The fascinating history of sofas and couches through the centuries and millennia show that these highly versatile and very commonplace items of furniture are far more ancient than we might think. In fact, some version of a sofa has been in existence going back to the ancient Greeks and Romans. In these times, there is almost no household that doesn’t have at least one of these items within it.
As far as were the word ‘sofa’ originated from, it can be traced back to the Arab language. It also is used to describe a piece of furniture in the Arab regions that is very similar to what eventually became our own version of a sofa. The Arab word is ‘suffah, ‘ and it’s easy to see how travelers in the 17th century — who brought the word back — eventually transformed it into an English word.
As a matter of interchangeability, ‘sofa’ and ‘couch’ are pretty much one and the same today. The French word ‘coucher, ‘ which refers to laying down or reclining, soon enough came to be changed in the English language to what we know today as ‘couch.’ It is historically amusing to note, however, that the French called their own version of a sofa a ‘canape.’
For anyone familiar with the English language, most people refer to small items of food — commonly known as finger food — as canapes. Still in all, it was mainly English builders and craftsmen in the middle 1400s that took the French word for ‘lie down’ and applied it to the version of a sofa that they were building. Soon enough, the English shortened that French word and it became ‘couch.’
These days, most people would mostly be unaware that the word for sofa comes from Arabic while the word for couch has its origins with the French, who have loaned many words to the English language. It is still even more surprising, though, that versions of sofas and couches go back a lot further back into human history than the middle 1400s, when the French and English began to develop their own couches.
It was the ancient Greek and Roman cultures that actually had a sofa of their own. Men would recline on these benches and eat their dinners or just spend some leisure time. And it was only men who were allowed to make use of these pieces of furniture. Women had to accommodate themselves to the idea of sitting or eating on chairs and at tables. It’s easy to see how this could be unfair today.
From pretty much the late 16th century, all of the most impressive sofa development has been done by craftsmen from Germany and England. It was they who figured out a way to construct a wooden frame and then pad that frame with substances that were on hand that were soft, such as feathers or items from the sea such as dried moss. These frames and padded materials were then wrapped and covered.
It is this era — the late 16th century — that most scholars attribute as the true start of the development of modern-day sofas. By the 1800s and 1900s the sofa was fairly ubiquitous in just about every lower or middle-class home, and has increasingly been looked at as part of regular family furniture. In fact, they rank just below the bed in household furniture importance, it seems.