Few pieces of furniture in your home carry more weight—figuratively or literally—than your couch. If life itself could be distilled into one massive, upholstered home furnishings item, it would be a sofa. So if you’re shopping for one, you’d better know your terminology.
There’s an entire universe of styles and options out there, and picking the perfect sofa is way more complicated than choosing between leather or fabric. Look no further than “Learning the Lingo,” our regular series where we decipher all the terms you need to know whether you’re buying, selling, or sprucing up your home.
This installment: a comprehensive couch glossary so you can find the ideal fit for you.
The Cabriole sofa is characterized by an exposed wooden frame (often carved); continuous, equal-height back and arms; distinctive curved legs with concave lower portions and convex upper ones; and no separate back cushions. They rose in popularity around the time of Louis XV in the 1800s and have swung strongly back in vogue today.
The most famous modern-day cabriole may well be the one Tom Cruise jumped on during his enthusiastic profession of love for Katie Holmes, his sweetheart at the time, on “Oprah.” Clearly, these sofas can stand some unhinged but ebullient abuse!
Any traditionalist will love the classic line of a camelback, which has an arched back that rises to a higher point in the middle and again slightly at the ends. It usually has rolled arms and an exposed wood frame.
Cute fact: It comes in one-hump or two-hump styles. That’s why it’s sometimes referred to as “humpback sofas.” Not by us.
The Chesterfield sofa’s signature feature is its partial button tufting. The design is highly versatile: It looks feminine and decorative when upholstered in linen or velvet but takes on a Gentleman’s Club feel when done up in leather.
Should you go into practicing hypnotherapy, you’ll be all set: Many historians believe thatSigmund Freud used a Chesterfield sofa during sessions, so perhaps it promotes introspection or is therapeutic. (As for your dreams: Remember, sometimes a sofa is just a sofa.)
Picture it: a tufted, ornate sofa with a sloping back on just one side—and a woman draped dramatically over it. Now you have an official name for it: the Meridienne, aka the “fainting couch.” This style was the definition of luxury in the early 1800s, and while you don’t see it around too often these days, it still makes a style statement.
Created for a businessman named Thomas Lawson right around the turn of the 20th century, this sofa ditched the ornate, fancy-pants designs of the Victorian era and instead opted for a cleaner, more modern look. It has since turned into the most common, most American version of a couch: clean, boxy lines but with just enough give and comfort.
The back of the sofa is upholstered, with no loose cushions. This gives a firmer feel and a cleaner, more formal appearance. Cabriole, Chesterfield, and camelbacks typically have this style.
These couch cushions are separate from the sofa back, allowing for a softer, more comfortable lounging experience. Typically found on Lawson-style sofas, they’re great for homeowners with pets or kids, since the covers can easily be removed and cleaned in the event of spills, stains, and other traumas.
An English arm is stuffed on the interior sides and flat on the exterior to create a clean line up the side of the piece. Equal parts classic and comfy, it’s popular for a range of design tastes.
A sock-arm sofa is all about comfort: Rolled over the top but flat at the front, this style is one of the most common arms. It’s seen on a range of sofa styles, because it works with both overstuffed versions and sleeker designs.
The track arm is squared off, usually piped, and found on Mid-Century Modern pieces. While it’s not exactly comfortable, it’s got style in spades: It’s found on just about every piece of furniture in the early episodes of “Mad Men” (usually occupied by Don Draper, cigarette and strong drink in hand).