Maybe you've spent time trying to argue the difference between a sideboard and a buffet, or perhaps you've argued with your partner about whether it's called a duvet or a comforter. No matter the situation, welcome: you've found yourself in the murky world of design definitions.
As you've probably found when decorating your home, there are plenty of terms that seem to be the same—or at least are used interchangeably—that actually have their own histories, purposes, and definitions. Sometimes, it's simply a matter of where you're from: what is one person's living room is another's family room, and for those of us who call it a side table, there's a group who calls it an end table.
On the topic of confusing design terminology, one example you may be very familiar with is the couch versus sofa conundrum. Aren't they the same thing? Think again.
What's the Difference Between a Couch and a Sofa?
This might feel a little like one of those "you say tomato, I say tomato" conversations, but couches and sofas do actually have differences. They both serve a similar purpose: they are pieces of furniture used for sitting in spaces like living rooms, sitting rooms, and outdoor rooms.
But, most designers note that using the two terms respectively reflects the overall function and design of each piece: a sofa feels more formal and is a term more often used in the design world. "Couch" feels a bit more informal, like describing a spot for lounging and watching TV.
Although they're often used to refer to the same thing these days, Ash Read, the founder of Living Cozy, says that reviewing their history makes the differences clearer.
"The word sofa originates from way back in the 1620s," he notes. "It seems it was first used in Turkey and was derived from the Arabic word 'suffah,' which means a 'raised section of a floor, covered with carpets and cushions.'"
Jordan Collins, an interior designer and home improvement expert at Two Lions 11, adds, "The word 'couch' stems from the French 'couche,' which means to lie down. It’s a furniture piece that actually has no arms and is smaller in size when compared to sofas used for lying down."
When Should You Choose One Over the Other?
Like most furniture and pieces of décor, it all comes down to preference. Consider what you're hoping your sofa or couch will do for a room either stylistically or utility-wise, and then go from there.
"If you're looking for a spot for the whole family to sit, then you likely want a sofa," Read suggests. "If you'd like a super comfortable, more informal place to snuggle up and binge your favorite TV series, then a couch might be more what you're looking for."
Collins even says to consider the four-legged, furry members of your family, too, when looking for the perfect piece. "Chances are that they’ll enjoy a sofa more than a couch, as they’ll be able to use the arms as a pillow." He also adds that, "Sofas are also a great furniture piece if you like having friends over for movie nights. They’re preferable if you plan to use the furniture as a bed for sleepovers, too."
As for couches? Collins explains they are the "preferred piece of furniture to host guests for tea or drinks. The smaller size suggests that either one or two people can comfortably sit on the couch and still be comfortable."
Of course, you might find that retailers use different terminology to talk about the same item. There are also other forms of seating to consider that are similar, or identical, depending where you shop, such as a loveseat, futon, settee, or daybed—all of which serve a similar purpose.
Are There Certain Rooms Where Each Works Best?
There is no right or wrong way to furnish a room. Interior design is far more an art than it is a science, and if you prefer a sofa to a couch—or vice versa—then your opinion comes before any unspoken rule.
Still, if you're looking for a little more guidance in furnishing a room, Read says that living spaces deserve the presence of a sofa. However, spaces where you'd be working, hanging out, or playing games, he recommends the dependability of a couch. Midday nap anyone?
Collins echoes a similar sentiment, adding, "A couch can find a perfect place in your guest room, home office space, or perhaps a terrace or balcony."
So, yes, there is a difference in the minute details, which can make for a helpful starting point. But, if you want that blue velvet sofa for your office, we say go for it.