Sofas and Loveseats: A History Lesson


Sofas and loveseats are an essential part of living room and den furniture, providing plenty of space to sit and relax. Over the years, though, these key pieces of furniture haven’t always been part of the picture. In fact, before the 17th century, most homes weren’t well furnished, and the kinds of furniture seen in most homes no longer even exists today. So when and why did sofas and loveseats become a regular part of our decorating plans? Read on to find out.

Seating Born of Necessity

The history of the sofa truly begins in ancient Egypt, where large benches were created for pharaohs to sit on. What we think of as the modern sofa, however, was developed in the 17th century thanks to cumbersome hoop skirts. Women’s gowns during this era and into the 18th century were nothing short of massive, and there weren’t a lot of furniture choices out there that could actually accommodate the huge dresses. The loveseat was born out of necessity. It was designed to be large enough to fit a woman and the dress she was wearing. There was, of course, a bit of fashion concern thrown into this early version of the furniture, particularly because it was meant to seat a woman from a higher social class. The backs were far higher than most you might see today, as were the armrests. Made entirely from wood, they had almost no padding, and since a woman in this type of dress wasn’t likely to move much, and these sofas were weighty pieces, often coming in at more than 100 pounds each.

The Design Evolves

As the loveseat becomes an increasingly popular item, craftsmen starting becoming more creative. Upholstery was quickly added, and the loveseat became one of the first completely padded pieces of furniture. There was a move toward more comfortable furnishings starting in the mid to late-17th century, and the sofa was the spark that helped set off this movement. By the 19th century, sofas and loveseats were some of the most common pieces of furniture in a home, with more elegant homes including more than one in each room.

An Emphasis on Comfort

As with most fashions, the sofa became increasingly common outside the homes of just the richest individuals. In the Victorian period, a formal parlor often included a sofa or loveseat and several chairs. Entertaining became less formal by the 20th century, and the sofa (or couch) made its way into living rooms and dens. Furniture also became increasingly affordable, allowing a much wider range of people to own sofas.

In addition, sofas increased in size. What was once a piece of furniture to sit one woman and her large dress became seating for two or three people together. The move toward less formality in the 20th also changed how sofas were made, often leading to larger and more comfortable pieces. The sectional sofa became popular in the 1960s, adding even more space. As new materials and manufacturing methods were developed, it became possible for most families to afford a sofa.

Fashions have changed as time has passed, but many people still consider the sofa to be an essential piece of living room furniture. The basic design really hasn’t changed: Wood, fabric, and a comfortable place to sit remain the perfect recipe for the loveseat or sofa. It’s now a common place to sit in a living room or den, and it’s often positioned directly in front of the television so that the family can set and relax together. New technology means that the world of sofas and loveseats may have changed a bit, but they still offer a level of amazing comfort, no matter what your decor.