Sofa or Couch? Potato, Potahto

Do you call it a sofa or couch? How about a divan or lounge?

Let’s call the whole thing off?

But first – a little musical interlude ^^


One of my biggest pet peeves in the interior design industry is the officious need of some to make sure what they call things is the only way – the right way – the knowing way – the “in” way. Bother that, I say!

A recent article on Martha Stewart sought to address the sofa or couch question. Basically – sofas are big and formal and couches are smaller and more casual. Really?

According to Oxford’s English Dictionary a COUCH is “a long upholstered piece of furniture for several people to sit on.” As in “I sat in an armchair and they sat on the couch”.  Okay – that clearly makes sense.

Oxford’s definition of SOFA? “A long upholstered seat with a back and arms, for two or more people.” As in: “I didn’t want to do anything except sit on the sofa”.

Ah – that explains the clear difference. Not.

Linda Merrill Decorative Surroundings South End Boston 02118 brownstone formal living room drapery bay window sofa gold
Design Linda Merrill | Photo Michael J Lee

Is this a sofa or a couch in this small office/guest bedroom?

Linda Merrill design sofa or couch
Design Linda Merrill | Photo Michael J Lee

Does it really matter?

How about the world of window coverings? Like the question of sofa or couch – the how to describe window treatments is debated. The term window coverings is more of an industry term to cover the gamut of hard (shutters and blinds) and soft (fabric) items. The term “window treatments” is also used to cover the broad spectrum of coverings, but I think in general for the average person “window treatment” skews more towards the fabric end of things. (Correct me if I’m wrong…)

In the gold formal living room above I did both drapery panels and sheer roman shades. These are considered “soft treatments” for obvious reasons. Colloquially the panels are also referred to as “drapes” as in “close the drapes”. I’ve seen online arguments ensue about how this is terribly wrong because “drapes” refer to pipe and drape used in convention centers to separate spaces and god forbid these should be confused with my beautifully designed and hand-made custom window treatments!  Horrors!

Pipe and drape couch or sofa
Photo via Pexels by Skylar Kang

I’ve actually seen people argue both ways on this one. Per Merriam-Webster the definition of drape is: ‘1. : to cover or decorate with or as if with folds of cloth. 2. : to arrange in flowing lines or folds. a beautifully draped satin dress.”.   In the fashion industry – draping is considered a fine art.

What else do we have like the sofa or couch conundrum? How about ottomans vs. hassocks vs. footstools?

Linda Merrill Design modern coastal colorful living room watermarked sofa or couch
Design & Photo Linda Merrill

(Sidebar Question: Is this a sofa or a couch above? What would Martha say?)


footstool or ottoman couch or sofa
Photo via Pexels by Vlada Karpovich

Is this a foot stool or ottoman? I do tend to think that footstool denotes something smaller than an ottoman and has feet – but they are truly interchangeable. If you google search each term – the same pics will come up.

And what of a hassock? Per Oxford it’s apparently a North American term: “an upholstered footstool or ottoman. 2. a firm clump of grass or matted vegetation in marshy or boggy ground.”  Basically – something soft and cushy. Like a nice footman –  wait… ottostool (sorry).

But – would you ever get into an argument with someone over the correct usage of each? Hopefully not – design and decorating is serious business but also needs to be fun!

I feel like there are other design items that get the sofa or couch debate – but nothing is coming to me except how to correctly pronounce the word vase (or is it vaze, vace or vahze?).

Then there’s the big kahuna of them wall: Designer vs. Decorator. A debate which can practically cause a blood bath in the wrong circles. But that’s for a more serious post.

Couch or sofa pin

11 thoughts on “Sofa or Couch? Potato, Potahto”

  1. It’s fascinating how certain terms in the interior design world can spark such passionate debates! The most important aspect of design is how it makes you feel and how it functions in your space, rather than getting bogged down in semantics.

    As for the sofa vs. couch dilemma, the distinction seems arbitrary at best. Whether you call it a sofa or a couch, the important thing is that it provides comfort and style to your room. When it comes to window coverings, whether you refer to them as drapes, curtains, or window treatments, what matters most is that they enhance the ambiance of your space and fulfill their practical purpose.

    As for ottomans, hassocks, and footstools, I think it’s safe to say that their names are often used interchangeably, and as long as they serve their purpose of providing a place to rest your feet or an extra seat when needed, does it matter what we call them?

    Ultimately, design should be about creativity, expression, and making your space uniquely yours. So let’s embrace the diversity of terminology and focus on creating beautiful, functional spaces that bring joy to our lives.

  2. Haha, I always thought couch was just a south side Chicago term for a sofa. Thanks for the music Linda. Although I was expecting something from you personally, I enjoyed Harry Connick. It brought back memories of my dad’s band – he was a drummer. Thanks for that. Now I’m going to take a nap on my couch, I mean sofa :)

  3. Fun post, Linda! I don’t care what anyone calls anything long as the communication is clear and we are describing the same item. I never understood the urge to correct people for “misusing” an ambiguous decorating word. In that vein, how about bureau vs chest of drawers vs dresser? :) Those probably have more specific historical or regional meanings, but still get used interchangeably and that’s fine with me!

  4. What a fun post, few years ago I clearly gave up on the word couch (it never sounded right anyways) but I am still on the fence and often corrected on the terms drapery or window treatments. Ahh, decisions decisions! Thanks for posting this fun post Linda, a joy to read :)

  5. I used to care a bit about how these terms are used…the older I get the less I care. My father called a sofa or coach a davenport, which was a sofa manufacturer when he was young. Now more than anything I get curious and find it interesting to know why someone uses a particular term. It’s fun just like this post.


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