Sofa, settee, couch or chesterfield? It doesn’t matter what you call it, a sofa is an essential part of any living room. Put very simply, it is an upholstered seat for two or more people. The word you use probably says a lot about where in the world you come from – and there is no one accepted word (although sofa is probably the most-recognised). They are all correct and you should continue to use whichever you are most familiar with. Bear in mind, however, that it might seem obscure to people in other parts of the world.
Used most widely in the UK, particularly in the south of the country, but recognised in most parts of the English-speaking world. The word sofa comes via Turkey, from the Arabic suffa, meaning wool or a raised part of the floor for sitting on, covered with carpets and pillows.
Used almost exclusively in the UK, mostly in northern counties (although this is a generalisation and the word settee is recognised throughout the UK). It comes from the Old English settle, which was a hard wooden bench with arms and a high back.
Used in Scotland, Ireland, the US, Canada, South Africa and Australia. From the French couche, meaning to lie down. At one time, a couch would have been somewhere to sleep rather than sit. Now, however, it refers specifically to an upholstered seat for two or more people.
Used in parts of Canada, usually by the more mature person. Many sources say that it was named after the British Earl of Chesterfield who owned a sumptuous, deep-buttoned leather sofa. Others say it is from the city of Chesterfield. Who knows? It often refers to a deep-buttoned, leather sofa, with back and arms of the same height, sometimes with one arm that reclines. In Canada, it can mean any type of sofa.
Named after the now-defunct A H Davenport furniture company. The word davenport is recognised in parts of the US but is no longer widely used.
Harking back to its origins as somewhere to recline or even sleep, a daybed usually has sides and back of a similar height. It may convert into a bed or simply be of a size suitable to use as a single bed.
Originating in the late 1600s, a loveseat began as a large chair to accommodate ladies and their voluminous skirts. The 19th century saw the advent of the two-person loveseat, also known as a tête-a-tête, courting bench, kissing bench, gossip’s chair or conversation bench. This was any form of two-seat furniture where the two seats are arranged in an S shape, so that two people can converse while looking each other whilst keeping a modest barrier between them. A modern loveseat can either be a two-seater sofa or a very large chair, big enough to two to snuggle up.
Emerging in 18th century France, this is an elegant, highly ornate, ornamental 3-seater sofa. It was designed for perching on with friends rather than relaxing. It is a word not commonly used outside France.
A particular style of Japanese seat with a wooden frame and thin, folded mattress to sit on, which folds out into a flat bed. It does not refer to any other type of sofa.
A long, low couch, usually without back or arms, for reclining or sleeping. In the UK, a divan is not a sofa but a bed with a box-style base that reaches to the floor.
Chaise Longue, Chaise Lounge or Chaise
This is a particular type of sofa consisting of a long seat (it literally means ‘long chair’) with a headrest, for reclining. It may have arms, a single arm and/or a back. See all of our Chaise Longue here.
Where does the sofa come from?
The comfy, well-upholstered sofa as we know it today may be a relatively recent evolution but its beginnings spread back centuries and around the world. The sofa probably originated in Egypt in around 2000 BC, but wealthy people in all cultures have always found ways of making their lives more comfortable. The Ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Moors and Turks, even if they sat upon stone, wooden benches or the floor, would add mats, pillows and cushions for added comfort. Nomadic tribesmen would adorn the floors of their tents with luxurious mats and cushions after a hard day of travelling.
The sofa as a single piece of padded, upholstered furniture, designed for comfort, emerged in Elizabethan England in the late 16th century. It was only for the extremely wealthy, while the rest of the population sat on wooden stools, benches or settles – assuming they had any leisure time to sit down.
Who invented the sofa?
Probably the Ancient Egyptians around 4000 years ago, although it would not have been the sumptuous, comfortable, fully-padded piece of furniture that we think of today.
What sofa stands for
The word sofa comes from the Arabic suffa meaning either wool or a raised part of the floor for sitting on, covered with carpets and pillows.
When the sofa was invented
Sofas, in one form or another, have been around for some 4000 years. The earliest sofas were probably invented in Egypt in around 2000 BC. They were a far cry from the comfy, upholstered sofas we know and love today.
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