Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Couch vs. sofa - a dialogue

I was thrilled to have lunch recently with one of my favorite bloggers, The Blue Remembered Hills, while he was traveling through DC. As so often happens when bloggers meet for the first time we began chatting at once like old friends and eventually the topic naturally veered towards design.
Both of us have 'pet peeves' with wordage, his being the incorrect use of the word couch instead of sofa (mine is the incorrect use of home vs. house). Above you see the famous couch of Madame Recamier.
The term sofa is what we normally are talking about, the article of furniture found in everyone's living room. It's not a 'formal' term or interchangeable with couch -they are DIFFERENT things. A couch is a specific term reserved for pieces of furniture on which one lies. I immediately thought of Madame Recamier, so well known for having been painted in repose by numerous artists.
While in the Louvre on my last visit I loved Madame Recamier's furniture made for her by Georges Jacob as well as 2 very well known paintings of her, in which she is lying on a couch.
 The rest of her furniture is really beautiful and I just had to have an excuse to post!
In the future think of Madame Recamier on her couch and the sofa you have at home; unless you have a fainting couch or daybed, well then that's another story!


Blue said...

Perfect! I had just poured the first cup of the day, sat on the sofa, and found this. Such a wonderfully illustrated essay – thank you. I love those chairs.

Karena Albert said...

Or a chaise! I agree I always use sofa. In real estate it is correct to use house when talking to buyer, builders, architects etc, and home when speaking to the seller of, well, their treasured home!

The Arts by Karena

ArchitectDesign™ said...

Thank you for the inspiration Blue!

ArchitectDesign™ said...

Karena, precisely! It's surprising how many people get it wrong!

Scott Waterman said...

When I was growing up it was neither couch nor sofa but davenport. Apparently that was because my mother is from upstate NY and my father is from MA. Out on my own as soon as I could I created my version the Madame Recamier couch with the help of a couple of friends, a furniture maker and a seamstress. it doubled as the guest bed. I sold it some years ago and bought my first sofa, the Eames compact sofa. That's so L.A.

ArchitectDesign™ said...

Scott, so nice to hear from you! Yes we all are fulfilling childhood fantasies in the decoration of our houses in some way -aren't we? The Eames compact is great and 'place' is everything.

Pigtown*Design said...

Isn't couch a derivative of the French word "coucher" which means to lay down, or put to bed?

ArchitectDesign™ said...

Pigtown -sounds right to me! Another way to remember which word to use :-)

Eric H said...

This is interesting, but albeit a bit confusing. If I fall asleep fairly often on my sofa (which I do lying down), does that make it a couch? If the function is what differentiates it but both functions can be done on the same piece of furniture, doesn't that make it interchangeable?

ArchitectDesign™ said...

Eric, I wondered that too. Think of it this way though - it's the 'INTENT' that sets the name and not what you do with it.
Analogy: You can use a fork to stir your cookie batter but at the end of the day it's still a fork not a spoon. You can use things for other than what they are made for but the name is set by their use.

Chronica Domus said...

Beautifully illustrated post, thank you. My particular pet peeve is whenever I hear people refer to curtains as "drapes". Ugh! Oh, and as you've already dared to open the can of worms, how about "very unique". That one grates on my ears.

ArchitectDesign™ said...

Chronica -yes -always curtains! "very unique" and "spacious" are only 2 of the many reasons I've had to stop watching HGTV & HouseHunters in particular. Nothing on that show was even 'unique'.....let alone...oh wait 'very unique' doesn't even make sense ;-) It's either unique or it isn't!

Toby Worthington said...

It would seem that you've clarified the sofa/couch debate very neatly! And I'm totally in agreement about the regrettable trend for "home" being used interchangeably with "house".

May we add another cringe-making word to the list: "Drapes" being used when the word is, very properly, "Curtains" ?

DRAPES is a verb, people! As in "that woolen cloth drapes beautifully.."

Furthermore,( now I'm still up on my high horse) "draperies" applies to the swagged bits of fabric, not the whole damned window dressing.

ArchitectDesign™ said...

Toby, I have you there -totally agreed!

Linda Merrill said...

Although I tend to use sofa I guess, I don't see why couch is so wrong. Especially as they are intended for both sitting and lying down on.

As for "drapes", it's incorrect to say that it's only a verb, per Merriam Webster, it's also a noun meaning:

a : a drapery especially for a window : curtain
b : a sterile covering used in an operating room —usually used in plural

I think drapery is more descriptive in that we should know it means the hanging panels or swags - things that are "draped" as opposed to "curtains" which seems so generic to me.

Ah well, tomato, tomahto.

Mark Ruffner said...

Hi, Stefan - Thanks for clarifying the difference between couch and sofa for me; I am one of the many who previously thought they were interchangeable! (I say that even though I do lie down on my sofa.)

ArchitectDesign™ said...

Mark -I'm a layer downer too but it's still technically a 'sofa' no matter what you do on it. A couch is an entirely different piece of furniture -typically no back, whereas a sofa always has a back.

Divine Theatre said...

...and while we're at it...if I hear a chaise referred to as a "chase lounge" one more time! LOL!
Madame Recamier's furnishings certainly are stunning!

I have missed your posts!



The Down East Dilettante said...

Wonderful images.

I can never decide whether 'drape' or 'home' irritates me more, but misuse of either makes me have to take to my sofa with the vapors...

Toby Worthington said...

Is it too late to include one more mis-used term which falls into the fingernails on slate category?
Only one more, I promise-- and that would be "French Doors" when describing French WINDOWS.
Meaning those glazed elements opening onto a terrace. Read those drawing room plays by Noel Coward for context.

Which isn't to say that French DOORS do not exist!
They do-- at the entrance of every house in France.