Sectional vs. Sofa or Couch: What’s the Difference to You?

By Alex Konrad | December 28, 2021

Your home is your haven, and your main living space is where you’ll spend much of your time. The most important item in your living room is your seating. If your seating is comfortable and inviting, your home will have an overall comfortable and inviting feel. 

Most often, your main living space will include seating in the form of a sofa and possibly a few chairs. What you have in your own home will depend on your space, your needs, and the style of furniture you love the most.

You’ve got several options for living room seating, and knowing the details about each of them will help you make a good decision about what you need and want for your own space. 

The design team at Modloft knows what makes a good quality sofa. Your living room seating should be comfortable, functional, and beautiful. We believe that if you surround yourself with beautiful and intentional things, you’ll create a beautiful and intentional life. 

We’ll explain the differences between different sofa options, including sectionals, two-seaters, and three-seat couches. We’ll also help you decide which is the best choice for your space and how you can blend a modern or contemporary style sofa with the furniture you may already own. 

Sectionals, Sofas, and Couches (Oh My)

They go by many monikers, but the plush pieces of furniture most often found in the standard living room are generally referred to as sofas or couches. Are these terms really interchangeable, or are there design features that differentiate between sofas and couches? 

Sectionals, on the other hand, are easily identifiable. They wrap around in an “L” shape and have additional seating...or do they? Are sectionals only used to describe couches and sofas that have more than three seats? 

It’s pretty clear there’s more to our favorite napping spot than can be explained in one short paragraph. Here’s a breakdown of the differences between sectionals, sofas, and couches. 


The term couch originates from the French word couche, which literally means “to lie down.” It refers to a long seat that a person would lie down on to rest or nap. A traditional couch, as the term referred to, had no arms, and instead had one raised end (like a headrest) and a flat end at the other side. 

A couch is generally thought of as less formal than a sofa, though that doesn’t mean it can’t look beautiful, clean, and purposeful. A couch can be just as inviting (maybe even more so) as a sofa and can blend perfectly into practically any space. However, if your entire home is decorated in a more traditional style, with higher-end materials and ornate flourishes, you will need to find a couch that has a bit more formal flair. 

Couches are also typically reserved for seats that allow for two to three occupants, while sofas and sectionals allow for additional seating. 


Sofa” comes from the Arabic term suffah, which has two meanings. The first meaning refers to a long, stuffed seat used for reclining, and the second meaning refers to a long wooden bench covered in pillows and blankets. 

Sofas are more formal than couches, and incidentally, are the industry standard term used to describe upholstered, multiple-seat, living room furniture. It’s unlikely you will walk into a furniture store and speak to an associate about a new couch; they’ll immediately correct you and help direct you to their selection of sofas. 

In fact, simply because the term “couch” may be used for smaller pieces of furniture that only offer seating for two, you’ll rarely ever hear them referred to as couches inside the furniture and design industry. 

Sofa is a term that is usually associated with entertaining guests, a sense of formality, and sophistication. However, that doesn’t mean that a sofa is stuffy, impersonal, or uncomfortable. 


Sectionals, or “sectional sofas,” were introduced during the Victorian era and usually consisted of either two smaller sofas that could be pushed together to make a longer sofa or a sofa that had one or two partitioned off chairs attached to each end, which curved outward just slightly. 

Sectionals grew in popularity and eventually became modular, meaning they were available in pieces that could be used to fit a particular space and be arranged in varying ways. The sectionals we know today are largely customizable and allow you to not be boxed in by traditional two and three-seat sofas. 

Which One Is Right for Your Space?

For purposes of this article, we’ll assume the terms “couch” and “sofa” are interchangeable, and as such, we’ll use the term “sofa” when referring to non-sectional furniture.

Determining whether you need a standard sofa or a sectional is an easy job when you cover a few basics: 

We’ll help you break these down and determine which style of seating is best for your space.

Your Style

Your home’s style is the first item to consider when shopping for a new sofa or sectional. You’ll need to consider that unless you’re doing a major style overhaul, your new sofa or sectional will need to blend with your existing furniture and the overall style of your home. 

If you have a traditionally decorated house, for instance, you’ll want to shop for sofas or sectionals that will naturally blend with a more formal look. 

You can easily blend two styles (such as traditional and modern). You just have to follow some basic rules of design. 

Your Needs

What do you need in terms of performance and durability? Is this sofa going to be your favorite reading spot? Would overstuffed upholstery make you feel comfortable… or cramped? 

Another consideration is whether or not you have pets. Will your pets be allowed on the furniture? If so, maybe you’d prefer a more casual piece than one that looks intensely formal or a dark color that would easily show animal fur. 

If you have children or will have a lot of foot traffic, is it important to you that your sofa be upholstered with an easy-clean fabric? 

Your needs are highly specific to your family and lifestyle but are definitely something to ponder before making a purchase. 


Once you’ve honed in on a style and narrowed down your specific needs, you’ll be limited by space. If you have an open room that would house a sectional, but you aren’t in need of that much seating, what else will you put in the space so that it doesn’t look empty?

When selecting a sofa, a good rule of thumb is to look for one that occupies at least two-thirds of the room. If you’re measuring a sofa that will sit against a wall, make sure the sofa does not measure the entire length of the wall, or it will look imposing. 

For a sofa to fit properly against a wall, there should be about eighteen inches of wall space leftover on either side. Also, your sofa should allow for about three feet of walking room between the next piece of furniture or the door. 

This may dash your hopes of owning a massive sectional if you’re working in a small space, but there are always other options. You could, for instance, opt for two smaller sofas facing one another. This would allow for additional seating without making the space feel cramped. 


If you live alone, are a family of two, or never entertain, there may be little actual need for a sectional sofa. Alternatively, larger families or people who entertain regularly and need additional seating may find they need the extra space provided by a sectional. 

If you know that you only have room for a three-seat sofa, the decision is already made; however, you can always opt for additions like lounge chairs and ottomans. 

If you’ve considered a sectional but are afraid you won’t have space, Modloft allows you to build your own. You can create the perfect sectional sofa with the perfect amount of seating in the perfect shape for your space. 

The Takeaway

Sofas, couches, and sectionals are all terms for popular living room pieces that can be somewhat interchangeable. Now, however, you know the difference. You know you’ll be shopping for a sofa (not a couch) and that if you need extra seating or a particularly different shape, you’ll need a sectional. 



couch | Origin and meaning of couch by Online Etymology Dictionary

Sofa | Etymonline

16 Stunning Sofas from the 18th and 19th Centuries | Five Minute History