Plus another you may have never heard of.
When you picture a sofa in your head, what does it look like? Chances are, the piece you’re visualizing resembles one of the popular sofa styles that have made a significant impact on furniture design, whether through centuries of influence or recent trendsetting. If a boxy, tufted number comes to mind, that’s likely a Tuxedo. The relaxed, simple, somewhat nondescript sofa you can’t quite name is probably a Lawson. And that ornate seat with a curved back? A Camelback, naturally. Most sofas you’ve seen are at least derivatives of the eight famous styles below. Here’s a quick cheat sheet. We also threw in some history so you can impress a client—or nerd out with your upholstery team.
English Roll Arm
Can you guess where the English roll arm style originated? Good job! This classic sofa, made famous by dozens of World of Interiors country estates—and in butter yellow upholstery in Jenna Lyons’ original Brooklyn brownstone—was first produced in the UK in the 1800s. Its telltale signs: a deep seat, tight back (sometimes with a center seam), turned wood legs, and signature low arms that are rounded outwards. That last piece makes this especially comfortable and favorite of nappers as well as tall people: when crafted well, the crook of the arm makes a fine headrest.
Born in the Art Deco era, the Tuxedo sofa is glamorous and clean-cut like the formalwear for which it’s named. Defined by arms and backs of equal height, the Tuxedo adds a bit of architecture to the space (and big impact to a small seating area). Be advised, the Tuxedo’s imposing arms play less nicely in larger furniture grouping and floor plans; try a low or sloped arm there for friendlier conversation between pieces.
At the turn of the 20th century, Boston businessman Thomas Lawson demanded a more comfortable sofa than the Victorian styles available at the time and so this eponymous napper’s paradise came to life. It’s an overstuffed three-seater, with loose seat cushions and pillows, so dozing off is all but expected. Plus, it’s a transitional style—i.e. not belonging to any specific era or look—so it fits nicely with just about any decor
Of course, Midcentury refers to the dreamy design decades that were the 1950s and 60s. One of the most popular sofa styles back then was minimalist (ix-nay on the throw pillows), angular, and low-slung, with flat cushions and short legs. If that sounds familiar, that’s because it’s super trendy once again, thanks to nearly a decade of Mad Men seasons.
The curved—or humped—back of this popular sofa style (which dates back to the 18th-century) gives this profile its name. (You may remember one upholstered in a magenta David Hicks print on Domino magazine’s first-ever issue.) Elegant and refined, it features exposed wood legs, flared arms, and one or two humps. Look to this style for a posh and polished vibe that takes center stage. Rooms are full of straight lines, designers choose this to bring verve to a space.
A 17th-century invention, the Knole sofa purportedly made its first appearance at a country house in Kent, England. Revolutionary for its time, the deep two-seater was intended as a double throne. Its profile, with an extra-tall back and equally high, angled sides make those sitting inside it feel as if they’re enclosed in a private room. (Note: Great for dates, awkward for meetings.) The most traditional versions have hinged sides that are held upright by wood finials and fabric cording. So fancy!
Legendary furniture designer Vladimir Kagan earned himself a roster of celebrity clients like Marilyn Monroe and Brad Pitt thanks to his boundary-pushing style and curvy mid-20th century furniture designs. The sculptural, kidney-shaped masterpiece that is the Freeform sofa is just one example—lots of designers today riff on this style for their own imaginative, asymmetrical take on King Kagan.
Designing homes for Kim Kardashian, Robert de Niro, and Bill Gates put Belgian interior designer and antique dealer Axel Vervoordt on the map. His signature sofa—a long bench seated, tight-backed slipcovered dream—is a modern-day icon that’s expected to stand the test of time. With one single cushion, every seat is a good seat.