A few years back, I read a great article in Southern Accents about all things having to do with sofas. It was so helpful in familiarizing myself with the different styles and terms and what makes each one unique. While this knowledge may seem trivial to some, it is always important to know what you are talking about when it comes to buying your own sofa. If you know your terms, you can make well-informed selections. For example, a favorite professor in my design school years made sure all her students knew that it was not proper to call it a “couch,” it was a sofa; and there was no such word as “drapes,” it was to be called drapery. While I laughed at the time, I realized there is great value in knowing the proper names for things. With that in mind, here is a quick lesson on sofas.
English or Club – This style has a slightly rounded arm that is set back from the front of the seat. The seat is often tight and slightly rolled back. There is no skirt and the legs are low, turned, and on castors.
Tuxedo – The arms are the same height as the back of the sofa. This is a clean lined sofa with straight or slightly flared arms.
Camelback – This is more traditional. It has a tight, serpentine back, high rolled arms, a tight seat, and sometimes exposed legs and stretchers.
Knole – This sofa has a straight, high back and angled arms that can be adjusted to open out or stand up straight. The back and arms traditionally connect with finials wrapped in cords.
Cabriole – The back of this sofa curves into the arms in a continuous line. It usually has wood trim and carved wood legs that may be curved.
Lawson – This sofa has a low, square back, with arms that are lower than the back. The form can have square or rolled arms.
Chesterfield – This is a very handsome sofa that fits well in a man’s study or library. It has a tufted back, high rolled arms, and sometimes tufted seat. It is often seen in leather.
Midcentury Modern – These sofas have straight, squared lines and a very streamlined form, with low, often square legs.
Sectional – This modular seating is configured from components that include armless sofas, as well as end and corner units, ottomans, and sometimes recliners, sleep sofas, or chaises.
Bridgewater – This sofa has low, set-back arms and an elegant profile. It is usually skirted and sometimes has a softly rolled back.
Terms to know:
Loose Cushion: Cushions are separate from the sofa back, allowing for a softer, more comfortable back. The covers can easily be removed and dry-cleaned. Alternatively, the back may be semi-attached, meaning that loose cushions are sewn in place.
Tight: The back of the sofa is upholstered, with no loose cushions. This gives a cleaner more tailored appearance and a firmer feel. Throw pillows can be added for comfort or for people who need more support.
Pillow: Multiple pillow are arranged across the back of the sofa in place of larger cushions. Pillow backs require more fluffing and arranging, but offer easily adjustable comfort.
Channel: A tight back is sewn into tailored segments or vertical channels to provide definition and sometimes more cushioning
Curved: The back curves around to form one piece with the arms. A drawback to this feminine, sheltering style is that it doesn’t provide a low armrest.
Camelback: The back has a humped or serpentine shape.
Rolled or Scroll: A rolled arm is one that curves outward. It is perhaps the most common arm, particularly on traditional sofas, and is generally the most comfortable for lounging or napping. The front of the arm may be flat or have a set-in panel with pleats or gathers.
Square, box, or track: A squared arm is more modern and tailored in appearance. It is not as comfortable for lounging, but a throw pillow or bolster can soften its lines.
Tight: This firmer, more tailored seat has no loose cushions. It is often used in settees and more formal, wood-framed sofas.
Single Cushion or Bench Seat: A single cushion has a crisp appearance that can still be downy and comfortable. Be sure that if someone sits at one end, however, that the other side doesn’t pop up.
Cushioned: The seat has two or three loose cushions, which may be firmer than back cushions. Covers can be removed for dry-cleaning. T-cushion seats are designed to wrap in front of set-back arms.
SKIRTS AND LEGS
Skirted: Skirted sofas are generally softer and more traditional in appearance. Skirts can be detailed with kick pleats, inverted pleats, button pleats, or box pleats, across the front or at the corners only. Waterfall skirts that drop straight from the seat cushion have a cleaner, more tailored appearance.
Exposed Legs: These can be square and modern, turned and on castors, or more cabriole (curved) for a more traditional look.