You’ve never heard anyone refer to a lazy person as a “sofa potato.” We know that person is a couch potato. So what is the difference between a sofa and a couch anyway? Or between a sofa and a loveseat, settee or divan?  Other synonyms include chesterfield, davenport, settee, chaise lounge, and daybed. A Upholstery is here to set you straight.

What is a Sofa?

Let’s start with the definition of a sofa. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, it’s “a longsoft seat with a back and usually arms, on which more than one person can sit at the same time.” The OED defines it as “a long, stuffed seat with a back and ends or end, used for reclining.” The word itself originates in the eastern Mediterranean with the Arabic “soffah” or “suffah,” which is part of the floor raised a few feet, covered with carpets and cushions and used for sitting. The sofa arrived in England via France in the 17th Century and soon became widespread in the homes of the wealthy. 

What is a Couch?

According to Wikipedia, a couch is “a piece of furniture for seating two or three people. It is commonly found in the form of a bench, with upholstered armrests, and often fitted with springs and tailored cushions. Although a couch is used primarily for seating, it may be used for sleeping.” The word comes from the Old French noun couche, which derived from the verb “coucher,” or “to lie down,” as in “Voulez vous coucher avec moi ce soir?” Originally, a couch was any structure with a soft covering designed for lying down or sleeping on. Unlike a sofa, which has a back spanning one end to the other, a couch might have no back or a half-back. So the couch is the same thing as a lounge or a daybed. And don’t forget, a psychiatric couch is a piece of furniture for lying down on.

The common conception is that a couch is more casual than a sofa. A couch is where your kids and dogs are allowed to hang out on, and where friends are likely to crash, but a sofa definitely is not. That’s why there is no such thing as a sofa potato. Maybe this is because a couch is something you’re expected lie down on. A sofa, on the other hand, is often associated with formal occasions, can seat more people than a couch, and is a place to sit upright.

What is a Settee?

The word settee comes from the Old English word setl, which was used to describe long benches with high backs and arms. Popular in the Middle Ages, they were usually made of oak and were very ornate. They emerged in Britain in the late 17th and 18th centuries. Like sofas but unlike couches, settees have a back. 

According to a survey by the Oxford English Dictionary, “sofa” was the most popular word in Britain for that piece of furniture in your living room, with “settee” coming in second and “couch” third. But in the United States, “couch” was more popular than “sofa,” and “settee” wasn’t even in the running.

And How About that Love Seat?

The love seat is basically a two-seater. It’s a chair that can accommodate a single wide person or two narrower people who necessarily sit close to each other. It appeared in England and France in the late 1600’s to allow ample room for ladies wearing those huge dresses that were then in fashion. They became popular three hundred years later as “courting chairs.” Some of them were designed with an S-shape so the sitters were facing opposite directions. So much for love.

Chesterfields and Davenports 

A chesterfield is a large, overstuffed sofa with scrolled, roll-over arms the same height as the back. It’s often tufted and buttoned, and made from leather. While the term is popular in Canada for any kind of sofa, it’s not used often in the United States. Here, the term “davenport” is more popular. It was the name of a series of sofas made by the Massachusetts furniture manufacturer A. H. Davenport and Company, which no longer exists. Because of its popularity, the word is used as a generic term for a large, formal sofa.

And Finally, the Divan

Another item of furniture for seating two or more people, the divan was originally a bench or raised part of the floor that ran along an entire wall of a room, covered with cushions. The word originated from Persian “divan” councils, or courts, which were furnished by divans. During the Romantic period, the French translated it into a long upholstered bench. Oxford defines it as “a long low sofa without a back or arms, typically placed against a wall.” Essentially, it is a backless, armless couch.

You Say Potay-to, I Say Potah-to

So there you have it. You can call that wonderful, comfy, inviting piece of furniture in your living room or den whatever you like – sofa, couch, settee, davenport. Whether you like to lie on it watching TV or sit upright drinking a martini, A Upholstery can customize one for you or reupholster the one you already have.