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27 July 2021

Sofa style ideas

Stuck on how to choose from the many sofa styles on offer? Here's our hassle-free guide to help take the stress out of choosing a sofa design.
Rachel Christie
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Sofas come in several shapes, sizes, colours and fabrics, so it can be difficult knowing where to begin. But whether you work, eat or watch TV on your sofa, it should provide comfort and style for years to come.

A sofa is an investment, so it's worth buying with care and consideration, from the filling you choose to the fabric you pick. Start your research from scratch and head to our sofa buying step-by-step guide for the lowdown on measuring, sizing, fillings, fabrics.

Sofa styles

When you're choosing a sofa style, think about what will suit the rest of your scheme, as well as what you like the look of. 

Sofas tend to fall into five main style groups - mid-century, Chesterfield, contemporary, traditional and country – just under half (45%) of Which? members we surveyed have a traditional-style sofa. 

Want to find out which sofa shop they'd recommend to a friend? Head to our best sofa retailers page to find out which retailer came out top in our satisfaction survey.


Characterised by clean lines, a boxy, streamlined shape, wooden angled legs and low arms, a mid-century sofa has a modern retro feel. It's a tailored look, rather than overstuffed.


With rolled back and arms, both at the same height, a deep, pinched button detailing and often made of leather, a Chesterfield sofa is a recognisable, grand statement and suited to a variety of interior schemes.


Modern sofas often have loose back cushions, one per section of seat, and straight arms that are the same depth. Metal feet are a common addition.


Traditional sofas comes in all shapes and sizes, however the most common styles, often referred to as a 'Lawson' or 'Howard', tend to feature rounded arms that are lower than the back and stop short, not quite reaching the front of the seat cushions. 

Feet tend to be turned (rounded), wooden legs and sometimes on castors.


Sometimes called a 'Bridgewater', these country-style sofas have valances to cover the feat, low armrests and removable seat and back cushions.

Types of sofa back

Sofas are made up of different parts that determine the overall look and feel of the piece.

Get to know the different styles of arms, feet, base and back cushions and you'll begin to notice what elements you like in a sofa.

When looking at the silhouette of a sofa, start at the back and choose between a fixed, scatter or cushion back. 

  • Fixed back sofa The back frame of the sofa is sprung and upholstered, rather than using loose or fixed cushions. Offers smart, clean, more formal lines with easy maintenance. Tends to offer slightly firmer seating.
  • Scatter back sofa The upholstered back frame of a sofa is hidden by loose cushions to give a more informal style. Scatter cushions usually contain polyester fibre or a luxurious feather filling. 
  • Cushion back sofa The conventional sofa is the cushion back. Two or three boxed-sided cushions of an equal size will be placed across the back.

Types of sofa arm

The design of the arm can identify a sofa or chair as classic or contemporary.

Low arms tend to signal a more traditional style while higher, and usually slimmer, arms are often spotted on modern and contemporary sofas.

Some people enjoy lying and leaning on a low, flat arm while others prefer the support of something taller. Think about how you lounge on your sofa as well as what you like the look of.

From scroll to square, here are the four most popular sofa arm shapes.

  • Scroll arms Synonymous with classic sofas and chairs. Pleating and insert panels give a more traditional look.
  • Flared arms These generally flare outwards slightly from the base. Can take up as much space as a wide, square arm.  
  • Howard arms Classic style where the arm is low and stops short of the front of the sofa or chair.
  • Square arms The most popular shape for contemporary upholstery. 

Types of sofa leg

Legs (or feet) are so much more than support at the base of the sofa. Whether you pick a sofa leg as part of a bespoke design you're having built or you're looking at a ready made style, the legs set the scene.

Adding new feet to an older sofa can instantly add a little boost to a dated design.

From elegant turned legs to contemporary metal ones, or no legs whatsoever, the choice of sofa leg will influence how the rest of the sofa looks. 

  • Glides No visible feet, designed to make the sofa easy to manoeuvre. They are incorporated into the design, often covered by a valance.
  • Sabred/splayed legs Curved wooden legs, usually tapered at the end. A traditional look.
  • Bun feet Round, shallow feet for a subtle, low-impact look.
  • Plinth Some sofas are designed to appear as if sitting on a platform – ideal for a streamlined appearance.
  • Turned legs A classic wooden style which is turned on a lathe to produce a rounded leg. This style is often found on castors, too.
  • Stiletto A very fine, thin, contemporary leg, normally made of metal for strength.

Top sofa styling tips

You may already have a specific style in mind, but if you need a little inspiration, here are some quick-trick style ideas to get the most from your sofa and the space it lives in.

If your living room is small, opt for low-back sofas to help give the feeling of more room. Slim legs and a gap between the sofa and floor will also help create the illusion of space. 

If space isn't an issue, then high back sofas look great in rooms with high ceilings. Modular sofas enhance open-plan rooms and offer flexibility, so consider a corner sofa with a removable chaise section or two.

A common mistake is squeezing a large sofa into a space that's too small for it. Let your sofa breathe by giving it the room it needs. 

Have a go at positioning your sofa away from a wall too; maybe try a sideboard behind it, filled with plants and lamps instead. Or turn your sofas around so they face each other in the centre of the room, rather than towards the television, to create a more social space. Don't be afraid to have fun and move furniture around!

Here are our top tips for keeping your sofa looking its best for longer.

  • Place sofas out of direct sunlight and heat sources to stop fading
  • Sofas should sit on a level floor to avoid rocking or frame damage
  • Avoid sitting on the arms of sofas to prevent distorting the upholstery
  • Rotate seat, back and scatter cushions weekly to ensure even wear

Take the quiz below to find out which style sofa you should go for!

What style of sofa should you buy?

Take the quiz below to find out which style sofa you should go for!