Sectional vs sofa: That is always the question, isn’t it? It totally makes sense, as this is one of the first pieces of living room furniture you’ll need in your home, whether you’re moving or just upgrading your current space.
It can be hard to know if a sofa or sectional is the right choice for you. Sometimes the dimensions of a living room dictate which you choose (read there just isn’t enough space for a sectional). But if you have room for either a sofa or sectional, how do you choose between the two?? You certainly don’t want to buy one of each and see which one looks better. And making the gamble on one or the other is risky, since returning a sofa is a real hassle.
To get this design dilemma right, we’re trying on a few options in 3D! Explore how 3 different living rooms look with a sectional vs a sofa. We’ll break down why each option works and what it’s best for.
Keep scrolling to compare how a sectional vs sofa can work in a small living room, a medium living room with a fireplace, and a large open living space.
1. A Sofa or Sectional in a Small Living Room
Our first room is a rectangular living space that’s tight on square footage and needs to also fit a dining area. The two designs here show how it’s possible to make the most of a small living room with either a sectional or a sofa.
The Sofa Layout
If you live in a small home or tiny apartment, chances are you have one main living area that needs to also double as your dining space.
In this layout design, a compact sofa for two can function as a deliberate space divider, separating the zones for lounging and dining. It creates the feeling of distinct spaces within a room, which is especially great if you work from home at your dining table and want more mental boundaries between your main living space.Shop This Look
Why It Works:
It’s the perfect two-seater size for a small space, but it leaves enough room for you to add more seating, like an armchair or side chair.
The size is comfy and doesn’t look bulky or overwhelming in a small space.
Because it’s compact, it doesn’t obstruct the flow in a small space. Its vantage point also lets you enjoy the view outside the windows.
A Sofa in a Small Space is Perfect if You…
- Want a multifunctional room that has a clear separation between your living and dining spaces.
- Are a fan of casual but intimate parties and get-togethers.
- Live by yourself and don’t need a lot of seats but do enjoy having friends over for small weeknight dinners.
The Sectional Layout
This sofa with chaise is one of the most popular types of sectionals for a small space because of its more compact design. While a sectional can only fit against the longest wall in this space, this actually creates an open floor plan with better flow between the living and dining areas.
You won’t have space for additional seating, like an armchair, but you also don’t need it since you’ll have the comfy chaise of your sectional to stretch out on. (Want to open up the two spaces even more? Get a sectional configuration where the chaise is on the left side!)Shop This Look
Why It Works
Despite the sectional being larger than the sofa, this arrangement gives the design an airier look and feel.
While the distinction between the living and dining spaces is less defined, it’s easier to have conversations in this room, no matter where you’re seated.
It opens up the room with a casual, loungey look that feels instantly welcoming.
A Sectional in a Small Space is Perfect If You…
- Love a comfortable living space but also need it to be versatile enough to entertain friends.
- Always have friends over for movies, dinners, game nights, and get-togethers.
- Are a couple who enjoys their at-home time and catching up on lots of TV.
Our Verdict: Go For a Chaise Sectional in a Small Space
While a sofa can make the most of your small space, a sectional is always a winner if it fits. It’s perfect for watching TV and entertaining guests, and it gives the feel of a laid-back lounge that lets you kick back and sprawl out.
2. A Sofa Chaise or Corner Sectional in a Living Room With a Fireplace
Our second space is an average-sized living room that fits lots of furniture. The challenge is making it all work around a fireplace design that takes up one wall.
The Sofa Chaise Layout
For those of you with a house or family home, it’s possible that your living space has a fireplace as the focus of your design.
For a balanced layout, place a sofa with an optional chaise configuration opposite the fireplace, then mount a TV above the mantel. A large sofa like this, with an accompanying ottoman that pulls up to form a pseudo-chaise, will also give you (or the whole family) a more comfy seat to lounge on. This setup gives you a lot of room to add an accent chair and poufs for extra seating space—perfect for big hangouts and gatherings.Shop This Look
Why It Works
With this setup, the fireplace and TV have equal balance and are treated as equal focal points.
There’s lots of space to tuck in versatile seating, like the chair in the corner and a pouf that doubles as a footstool when not in use. No corner goes unused.
This layout is as versatile as its seating options, meaning it’s functional while still allowing for a lot of walking room and new pieces to be added over time.
A Sofa Chaise in a Medium Space is Perfect If You…
- Live with children or have a big family in need of a comfy gathering space.
- Enjoy spending lots of time watching movies and shows in a relaxed setting.
- Want a living space that feels like a space unto itself and that feels like a separate zone for tuning out from the rest of your home.
The L-Sectional Sofa Layout
With an L-shaped sectional, you can tuck it into the corner to create a cozy conversation area where the TV and fireplace are less of the focus. Keep in mind, though, there’s a little less flexibility with this layout since the sectional can only fit in one spot—even if it does help to open up the living space more.Shop This Look
Why It Works
This is a cozy alternative to the sofa layout, with a corner devoted completely to lounging.
This setup makes the room into a natural conversation area that can feel both formal or casual.
With the sectional pushed against the wall, it feels like an open living space and creates a more seamless flow from one end of the room to the other.
An L-Sectional in a Medium Space is Perfect If You…
- Like having friends over for low-key takeout and wine or hosting game nights.
- Prefer an open setting where your living space feels connected to the larger overall space rather than a living area unto itself.
- Want a layout that’s family-friendly with more room to play and less space for things to be knocked over.
Our Verdict: Opt For The Versatile Sofa Chaise
Not only is the sofa-with-chaise better for TV viewing here, but it also gives you the flexibility of extra seating that’s easy to move around when you have guests over. And even though the L-shaped sectional wrapped along two walls does give off a cozy look, the front and center placement of the sofa is much more practical while still appearing comfy and stylish.
3. Two Sofas or an L-Shape Sectional in a Large, Open Living Room
In our final design, we came up with an open living room that has everything: built-in shelving, French doors and windows, and even a marble fireplace. Our two layouts show how sometimes a larger room with formal architectural details can be just as challenging as one where your furniture options are more obvious.
The Two Sofas Layout
To play up a formal look in a large open living space, lean into a layout that’s symmetrical. The best way is to arrange two matching sofas facing each other with the fireplace in between them. (Curious what sofa style is right for your space? Check out our guide to sofa styles.)
This design also gives focus to the sofas without taking away from the fireplace’s architecture. It’s a layout that’s perfectly set up for conversation and long, cozy nights by the fire.Shop This Look
Why it Works
It’s an airy layout that turns the living room into an instant conversation area that’s perfect for formal entertaining.
Floating sofas is a stylish solution for spacious homes with walls that have built-in shelving and windows. They divide up the space and you can easily put a desk or a bench behind one to add even more function.
This layout gives you a solid foundation to add more seats and smaller accent tables around the sofas over time without needing to rethink everything.
Two Sofas in a Large Space are Perfect If You…
- Want a formal sitting room feel for your main seating area.
- Love to host guests—whether it’s enjoying cocktails at night by the fire or coordinating book club gatherings where everyone can be comfortably seated for serious discussions.
- Live in a home where the kids are all relatively grown up and you want a space that’s a little more elevated.
The L-Shaped Sectional Layout
This layout with a large L-shaped sectional sofa feels more casual and family-friendly than the previous design. It’s less about a formal gathering and more about relaxed hangouts.
This layout lets you look out clearly at everything in the room, from the view out the windows to the bookshelves along the wall, and the central fireplace. It’s a function-first approach that’s also easy to switch up over time. Ultimately, it’s all about keeping things casual.Shop This Look
Why It Works
The L-shape sectional not only helps anchor the living area but it also offers tons of walking space and room to add extra seating.
The sectional is a subtle partition that separates the shelving from the seating seamlessly. The benefit of this is that it gives both areas a strong focus.
You can easily swap the art above the fireplace for a TV, add another small chair near the fireplace, or pull in another floor lamp. The asymmetrical layout allows for all that.
A Sectional in a Large Space is Perfect If You…
- Love the open feel of a great living design but with a modern look.
- Want to build out your space over time but still want it to feel substantial and decorated in the meantime. The sectional helps make the room feel well furnished here given its sheer size.
- Are one to have frequent family parties and invite friends over for movie nights and big loungey gatherings where people can stand, kickback, or even grab a spot on the floor.
Our Verdict: Choose What Works For Your Lifestyle
Working with a large open living space does mean you have more wiggle room—there are so many types of living room layouts for a larger space like this. But it also means that it’s most important to base your layout and furniture arrangement around your lifestyle and daily needs.
If you like to host and entertain, the double facing sofa approach sets a more formal tone. Meanwhile, if you prefer a family-friendly vibe where it’s all about the casual gatherings on the regular, then sectional sofas can offer functional seating and a no-fuss layout.
Want to compare a sofa versus a sectional in your room?
This post was updated May 25, 2021