Sofas, settees, couches… they’re all the same thing, but the idea behind them has always been changing gradually, and it still is.
The word “sofa” is older than you might think. It comes from the Turkish word “soffah”, which means a raised part of the floor furnished with cushions and was first used in English 400 years ago.
“Settee” is also old, a version of the old English word “settle”, for a seating place. Meanwhile, “couch” comes from French and originally referred to a place for lying down, not sitting.
For centuries, these items of furniture were rather formal – upright, stiff, and very decorative.
Even a chaise-longue, which was designed for ladies to recline on, looks distinctly uncomfortable to modern eyes.
The comfy sofa that you can sink into is a recent development. It’s an item of furniture whose popularity increased along with the spread of television, and any episode of Goggle Box, The Royle Family or Beavis and Butthead will show how this pairing has dominated our leisure time. In fact, one place where you’ll rarely see sofas is TV soap operas, where characters rarely ever watch TV.
But the old sofa in front of the TV setup is now dying off, as families tend to be more and more occupied by various smaller screens. Comfortable, saggy old sofas have also fallen out of favour in the world of interior decor, where there is an increased focus on smart, attractive furniture, as well as a strong backlash against the sedentary lifestyle that sofas represent.
On Lanzarote, where family, friends and guests are always keen to visit, sofa beds are also hugely popular, offering extra accommodation in a flexible way. These long sofas also offer a great place for a siesta on a hot afternoon.
All this means that buying a sofa is something that requires a lot of forethought. You’ll need to think about exactly what you need it for, where to place it and how practical it will be for all the people or animals you live with – scratchy dogs, messy cats and chaotic children have shattered the elegant dreams of many sofa-owners.
But when you find the right one, you’ll soon know – and a moment thinking about sofas you remember from your childhood will show how vital the right one can be.
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