The great debate! Some say “Sofa” some say “Couch” some say “Davenport” some say “Settee”. What exactly do those terms mean?
noun: sofa; plural noun: sofas
a long-upholstered seat with a back and arms, for two or more people.
noun: couch; plural noun: couches
1a:an article of furniture for sitting or reclining
b:a couch on which a patient reclines when undergoing psychoanalysis
noun: davenport; plural noun: davenports
1. North American
a large, upholstered sofa, typically able to be converted into a bed.
noun: settee; plural noun: settees
a long-upholstered seat for more than one person, typically with a back and arms.
Sooo…. What is the difference between all of these, you may ask?
Whether you call it a sofa, a settee or a couch, your primary urge is just to sit down and relax, and what you call it doesn’t really matter. But if you have a craving to be technically correct, then the history of each word is quite revealing.
Believe it or not, people have been sitting down for years, and the name of what they have sat on has taken on as many changes and shapes and sizes as the type of furniture itself. As well as sofa, settee and couch we have a Chesterfield, a Davenport, a Lounge, a Canape, A Daybed and a Divan. Some of these are of course historical or at least describe a more distinctive kind of seat, but the lines are a little more blurred when it comes to what we would describe as a sofa, settee or couch, and the difference is often down to how old we are and where we were born, but historically the difference was often down to social class.
Sofas focused more on lavishly cushioned designs, providing a relaxing sitting, or lying down experience for everyone within a Caliph’s chamber or an Arab lord’s private quarters. The word sofa derives from the Arabic-translated “soffah” that defined a mixed furniture piece that merged carpets and cushion-covered floors into a more stable, standalone lightweight sitting option.
Later on, as the French kingdoms battled and came into contact with the Iberic and North West African caliphates, the sofa started to make its way into western Europe and up to the British Isles. Master artisans at the time re-adapted this eastern furnishing by evolving it into an upholstered bench that included generous arms, plush back-filling, and smooth to the touch upholstery.
A settee bench is an elegant version of a traditional sofa and loveseat. Vintage settees feature high, straight backs, exposed wooden legs, and some form of cushioning and upholstery to accommodate guests while creating rooms with artistic depth and sophistication.
Their formal look and feel make settee loveseats an excellent accent seating, meaning that they’re mostly there to add glamour and elegance to your living room, entryway, bedroom, or any other small space around your home. While they can double as secondary seating options, it’s hardly their strong suit since they feature little padding and cushioning, at least compared to the best sofa.
Difference Between Settee and Sofa
On the other hand, Settees originate from “setls,” which referred to rustic wooden benches with beautifully carved backs and concealed storage beneath their seats. The first-ever settees offered everyday convenience and decor to homes and halls alike.
During winter, craftsmen and tailors would add cushions known as settee foams (similar to our present-day outdoor settee cushions) to add warmth and a more comfortable seating experience to their owners.
It’s fair to say that settees later become almost artistic, decorating pieces that helped nobility and bourgeois members create beautiful indoor environments within palaces and states. The palace of Versailles serves as an example of how settees and their elegant, curved shapes, intricate wood carvings, and rich-patterned backs served as more amicable seats for ladies with large dresses.
In the age-long battle between settee vs sofa, we believe it’s finally time to admit that each excels at their own niche. Comparing a sofa vs settee is pointless because each piece fulfills entirely different purposes, with sofas providing comfort and convenience above all and settees adding elegance and artistic depth to your indoor spaces.
Just as you wouldn’t decorate an entryway or your bedroom with a huge sofa sectional, you wouldn’t use a settee as the ultimate cuddling spot ahead of a Netflix series binge.
With both furniture pieces finding their origins all the way back in the Middle Ages, their purpose and form have mutated to better accommodate us (their creators and users) in a rather spectacular way!
The couch is defined slightly differently. This originally meant a structure with a soft covering designed for lying on to sleep. So, this was originally more of a bed than a chair, and the word ‘couch’ is derived from the French verb ‘coucher’ which means to lay down, or to put to bed. Chaucer referred to a couch as a place to sleep in his work in 1385, but by 1500 it was written about as a seat.
Many people believe a couch is a French innovation from the early 17th century, and unlike a sofa, which has a back spanning across from left to right, a couch either has no back or only half a back, but unlike a Chaise Longue. A traditional couch is how we would now describe a ‘psychiatrist’s couch’ or a leather couch in a hotel lobby, a bar or a waiting room.
So, I bet you’re glad you asked now, aren’t you? Now go and have a sit down after all that learning, on whatever you want to call it.
Let’s look at some examples of the different styles.
The chesterfield sofa is known for its “quilted” or “tufted” style. It’s more of a fancy sofa compared to other sofa designs featured in this article.
Some have the tufted design on only the back and arms while others include it on the seating bench section as well.
Core Features of a Chesterfield
The core elements or features of a chesterfield include:
Upholstered back and arms which are the same height
Curved or rolled back and arms
Tufted button upholstery
Turned feet or legs with wheeled castors
Neat and tidy, the Tuxedo sofa is a space saver and a great choice for transitional spaces as it does well in both traditional and modern settings. Its distinctive feature is its rectangular shape with arms as high as the back. The Tuxedo sofa takes its name from the village of Tuxedo Park in New York, the same place that christened the formal wear. Notable residents of upscale Tuxedo Park included at one point Dorothy Draper and Emily Post, the grand dame of good manners. Tuxedo sofas appeared in the 1920’s, and with their clean lines and simple shape, hinted at modernism on the way. The Tuxedo sofa remains a mark of good taste and make any living room feel upscale.
The Tuxedo Sofa is known for the straight lines, upholstered back and arms of the same height. The back may have channel or button tufting with separate pillows.
Featuring a distinctive arched back that peak at the center and sides, the Camelback sofa is a late-1700s product of the Thomas Chippendale furniture design studios in Great Britain. Chippendale was the first furniture style to be named for its designer instead of for a ruling monarch. During the era, English aristocracy heavily favored the Camelback sofa for their homes, largely because of the expert craftsmanship for which Chippendale was known. Chippendale’s furniture was crafted in a modified Rococo style. Characteristics of this style included elegance, lightness and an emphasis on natural curving and ornamentation.
The elegant Camelback sofa, named for its resembling a camel’s humps, is also characterized by tight upholstery, a shaped bench seat, high, scrolled arms that provide support and exposed legs. Authentic English Camelback sofas feature Queen Anne-style claw-and-ball feet. There are no separate back cushions. The Camelback’s traditional design makes it an ideal choice for placement between windows in a formal living room.
Modern types of Camelback sofas often feature one or two, rather than three, humps. Many contemporary Camelback sofas are upholstered in bold, graphic prints, bringing an updated look to a traditional sofa style.
English Roll Arm Sofa
The English Roll Arm, my favorite, has been around since the 1800s and, obviously, isn’t going away any time soon. It has been made popular by British furniture designer George Smith, whose company still makes the finest examples available. With a tight back or loose cushions, it adds a touch of relaxed country charm to any design scheme, yet it is elegant enough to work in any context. We could call it the chameleon of sofas.