Sofa vs. Couch: What’s the Difference?

We’re unpacking the real difference between the two and if it's okay to consider them one and the same.

The great sofa versus couch debate: It's polarizing, to say the least. In the design world, there might be no two words so debatable as “sofa” and “couch.” For some, they represent a single idea and to others, they hold completely different meanings.

green velvet couch in small living room

Helen Norman

“Anytime we have a client asking for a sofa or couch, they typically use the same descriptors for each,” says Alex Feisal, lead designer at MDI. “The main difference seems to come down to word choice.” 

So what really is the difference between the two? Here, Feisal unpacks how designers use the terms couch and sofa, which one is best for your space, and why you really should start considering these furnishing terms as two separate entities. 

dog on living room couch

Adam Albright

The Difference Between a Sofa and Couch

While many will tell you sofas and couches are the same, Feisal says that’s not how they started. “Historically, there is a difference between ‘sofa’ and ‘couch,’ and the origin of each term varies.” For design purposes, Feisal does differentiate between the two, even though many of her clients use them interchangeably.

When it comes to the term “sofa,” Feisal believes it carries a more design-oriented feel and an air of refinement. “I feel like it is the most-used term across the design industry,” she says. The designer tends to consider a couch as a more casual furnishing. “When I hear the word ‘couch,’ I think of something oversized, stuffed, and informal.” 

Barrie Benson living room Better Homes and Gardens
Annie Schlecter

Is a Sofa or a Couch Best for Your Space?

If you’ve been using "sofa" and "couch" interchangeably—or opting for one over the other—consider Feisal's definitions. Differentiating the two can help both with planning your space and when speaking to design industry professionals.

For casual spaces, where putting your feet up is not only allowed but encouraged, a couch with inviting plush cushions is most likely your best bet. Whether you opt for a slipcovered version, one with a skirt, or a couch with rolled arms and exposed legs depends on your style and how relaxed you want to go with your furnishings. A couch is a great option for rooms like dens, offices, and basement hangouts. 

Sofas, including their more elegant cousin, the settee, are ideal for spaces where conversation and adult time takes place. Formal living rooms, sitting rooms, and the like are all prime real estate for the refined appeal of a sofa. 

BHG Adoff House Story - mid century modern living room with stone fireplace and burnt orange and teal sofas and chairs

Photography - David LandProp Stylist - Eddie Ross

How to Determine Sofa Placement

Of course, you can always continue to use the terms sofa and couch interchangeably. No one will make you pause mid-sentence to clarify which furnishing you speak of. But if you prefer to start drawing a line in the sand between the two, consider how placement plays a part.

Because a couch is thought of as a more casual piece, it’s oftentimes not going to be a focal point of a room or home. A sofa, on the other hand, can hold a greater design weight, whether through a beautiful curved back, striking silhouette, or trendy colorway. Don’t be afraid to put these style-forward sofas front and center. 

Couches can demand more space in a room and give it a certain weight thanks to their lounging appeal. For that reason, they often work well when anchored by another piece of furniture (think a console table directly behind) but can make a room feel cramped if placed smack-dab against the wall. Likewise, a sofa also does well to gain a more central position, but this time for the reason that it can seem too minuscule or lose its appeal when placed too tightly against a wall. 

Whether you're a convert to separate sofa versus couch definitions or have always considered them their own entities, carving out what they mean both to you and your space can help you determine exactly how you want your home to work for you. Are you more of a couch person or do you prefer the refined elegance of a sofa? Unpacking these questions might begin to clear up confusion when designing your home. Who knew such a debate could hold the answer to so many aesthetic questions? Consider us schooled. 

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles