates our ethos of comfort, classic style and quality craftsmanship. It also seems a tad more refined to us, but that’s not implying one shouldn’t sit back (or lie back) and relax on our upholstery. Quite the contrary—after all, there’s a reason we’ve made each cushion with comfy high-resiliency foam and real down feathers. We just think that, as one of the most (if not the most) important purchases for your home, it should be referred to with a slightly more sophisticated word. We’d love to hear from you though—do you call it a sofa or a couch, and why? Either way, we hope it’s your favorite spot in the house.