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Is there a difference between a sofa and a couch?

Thursday 18 December 2014

Time and design have blurred the distinction between sofa and couch. Here in New Zealand the terms 'sofa' and 'couch' are used interchangeably.

Is it a sofa or is it a couch?
Time and design have blurred the distinction.  These days in New Zealand the terms sofa and couch are used interchangably.  Even Wikipedia defines a sofa as "a piece of furniture also called a couch".  It does however provide a hint towards their differentiated origins suggesting  - "although a couch is used for seating, it may be used for reclining and napping".
If you delve into your history books, the sofa and couch had significantly different beginnings.
To quote the historians, "in the 17th  and 18th century a couch was usually an armless chair with a greatly elongated seat, a slanted and sometimes hinged back used for reclining or sleeping during the day".  The ability to recline or sleep on a couch provides its clearest distinction from a sofa.
The term 'couch' is derived from the old French noun 'couche' meaning to lie down.  It originally referenced furniture for lying and sleeping on.  It would appear that whoever coined the phrase "couch potato" had a strong appreciation for its origins.  The couch has strong links to doctors and psychologists rooms.  In the late middle-ages the couch signified a daybed.
The Collins Dictionary's definition reinforces this distinction stating a couch is "a piece of upholstered furniture, usually having a back and armrests, for sitting more than one person.  It is also a bed, especially one used in the daytime and by patients of a doctor or a psychoanalyst".
The English may be to blame for initially blurring the lines suggestion that a couch "can be used as a sofa by day and a bed by night".  Sofa is the preferred term generally used in the United Kingdom while the North Americans are more inclined to use couch.
Sofa originates from the dias on which a Grand Vizier (Muslim high official) sat in the 17th century.  The term 'sofa' comes from the Arabic word 'suffa'.
The sofa evolved from the upholstered armchair.  Today the term sofa is largely synonymous with settee, despite the settee beginning life as a double chair furnished with cushions.  In the 19th century, the sofa was often thought of as a ladies' lounging seat furnishing the drawing rooms of wealthy homes in England and Europe.  It was not until the industrial revolution that sofas began to appear in the homes of the general population.  According to our friends at Collins Dictionary, a sofa is "an upholstered seat with back and for two or more people".
Given our English heritage, we tend to title our designs as sofas.  But the reality is (according to the definitions above) that at Designers' Collection we are in fact delivering tailor-made sofas and couches into homes all across New Zealand.  As interior architecture has evolved with our lifestyles, homes have become larger and living spaces have become more specific.  Somes home now have formal lounges, family rooms and/or home theatres.
We tend to see our sofas specified for sitting, reading and conversational spaces.  Couches that allow you to sit or lie tend to find their way into more casual areas and often where the screen is located.  This has helped drive the popularity of modular corner couches.
So next time you hear the terms sofa and couch used interchangeably, you can enlighten the speaker as to why it is a sofa or a couch.

Even Wikipedia defines a sofa as "a piece of furniture also called a couch".

It does however provide a hint towards their differentiated origins suggesting  - "although a couch is used for seating, it may be used for reclining and napping".

History of the sofa and couch

If you delve into your history books, the sofa and couch had significantly different beginnings.

To quote the historians...

"in the 17th  and 18th century a couch was usually an armless chair with a greatly elongated seat, a slanted and sometimes hinged back used for reclining or sleeping during the day".

This ability to recline or sleep on a couch seems to provides its clearest distinction from a sofa.

The term 'couch' is derived from the old French noun 'couche' meaning to lie down.  It originally referenced furniture for lying and sleeping on.

It would seem that whoever coined the phrase "couch potato" had a strong appreciation for its origins. The couch also has strong links to doctors and psychologists rooms. However in the late middle-ages the couch suggested a daybed.

bespoke_sectional_couch

Corner couch - interior by Bespoke Interior Design

The Collins Dictionary's definition reinforces this distinction stating a couch is "a piece of upholstered furniture, usually having a back and armrests, for sitting more than one person. It is also a bed, especially one used in the daytime and by patients of a doctor or a psychoanalyst".

Taking our lead from the English

We can probably look towards the English to blame for initially blurring the lines suggestion that a couch "can be used as a sofa by day and a bed by night". Sofa is the preferred term generally used in the United Kingdom while the North Americans are more inclined to use couch.

Sofa originates from the dias on which a Grand Vizier (Muslim high official) sat in the 17th century. The term 'sofa' comes from the Arabic word 'suffa'.

belgravia_sofas

Belgravia sofas by Designers' Collection - Interior by Trinity Interior Design

The sofa evolved from the upholstered armchair. Today the term sofa is largely synonymous with settee, despite the settee beginning life as a double chair furnished with cushions.

Furnishing the homes of wealthy ladies

In the 19th century, the sofa was often thought of as a ladies' lounging seat furnishing the drawing rooms of wealthy homes in England and Europe.  It was not until the industrial revolution that sofas began to appear in the homes of the general population.

According to our friends at Collins Dictionary, a sofa is "an upholstered seat with back and for two or more people".

Given our English heritage, we tend to title our designs as sofas.

But the reality is (according to the definitions above) that at Designers' Collection we are in fact delivering tailor-made sofas and couches into homes all across New Zealand.

As interior architecture has evolved with our lifestyles, homes have become larger and living spaces have become more specific. Some homes now have formal lounges, family rooms and/or home theatres.

We tend to see our sofas specified for sitting, reading and conversational spaces. Couches that allow you to sit or lie tend to find their way into more casual areas and often where the screen is located. This has helped drive the popularity of modular corner couches.

So next time you hear the terms sofa and couch used interchangeably, you can enlighten the speaker as to why it is a sofa or a couch.

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Design on James

Lynette Lochhead, Tauranga