Buying a sofa is a major investment, both in terms of expense and of design. It is the most important piece because it anchors the space and is typically the largest item of furniture in the living room. The sofa style sets the tone for the room and will drive the look and style for the rest of the decor. As with any major furniture purchase, it’s best to plan before you head for the store. First, it is important to know what color and size sofa you need. It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the different sofa styles that are available so that you can identify the styles you like. Here are 10 popular sofa styles that can be found in most stores and online.
The name alone — Chesterfield sofa — carries a certain air of distinction and even royalty. Rising to popularity in the in the 18th century, historical websites note that this iconic sofa has a slightly murky history. It is thought that the fourth Earl of Chesterfield commissioned it when he wanted a comfortable seat that allowed him to sit upright, however, there is no historical confirmation of this.
Regardless, this now-classic sofa has several characteristics that are always present: The back and the arms are both of one height and the back is deeply tufted with buttons. Traditionally, the arms were always rolled and the sofa had nailheads, however, modern styles are taking slight design liberties. This green Chesterfield from Abbyson Living has the suggestion of a roll from the interior side of the sofa, but still maintains a clean line from the exterior side.
These types of sofas were traditionally upholstered in leather, but they can also be done in fabric. In any event, they will forever be associated with the image of a refined British gentleman.
If the Chesterfield is the graceful gentleman among sofas, the Cabriole is the grande dame. Known for its exposed wood and elegant legs, reminiscent of the Louis XV period, the cabriole also has a distinctive silhouette. It was also a popular shape in the work of furniture maker Thomas Chippendale.
Typically, the back is all one continuous piece without cushions and has an elegant curving line. This particular cabriole version includes jewels in the tufts for added glamour. It is a sofa style that can be as simple or opulent as you desire. Upholstered with a luxury material like velvet yields a much different design feeling than if it were upholstered in a more muted, textural neutral. The main aura of elegance derives from its overall shape and lithe legs meaning it will always lend a refined air to a room.
Just like its namesake, the camelback sofa has a hump — or maybe two — that accents the main silhouette of this sofa style. This is a traditional style that was made popular in the 18th century by Chippendale and families who wanted aristocratic, formal furniture often opted for this style.
Today, this sofa style lends a more formal air to any space, especially when upholstered in a formal fabric. A more casual textile choice would make it appropriate for a family room that doesn’t need a great deal of formality. In either case, the camelback sofa has some elements that characterize the style. The legs are typically exposed, the sofa has no back cushions and it usually has square or rolled arms.
Mid-Century Modern Sofa
With the recent surge in popularity of the Mid-Century Modern design genre, this sofa style is a hot item. Whether true vintage pieces, reproductions or new designs that incorporate Mid-Century Modern elements, these are very versatile sofas. Most often used in a minimalist or mid-century design scheme, they are wonderful for adding a retro feel to a room. The distinguishing elements include the exposed legs and linear structure. Most mid-century sofas — but not all of them — will have some tufting on the back.
Sectional sofas are a relatively modern invention, and fortunately, they have evolved beyond the versions of the 1980s that were all overstuffed and over-tufted. Actually, according to Furniture of Dalton, modern sectional sofas sprouted in popularity during the 1950’s, at a time when iconic American designers, such as Charles and Ray Eames, redefined the shape and style of furniture.
Typically now used in homes with a great room or open floor plan, they are often large configurations that seat plenty of guests. In smaller rooms, they can be useful for seating in an area that has an odd corner or other space limitation. The ability to combine corner units, end units and reclining sections based on space and individual preference makes this sofa style super versatile. Sectional sofas also come in a wide variety of styles, from ultra modern or super luxe, to more family-friendly contemporary designs.
English Rolled Arm Sofa
English rolled arm sofas are extra comfortable thanks to the large, soft cushions at the back as well as for the seats. Low arms are comfortable for lying down and the exposed legs keep this sofa style from feeling too heavy or imposing. It actually originated at the turn of the century and can be associated with something typical of the English countryside. Distinguishing characteristics generally include low exposed legs, soft, generous cushions, a tight back and recessed arms. Even though it is considered a classic style, it is also a perfect addition to a contemporary room thanks to its comfortable and versatile look.
While the back of this sofa hints at the Chesterfield, with its rows of tufting, a tuxedo sofa has cleaner, more angular lines. It is said to have been the bellwether of more modern designs in the 1920s. While some say this sofa style took its name from Tuxedo Park in New York, it is also said to be named after the classic fancy men’s suit.
You can identify a tuxedo sofa by its arms that are the same height as the back. The tufting on the back of the sofa and its rectangular silhouette are also classic characteristics. Cushions add comfort to this high-armed style. Also, while the sofa above from Upcountry is upholstered in leather, this popular style is often done in textiles of all kinds, including the very trendy velvet.
The Lawson could be called quintessential American sofa style. It is comfortable and simple: The boxy shape is generous and characteristically has three back cushions as well as three seat cushions. The classic Lawson also has A taller back and box-shaped cushions which have welts at the edges, as do the back pillows. Ideal for snuggling and napping, this sofa style was designed for Thomas Lawson, an American copper magnate at the turn of the century. He wanted a sofa that was very different from the fussy Victorian styles that were common at that time.
Current versions of the Lawson can also incorporate wood or metal included in the arms. Most importantly, this sofa style is the one that will morph its vibe with the textile you choose for the upholstery. The shape is so versatile that it can be glamorous, luxurious, industrial, casual or formal depending on your fabric choice.
The Bridgewater is a sofa style that is mainly casual and definitely comfortable. This style is the darling of many a designer because it can be used to create a casual, friendly space. Bridgewater sofas are versatile, depending on the upholstery you choose. Done in a neutral fabric, this style of sofa doesn’t compete with other elements in the room that may be more dramatic, such as artwork or other large features. More formal fabric will yield a more stately style of sofa.
A number of characteristics distinguish Bridgewater sofas: Typically they have low arms and a high back, which contributes to the casual look. Most also have a tailored skirt that hides the legs and loose cushions for the seat and back. This particular style was created to accommodate slipcovers, which also lend a casual air to the sofa.
Settees are generally not the main seating feature in a room. They have a more slight, elegant silhouette than a full sofa. Usually used as secondary seating that can accommodate two people, a settee will usually have a high, straight back, a shallow seat, and wooden legs. They are generally fully upholstered and have attached seat cushions. Settees are best used in a formal living room or parlor because they aren’t the best piece of furniture for a lived-in family room.