Sofas throughout history

UK Home Improvement

Sofas Throughout History

The sofa is a staple item in living rooms all over the world, and just like a lot of things, particular styles have come and gone over time. In this article we’re going to look at the history of sofas and what trends were popular in each decade.

The Origin of Sofas

Depending on where you do your research, the word sofa originates from an Arabic word that varies between either “soffah”, “suffah”, “sopha” or “suffa”. Early 17th century French turned it into “sofa”. It’s thought to have originally meant “bench”.

Thousands of years ago, it was only the very rich that had access to comfortable sofas, where the lower class would have to make do with uncomfortable stone benches.

Variations of Sofas

Sofa is the most common word used to describe this particular piece of furniture, but there are some variations…


Across the USA, the word couch is still popular to use when describing a sofa. Couch originates from 17th century France. It was originally a piece of furniture that had supports at each end, but no back support so it resembled more of a chaise lounge or daybed. The word couch is thought to originate from the French word coucher, which means “to sleep”. 

Couch is a term rarely used in the UK, except as an “Americanism” or to describe someone as a “couch potato”. It could also be used to describe the reclining seat often seen in psychiatrist’s offices, in pop culture at least.


There’s no difference between a settee and sofa these days, it’s more of an old fashioned English term which may be used more in certain regions such as the north of England. The word settee comes from an old English word setl, which was a long bench with a high back and high arms, typically made from wood and used in the Middle Ages. The back of these old style settees would sometimes have elegant details carved into them.


Originally a term to describe a two-seater sofa, loveseats are now more popularly known as a cross between an armchair and a sofa that would give a lot of room for one person, but would be quite a squeeze for two. 

Loveseats are sometimes round or oval shaped with a curved back and arms. They will look similar to a large swivel chair and won’t have any visible sofa legs.


A Chesterfield is the name used to describe any type of sofa in Canada, but it refers to a specific type of sofa in the UK. A Chesterfield is usually a large, overstuffed sofa with button tufting, an upholstery style sometimes used for headboards on beds. They are seen in both a soft fabric and leather. Their rounded arms make them instantly recognisable. 

Sofa Trends in Different Decades

Each decade in the 20th century had its own character, you could probably even identify the decade with just a picture of a living room. Here’s a look at the last 50 years of sofas…


The 1960s interior design was heavily inspired by the space race and subsequent popularity of sci-fi shows like Star Trek. Shapes were meant to resemble space travel and popular colours were mustard yellowy green, orange, brown and off white. 


Design went the other way from the 60s and returned to flowery natural designs, inspired by the hippie movement.


Colour came back for some in a crazy way, whilst floral patterns stayed with others.


Things started to get sleeker and toned down. Patterns disappeared in favour of a modern approach.


As technology made a leap, it started being incorporated into furniture for things like reclining functions. Minimalism continued from the 90’s.


The internet has caused styles to update much faster. Handmade and bespoke goods started becoming more popular due to sites like Etsy.

Choosing Your Sofa

Are you reading this because you’re after a new sofa and looking for style ideas? Perhaps you don’t want the same old sofa that everyone else has and want to get something vintage or pay tribute to a certain decade with your décor. 

Sofas can be expensive, especially when you’ve got a particular style in mind. However, you could always try upholstering or reupholstering one yourself, transforming an old sofa into something brand new and unique. If you’re feeling creative, get yourself some upholstery tools and try it out.


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