Sofa styles, shapes and designs explained

Do you know your Chesterfields from your cabrioles? Here's our definitive guide to the many different sofa styles and designs to pick from when you're designing your home

Published: September 2nd, 2022 at 1:29 pm

Choosing a sofa can be a tricky business, with so many different designs and styles available. Not only do you need to consider the space you're decorating, but you also need to think about what the sofa will be used for. Will it be for lounging in front of the TV or will it be a statement piece that doesn't need to be heavily cushioned? Here's our step-by-step guide to all the different styles of sofa – from different designers and periods in history .

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If you're in the market for a new sofa, have a read of our guide to how to choose and buy the perfect sofa, whatever your budget.

The different types and styles of sofas

Chesterfield sofa

A Chesterfield sofa is easily spotted, thanks to its quilted, tufted style. It is the perfect sofa for lounging, with high arms and a deep seat. It's often sold in leather, but looks cosier in fabric.

Photo: moustakas.sxedio_epiplo via Instagram

Sectional sofa

A sectional sofa is made up of multiple pieces and can be configured in a number of ways to suit the shape of the room. The most common configurations are L-shape or U-shape. They're best suited to larger rooms, in which multiple people will be lounging at the same time.

Photo: amiegmcdonald via Instagram

Bridgewater sofa

A Bridgewater sofa has low arms, a rolled back and a tailored skirt, which hides its legs. It's a sofa style found in many homes, thanks to its relax look and feel. It usually comes with a configuration of three cushions. It's never going to be a sofa that draws the eye, but it's a comfortable, casual sofa that could be used in many different living spaces. It's a good choice of sofa if you want to use a slipcover.

Photo: troysart via Instagram

Camelback sofa

It's name is a giveaway. The camelback sofa is distinguishable by its arched back, highest in the centre. In a design initially introduced by Thomas Chippendale in the 18th century, the camelback has a chic, upright look to it.

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Photo: foundinithaca via Instagram

Chippendale sofa

Chippendale furniture was created by English cabinetmaker Thomas Chippendale in the 18th century. It was the first time a style of furniture in England was named after its creator, rather than a monarch. His designs are split into three main styles: Gothic, Rococo and Chinese. Traditionally, a Chippendale sofa will feature a graceful, slightly arched back, with exposed legs and scrolled arms.

One of a pair of George III giltwood sofas, designed by Robert Adam and made by Thomas Chippendale, 1765 (Photo: Christie's)

Mid-century modern sofa

Mid-century modern furniture has a timeless aesthetic and has stayed 'in fashion' ever since its heyday, thanks to its clean lines and minimalist style. They might not be the comfiest, coziest sofas on the market, but they create a focal point in a living room and fit in alongside any other contemporary furniture styles with ease. Unlike a lot of other sofa styles, mid-century modern offerings will be seen in unconventional fabrics, such as vinyl or wool. Minimalist colour palettes are favoured.

Photo: dentonvintagemodern via Instagram

Cabriole sofa

A cabriole sofa features an exposed wood frame, which often provides a canvas for intricate carvings. The cushions and back are simple, tightly upholstered to draw the attention to the frame. Its arms are usually the same height as the back, making a seamless line to the frame.

Photo: 1stDibs

English roll-arm sofa

The English roll-arm sofa takes its name from its low arms. It will have tight upholstery, but will be well cushioned all over (including the arms), making a particularly comfortable sofa option.

Photo: asouthernpreppy via Instagram

Chaise lounge

Chaise longues might have a longstanding association with psychoanalysts, but they have also been a mainstay of bedrooms, dressing rooms and even outdoor patios for centuries. They're often used as a daybed, and as a result some may have one arm, while others have none. The term 'chaise lounge' is taken from the French 'chaise longe', meaning 'long chair'. They became particularly popular in France in the 1500s. These days, they are often considered to be a decorative item in the home.

Photo: campbell.vintage via Instagram

Futon

The futon originates from 17th-century Japan, with the word 'futon' deriving from the Japanese for 'bedding'. They are used as a sofa bed, with the back of the sofa releasing to create a large, flat surfac, resembling a floor mattress.

Photo: modern_homestyle via Instagram

Loveseat

The loveseat sofa is generally considered to be any sofa made for two people. They are often small in stature, so the couple can snuggle up alongside one another.

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Photo: Loaf Home via Instagram

Garden sofa

See our round-up of the best garden sofas on the market.

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