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Sofa vs Couch: What’s the Difference? (And Why We Call It a Sofa)

We often get asked about the difference between a sofa and a couch. “Is that a sofa or a couch? What’s the difference??” We don’t blame you for being confused. There’s long been a heated debate in the interior design world over the use of the word sofa vs couch.

So, which is the correct word to use for that comfy piece of living room furniture? Or do they mean the exact same thing? In the United States, these two words are generally used interchangeably. But these two words actually have different histories and slightly different meanings.

If you’re interested in learning more about the history of a sofa vs couch and want to know more about when to use which word, keep reading!

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What is a Sofa? The Origin of the Word “Sofa”

The word “sofa” is derived from the Arabic word “suffah.” And what does “suffah” mean? It’s simply a bench or long seat made of stone or wood, or a platform used for sitting. Traditionally, these benches would also be draped in blankets and cushions.

Today, the English word “sofa” refers to a long, upholstered seat that has a raised back and two arms and is large enough to comfortably fit two or more people. The intention of this piece is to give people a place to sit.

This is currently the most common word used to refer to that primary piece of furniture in our living rooms. It’s also the word that we most commonly use here at Modsy! That’s what you’ll see them referred to on our shoppable product pages.

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What is a Couch? The Origin of the Word “Couch”

The word “couch” comes from the French word “coucher,” which means “to lie down.” Historically, a couch was a bench with two armrests but no back. The point of this type of furniture was not to sit but to lie down and lounge.

Interestingly, today the meaning of a couch is not a bench with two armrests and no back but a bench with a back and optional armrests. With that, couches tend to have a more casual appearance.

Sofa vs Couch: What’s the Difference?

On a practical level? Nothing, really. Like we said earlier, these two words are used fairly interchangeably in the United States. (Kind of like the words “soda” and “pop.”)

However, colloquially, the word sofa tends to imply a more formal piece of furniture that’s design-driven, while the word couch tends to be used more in reference to large, over-stuffed pieces that are more comfort-driven.

Think of it this way: a sofa goes in your formal living room, while a couch is the perfect piece for a family room or den. The former is what you’d invite guests to sit on during a cocktail party, while the latter is where you’d curl up for a family movie night.

But again—these are very nuanced differences, and in general you can use either word!. When it comes to working with a Modsy designer, you can use the word sofa or couch, and they’ll know exactly what you mean!

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Wait—so what is a loveseat, settee, sectional, and chaise lounge then?

While sofa and couch are the two most common words used to describe this piece of living room furniture, there are quite a few other terms—some of which are interchangeable, others that have slightly nuanced meanings.

A loveseat is simply a smaller, two-seat sofa. (A hybrid between an armchair and sofa!) A settee is a different type of small sofa, usually with a slimmer profile; high, straight back; and a shallower two-person seat. This is a more formal piece of furniture. A sectional is a sofa, but with an extra section that’s perpendicular to the main section, which allows more people to be seated And a chaise lounge? It’s an upholstered sofa that has more of the shape of an elongated chair, which supports your legs while you’re—you guessed it—lounging.

And then there are the other terms—divan, davenport, chesterfield. These are all just different words for the same thing: a sofa. (Interesting tidbit: “chesterfield” is the word many Canadians use to refer to a sofa—but here in the US, chesterfield is a specific style of sofa.)

Shopping for a Sofa (or a Couch)?

While we love a good design history lesson, there are more practical matters at hand when it comes to sofas and couches. If you’re in the market for a sofa, you’re probably wondering what style to choose and how much to spend. We have a ton of other sofa content on our blog. Find some of our favorite posts, below!

And don’t forget to check out our living room design ideas page to see some of our favorite sofas in action!

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Sofa Buying Guide: 5 Questions to Help You Decide How Much to Spend a New Sofa

With so much of life currently spent at home, it’s more important than ever to have furniture that works for your life. And, after countless TV show binge-watching sessions on our sofas (and some reading of books too—don’t worry!), we’ve decided that a good sofa is worth its weight in gold.

So, it might be time to ask yourself if you have a sofa you love or if it’s time for something new? And if you’re embarking on the hunt for the perfect sofa, you’ve come to the right place.

GIF of different sofas swapping into a room

The “perfect sofa” looks different for everyone—but there are some universal non-negotiables when it comes to finding the right sofa for you. It should be comfortable, fit in your living room, reflect your style, and hopefully last a few years (if not more). Not to mention it should be a price that fits within your budget!

But all that is easier said than done. It doesn’t take long in the search process to discover that shopping for furniture isn’t always simple. There are a lot of decisions to make: Do you opt for a sectional or sofa? Do you try to save some money with a cheap sofa or splurge on a more high-end sofa? Is it even possible to find nice couches under $500—or sectionals under $1,000? Oh, and what about sofa materials??

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Before you get completely overwhelmed by all the possibilities, we’ve found that it’s generally best to start by thinking through your budget and how much you’d like to spend on your sofa before getting lost in the world of sofa styles and materials.

What you choose to invest in a new sofa is totally up to you and your needs. For some people, it might make sense to invest in a quality piece that will last years. For others, buying something that works for right now is a better option.

If you’ve been asking yourself, “How much should I spend on a sofa??” we’re here to help. We’ve designed countless living rooms and have helped thousands of Modsy customers pick the perfect sofa for their style, space, and budget. And we’ve created a sofa buying guide to help you uncover how much money you should spend on a new sofa.

Here are 5 questions to ask yourself before you buy a new sofa.

staging velvet sofas

Question 1: How much do you want to spend on a sofa?

It can be hard to wrap your head around how much you should spend on a sofa, especially if you’re not even sure what the average cost of a sofa is. A good place to start is getting familiar with some average price ranges for couches and sofas.

How much does a sofa cost?

Here are the average price ranges for sofas.

  • $1000 or less: The sub-thousand dollar range is what we’d consider an inexpensive sofa.
  • $1000 – $2000: A mid-range priced sofa generally falls in between one to two thousand dollars.
  • $2000 or more: We’d consider anything above two grand to be an expensive sofa.

The Bottom Line: Survey the sofa landscape to help you get a sense of how much you might want to spend.

display of velvet sofas

Question 2: How nomadic are you?

Sofas are large, bulky, and not the easiest pieces of furniture to move. One that works perfectly in your current home might not fit through the doorway at your next. So it’s important to ask yourself if it’s worth investing in a high-end sofa if you move every year or two or if you should look at more inexpensive sofas for the time being. So, think through how nomadic you are and how invested you are in moving a sofa from place to place.

Your solve:

  • I move a lot or will be moving soon: If you plan to only live where you are for under a year, consider skimping on an inexpensive sofa that you won’t have to worry about lugging to a new location.
  • I’m relatively settled: Around five years? Maybe a slightly higher-quality option is the best fit for you. You want something that will last you that half-decade or so, but won’t be missed if you can’t bring it with you.
  • I’m in it for the long haul: Finally, if you are relatively settled in your current home, it makes more sense to invest in a high-quality sofa that will last.

The Bottom Line: Your overall timeline is important to consider before making a big-ticket purchase that isn’t easy to transport with you.

display of linen sofas

Question 3: Are you into interior design trends?

A trendy sofa looks great right now, but you might find you’re sick of it after a short time. Depending on what you think of decor trends, here’s what we’d recommend for your next couch.

Your solve:

  • I love trends: If you can’t say no to a sofa with a bold color or statement pattern, consider opting for a lower-cost option rather than investing in a more expensive one. Unlike decorative accents, you can’t as easily move a sofa from room to room when you get tired of it. Don’t sink your money into something you’ll be sick of in a year. Instead, consider incorporating that velvet trend into a few pillows.
  • Trends don’t phase me: If you’re looking for a sofa that can transcend your current tastes, consider investing in a high-quality option. This can be a sofa with a neutral fabric, a quality leather option, or even a sofa with a versatile shape, such as a chaise that can switch sides.

The Bottom Line: If you want to splurge on a quality sofa, it’s important to find one that works for both now and later.

display of velvet sofas

Question 4: Do you have kids or pets?

Although we love kids and we love pets, it’s a fact that they are the culprits behind a lot of our furniture’s wear and tear. Be sure to factor your real and fur babies into the equation when buying a piece of furniture.

Your solve:

  • Don’t stress: One way around this is to choose a budget-friendly sofa that you don’t mind replacing as it gets worn out.
  • Call for reinforcements: The alternative is to invest in a higher quality option. Opt for a sofa that’s durable and can take whatever your kids/pets throw at it. Consider choosing a stain-resistant fabric or with a slipcover that you can easily toss in the wash. Quality leather is also great for pets. You want something that won’t stain or rip easily and doesn’t attract fur like a magnet.

The Bottom Line: You know your kids and pets the best, so factor them into the picture when deciding what sofa makes sense for your family.

staging velvet sofas

Question 5: How much time will you spend on your sofa?

Just like your mattress, if you use your couch a lot, don’t make yourself miserable with something that’s uncomfortable. (And let’s be real—with the current state of the world, we’re all spending a lot more time on our sofas, aren’t we?)

Your solve:

  • My sofa is just for looks: If you’re always on the go and rarely spend time on your sofa, no need to invest in a high-quality, ultra-comfy option. Something inexpensive but stylish can suffice.
  • My sofa is my other half: If you’re a self-proclaimed couch potato or your living room revolves around TV-viewing, don’t skimp on a cheap sofa that makes you uncomfortable. You can find plenty of inexpensive and mid-range sofas that are also comfortable and of high quality.

The Bottom Line: Invest in quality and comfort for the things you use daily, like your mattress and sofa.

 

Ready to find your perfect sofa?

Read our guide to sofa styles and learn more about how to buy a sofa online to make shopping for this living room staple as comfortable as lounging on it.

Or, if you want some insurance before splurging on a sofa, try on some options in your home before you make the investment. Modsy can help show you how real sofas will look in your actual home with our 3D designs.

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This post was updated on May 12, 2021

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The Ultimate Guide to Sofa Materials and Which is Right for You

So you’ve narrowed it down to the sofa style you want, now what? It’s time to think about sofa materials and what you want for your upholstery.

Whether you love the glossy look of leather or prefer synthetic fibers that are easy to clean, the right material for your sofa depends on your lifestyle and how you use your space. If you live alone and want a little luxury, velvet and chenille are chic upholstery fabrics. If your home has kids and pets running around all the time, consider durable fabrics for sofa upholstery, like microfiber to polyester.

With so many options for fabrics and materials to choose from at stores and online, it can all feel very overwhelming very quickly. Don’t worry. Here, we’re laying out the most popular sofa material options and breaking down the pros and cons of each one to help you get a better understanding of what you should look for.

If you’re just beginning to think about investing in a sofa, our best advice is to do some research. For starters, consider whether you want a sectional vs sofa, check out our sofa buying guide for the big questions to ask yourself, and get our tips for buying a sofa online.

Leather

A popular upholstery choice for sofas, leather not only has good looks but it’s also durable. Keep in mind there are different grades of leather, with genuine leather being the highest quality at a more expensive price point. If it’s in your budget, a leather sofa is a great investment piece.

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The Pros:

Easy cleaning. Leather is resistant to stains and spills (just wipe off liquids with a cloth), so no bad smells or damp residues, which can happen with fabrics.

Way durable. If you have pets or need a sofa that can stand up to heavy use and take a beating, leather is the way to go.

Bold and timeless. In addition to being a tough material, leather has a timeless look. A sofa in caramel or tan leather is a statement piece that will never go out of style.

The Cons:

Strong texture. Leather has a smooth yet hard touch compared to fabrics. If you’re looking for a soft sofa you can sink into, leather is not for you.

Streaks and splits. Leather can develop splits and cracks over time, especially if you use it heavily. Also, watch out for fading in direct sunlight.

It’s spendy! Leather furniture is expensive. If you see a cheap leather sofa, it’s likely low quality and not designed to last.

The Verdict: Good quality leather is incredibly durable, easy to clean, and will develop an aged look that gives it character over time. A well-cared-for leather sofa will last for years.

Faux Leather

Made with synthetic fabrics, faux leather is a favorite sofa upholstery option for those who want the durability and look of leather at a less expensive price point.

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The Pros:

Sun protection. Synthetic leathers are usually UV-resistant, so even if you position your sofa in a sunny area it won’t result in fading.

New environmental options. New faux leathers now include cork leather from oak trees (called Swedish Koskinn) and ocean leather made from kelp. Faux leather in general is also perfect for those who support not buying animal hides.

Luxe look for less. First things first, faux leather gives you the upscale look you crave without emptying your bank account. And there’s a wide variety to choose from!

The Cons:

Beware of the materials. Faux leathers are often made with PVC (hard to clean) and other poly-leather types, like polyurethane. While polyurethane ‘breathes,’ PVC doesn’t so the material can get hot in a hot room.

Not-so-durable. Artificial leathers are easily damaged and don’t wear well over time.

Non-hypoallergenic. Believe it or not, real leather is hypoallergenic. Not so much with these simulated fabrics!

The Verdict: Faux leather is definitely worth the savings if you want the look of leather. Just be sure to spend a little more and get the newer environmental leathers.

Microfiber

This sofa fabric is an excellent choice for pet owners. In terms of sofa materials, microfiber is a fine polyester that’s soft, durable, and easy to clean. It has a tight weave, so pet hair, dust, and lint won’t stick or stay trapped in these synthetic fibers—which makes upkeep incredibly simple.

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The Pros:

Superb resistance. Microfiber is fade-resistant. It holds color longer than most fabrics, and the tight weave makes it easy to spot-clean and wipe off stains.

Eco-friendly and durable. Synthetic microfiber is one of the most durable engineered fabrics. But what’s great is that it’s petroleum-based, which makes it easily recyclable.

A+ for comfort. A sofa upholstered in microfiber is warmer than leather and polyester, so it’s cozy to rest on. It’s also hypoallergenic.

The Cons:

Watch for water marks. While microfiber stands up to most stains, if somehow water, especially dirty water, penetrates the fabric, it may show the staining when it dries.

Folding challenges. Due to the softness of the material, it easily folds on the extreme ends under intense heat, which can look unattractive.

The Verdict: Microfiber is soft, comfortable, and relatively low maintenance, so it’s perfect for family homes with kids and pets. Just know that while durable, it can wear in the long run.

Linen

When it comes to upholstery fabrics, linen can be polarizing. One the one hand, linen has a breathable cooling effect and a relaxed texture that gets softer over time. On the other hand, it’s a delicate fabric that soils and wrinkles easily, and it can shrink if not professionally cleaned.

The Pros:

Light and strong. Delicate-looking linen is one of the most durable upholstery fabrics. It’s mildew- and abrasion-resistant, gets stronger when wet, and never pills nor fades.

Green for less. Linen is one of those rare fabrics that is an affordable natural material, which means you can be eco-friendly while having a sofa that’s chic and comfy.

Beautifully soft. Linen has a slubby texture that is responsible for its smooth and alluring feel. It’s very soft to the touch, which makes it super dreamy and comfortable.

The Cons:

All the wrinkles. Linen wrinkles easily. There’s no way around that.

Not your everyday. A linen sofa is not meant for rough use. It’s prone to soiling and should be professionally cleaned whenever that happens.

The Verdict: While caring for linen is a bit more particular, it has a natural luster and sheen and its natural, earthy color makes it effortlessly elegant. It’s a sofa fabric that’s best for formal spaces or for homes without children or pets.

Cotton

The durability of cotton upholstery will depend on the weave count. A tighter weave means a stronger, higher-quality sofa fabric. But cotton is a natural fiber that has good resistance to fading. It’s less resilient to soiling and wrinkling, though.

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The Pros:

Style and strength. Cotton is also high on the list of most durable fabrics for sofas. It can also be dyed in almost any color, so the decor pairing possibilities are endless.

Totally natural. Cotton is 100% natural, and it’s soft, comfortable, and breathable. It’s also hypoallergenic, so it’s perfect for those with sensitive skin.

Good feels. One of the benefits of cotton is that it resists pilling and it’s also resistant to abrasion, so you can lounge in it comfortably for hours on end.

The Cons:

Consider the dye. While it’s super easy to dye, it’s not always a good thing. Cotton catches dye so easily that it can sometimes catch the color of your blue jeans.

Don’t get it wet. Because fabrics like cotton are breathable, it makes them porous. That means they can soak in spills quickly, which can cause wrinkles and potentially odors.

Pretty weak weaves. Cotton upholstery often has beautiful weaves, like canvas and damask, which look nice but tend to wear down faster and aren’t as easy to clean.

The Verdict: Cotton is a great option for slipcovered sofas, like linen—but slightly lower maintenance. It’s a heavier fabric than linen but you’ll have lots of color and style options.

Polyester

It’s one of the most common synthetic fabrics used for sofa upholstery. Why? It’s an affordable option that’s wrinkle-resistant, durable, and easy to clean. While the material may not sound exotic or glamorous, polyester sofas can be very stylish.

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The Pros:

Strong and fast drying. Polyester is stain-resistant and abrasion-resistant, which makes it quite durable. And when you wash the fabric for cleaning, it dries very quickly.

Odor free. Polyester is only slightly breathable, which means it will not absorb smells like other breathable fabrics, such as cotton and linen.

The Cons:

Check the temperature. Polyester upholstery can crack if it is exposed to extreme or fluctuating temperatures, so make sure your polyester sofa is in an even-climate room.

It’s sensitive. Polyester is a tensile fabric, which means that it will stretch over time. It’s also flammable, so don’t light candles near it, as that can be a safety hazard.

The Verdict: Polyester is a soft and comfortable sofa fabric that’s great for families with children, given its liquid resistance and easy care. Just keep it in a moderately cool room.

Chenille

Elegant and soft, chenille has tufted threads (made from natural or synthetic fibers), which give it a soft, fuzzy texture that’s very comforting. It’s also surprisingly durable. Although, if you have cats or dogs with claws, the tufted threads can get snagged in them when you’re not watching.

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The Pros:

Unbelievably soft. When it comes to upholstery fabrics, chenille is luxurious and very very soft. It’s what makes chenille sofas so utterly comfortable and coveted.

Made to last. Chenille is pretty durable and also easy to clean. That means it can stand up to lots of traffic and wear and you can easily keep it looking new for years.

Endless possibilities. Chenille comes in a number of colors, which means you’re certain to find a hue that goes with your aesthetic. Color and comfort, the perfect combo.

The Cons:

It can shift. Chenille is extremely stretchable, so it can loosen up on your sofa over time. And adding a backing to strengthen it adds to the cost.

Catching on. With chenille, dust and debris can get stuck in the long fibers. Likewise, animal claws can easily unravel the threads, so pet owners should really consider before committing to a chenille sofa!

The Verdict: While it’s a sofa fabric that stands up to heavy use, it’s a high-maintenance choice. Chenille sofas need to be regularly vacuumed and liquid spills will need professional cleaning.

Velvet

If you’re looking for an upholstery fabric for a sofa that looks and feels glamorous, go for velvet. The fabric has a luxe sheen, which catches light and reflects it across the shape of your sofa. What that does is accentuate the form of your sofa, making it look like a true statement piece.

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The Pros:

Warm luxury. Velvet is luxuriously soft, but it also has excellent insulation properties. Which means it’s perfect in cooler rooms and gets cozier the longer you lounge in it.

Colorful luster. Velvet can be dyed in rich colors. Most notably, when it’s dyed in jewel tones, it looks especially bold and captivating given the fabric’s reflective finish.

Good with pets. A flat pile similar to a rug makes velvet highly durable and any dirt or pet hairs will just fall away. And unlike other fabrics, velvet also has no raised weaves or loose threads, which means no snagging from claws.

The Cons:

Highest maintenance. The durability of velvet depends on the density of the piles of woven fibers. But in general velvets are difficult to clean and maintain.

It’ll cost you. There’s no way around the high price tag. It’s a very expensive fabric.

The Verdict: Velvet is a regal sofa fabric choice that’s guaranteed to look and feel luxurious. But it’s really best reserved for formal spaces, not your everyday busy household.

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