Here’s a quick guide to some of the most common types of social seating, from couches and sofas to daybeds and settees, and a few of the most popular styles of sofas.
Upholstered, in a Neoclassical French style. Settees, as a rule, more closely resemble a chair than they do a sofa. With an upholstered back and seat, and padded arms like a French fauteuil, the settee is comfort and refined style for a social setting. Their popularity grew as chairmakers in the 1600s grew more confident with their skills.
Is named for the sinuous curve of its back and legs, and is a petite, refined seat that was a fixture in French salons. The key is in the back: it’s got an exposed wood frame, often with carved detail, that makes one continuous line from the back into the arms. It’s an extended version of the French bergere, and has no back cushions—only a loose seat cushion.
Was a Thomas Chippendale original, named for its elegant sloping back that’s high in the middle, then drops to the same height as its subtly rolled arms. These seats are completely upholstered with exposed wood legs, and feature stuffed seat cushions but a taut, smooth back. Once you know this silhouette, you’ll see it everywhere. Classic, refined, and beautiful from all angles.
Was the first type of social seating to develop completely separate from the old-fashioned medieval settles. It was essentially two chairs fused together, and ranged in styles from Queen Anne walnut chairs with upholstered seats to Colonial American wagon chairs with rush seats.
The iconic, cornucopia-armed Empire-style sofa . These behemoths often include bolster-style cushions on each end below their dramatic arms, and have lots of carving on their exposed frames and (sometimes precarious) curved legs. Look for Asian or eagle motifs, and animal’s paw feet.
Has come a long way from its origins: it was essentially a wooden chair with an elongated seat stretched out over 6 legs, a form that died out in the 18th century. Nowadays, it has a more versatile appeal, going from social seating to luxurious lounging in a pinch. Chaise longues took their place, and a stylish variation, the recamier (pictured below) features a high, assymetrical side.
English rolled-arm sofa
Is a 19th-century classic with versatile, casual style. The arms, in comparison to other sofa silhouettes, are compact and recessed. All-over upholstery, from the tight back to the plush seat cushions, make it a perfect, go-to piece for kicking back.
Is a specific style of chaise longue that has a regal edge: its asymmetrical high side makes it ideal for reclining in style, and was named for Madame Recamier whose portrait was famously painting doing just that.
Has an all-over tufted, quilted look, often covered in leather. The dramatically rolled arms are the same height as the back, originally kept low so that men could sit in them without wrinkling their coats.
Has all the pomp of the Chesterfield, but with a sleek and modern silhouette: its high, straight arms and squared-off back are all the same height, it lacks back cushions, and it features decorative tufts (although, often just one row).
Is comfortable and casual—a classic that puts the sitter’s needs first without sacrificing good proportion. Unlike the English rolled-arm version, its back cushions are separate from the frame, and it has low, taut arms and feet often covered with a skirt.
Is like a mini-Cabriole sofa, a French-style loveseat with a carved, exposed frame and a continuous back-to-arm shape. It rose to fame in Rococo France under Louis XV, and grew streamlined with the Neoclassical lines of Louis XVI.