Sectional vs Sofa (Differences & Interior Design Guide)

Here we share our guide to the differences between sectional vs sofa with when to buy a sofa, loveseat, two sofas or sectional for your interior design. Sectional vs sofa

If two or more people can sit on the same piece of furniture, it qualifies as a sofa. Smaller sofas are often referred to as loveseats or settees, while larger sofas are usually labeled as couches.

A chaise, chaise lounge, or chaise lounger are all terms used to describe a type of seating with a longer than usual seat cushion, made to support your legs when you’re sitting down.

Sofas or couches made up of multiple sections are called, appropriately enough, sectionals. A loveseat section combined with a chaise lounge section is the most common and least expensive type of sectional. 

While the loveseat and chaise can be separate, modular pieces that are arranged together and connected by cushions, it is more common for these types of sectional sofas to be sold as one contiguous piece. 

Since the purpose of the chaise is to allow you to stretch out your legs, there is no armrest at the end of the chaise, and no back support along its side. Of course, this won’t prevent you from using it as extra seating during a cocktail party.

Corner l shaped sectional sofa from above The next most common type of sectional involves a three-seat couch connected at the corner with another couch or sofa. 

This is differentiated from the chaise style sectional due to the back support that wraps all the way around the piece of furniture.  It may or may not have an armrest at the end.   Like the loveseat-chaise combination, this style of sectional produces a piece of furniture shaped like the capital letter ‘L’. 

A third type of sectional has a three-seat couch as its base, with extensions on either end. The extensions can be chaise loungers or additional seats.  This configuration provides the most seating options, but also takes up the most space.  These are referred to as U-shaped sectionals. 

The corners of a sectional sofa may be square or curved in shape.  A square corner seat will be unusable when the rest of the sectional is full, because there isn’t a way for your guest to put their back against the couch and their feet on the floor. 

When there are fewer or no guests, the corner quickly becomes the most coveted spot in the room, a cozy place to extend your legs in either direction.

A curved corner seat is better when there are lots of people present, giving your guests adequate legroom and access to the coffee table.

When to Buy a Sofa for your Interior Design

Contemporary sofa with modern coffee table in living room Sectionals are a versatile and much loved interior design staple, but that doesn’t mean they are right for every room.  

Due to their size and fixed shape, there is often only one place in a room where a sectional can go.  If you’re someone who likes to rearrange furniture for different looks, this could be a reason to opt for a regular sofa instead.  

Sectionals are quite cozy and are generally perceived to be informal, perfect for family and close friends to pile up on to watch a movie. 

If you will be regularly entertaining guests that aren’t intimate friends, a sofa and a few chairs will provide ample seating, without asking your guests to sacrifice their personal space in order to enjoy your company. Read more about the different sofa sizes here.

The size of your room also matters.  A large, cavernous room with a sectional pushed against the wall will feel empty and underused, while a traditional living room set (one sofa, one loveseat, two chairs) will do a better job of filling the space.

A sectional tends to look most natural when nestled against a wall or into a corner. 

Sofas, on the other hand, are more desirable to create a free-floating look, where the seating is in the center of the room, perhaps sitting atop an area rug, rather than pushed against the walls. 

In general, choose a sofa when you want a more formal, distinguished look, and a sectional when comfort and informality are required.

When to Buy a Sofa & Loveseat

If you need the seating capacity of a sectional, but want the flexibility to rearrange furniture, consider a sofa and loveseat combination.  Choosing pieces from the same era or furniture styles, but with different designs, will give you a classy and cohesive look.

Furniture designers are well aware of the difficulties consumers face when deciding between sectionals and sofas, and have created modular furniture to fill the gap. 

For instance, many sofas can be purchased with an optional oversized ottoman. The ottoman is at the same height as the couch cushions, and can be pushed up against the couch to provide the functionality of a sectional with the flexibility of sofa. 

You could also look for a sectional that can be pulled apart, with each individual section functioning as a separate seating area, or pushed together to form one giant couch.

When to Buy a Sectional For Your Interior Design

Contemporary sectional sofa in open concept living room Sectionals are large pieces of furniture that take up considerable floor space.  Some people may shy away from them for smaller rooms, feeling that the sofa will overwhelm the space. 

The result is often inadequate or uncomfortable seating, with no place to stretch out or put your feet up. Because each piece of furniture requires clearance to navigate around it, small rooms with several seating options often end up feeling cluttered or cramped. 

A sectional condenses multiple pieces of furniture into one designated area, freeing up the rest of the room.  It can actually make a small room feel larger.

But what about large, open spaces? With open plan living areas, life and conversation flows easily between the kitchen, dining area, and living room, but you still need visual definition. 

The back of a sectional can function as a half wall, delineating the living room as a separate area but not impeding conversation or communication.

While sectionals are available from high-end furniture design houses, they are still perceived to be less formal than standard sofas, particularly models that include chaise lounges. 

If you’re going for a formal look, ditch the chaise and make sure the entire sectional is contained by armrests and back supports.  Opt for sectionals with individual square cushions.  

If you’ve got a big family or want to gather friends together to watch sports events, you can dispense with the armrests and look at sectionals with larger, rectangular cushions for a more informal design aesthetic.

If you need your couch to do double duty as a guest bed, you may feel that a folding pull-out bed is the only option.

However, rather than taking off the cushions to expose a mattress underneath, sectionals often have extra cushions that can be pulled out and popped up to create a rectangular sleeping surface the size of a double bed.

When you’ve decided to buy a sectional, the next important decision you have to make is RAF or LAF.  These abbreviations are commonly used by furniture sellers and indicate which side of the couch protrudes into the room. 

When you are standing directly in front of the sofa, facing it, if the chaise or protruding sofa is on your right side, this is said to be a right-arm facing model.  If the extension is on your left side, this is a left-arm facing sectional.

Sectional vs Two Sofas

Large living room with two sofas To decide between a sectional and two sofas, ask yourself what the main activity will be in this room — is it watching or talking?  

If the purpose of the room is watching television and movies, then a sectional does a better job of meeting this need by clustering all the inhabitants of the room in one area, that can be set up to face the TV. 

A room with a fireplace or an outstanding view could also have the primary purpose of watching, and thus would benefit from a sectional rather than two sofas. 

If the room is primarily a place where family and friends gather to talk to each other, with the focus on conversation rather than a shared visual experience, opt for two sofas arranged opposite each other.  In this way, your guests can face each other, stimulating conversation while preventing sore necks.

For more related content visit our page on couchless living room designs.

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