Decoding the Couch Code: What Is a Sectional Sofa?

L-Shaped Sectional Sofa
One of the most impactful decisions you can make for your living room or family room is picking a sofa.

After all, this piece of furniture serves as a visual focal point and puts the "living" in the living room. There are many factors to consider, from durability to functionality to style and being a good fit for your space.

That's why it's essential to educate yourself about all of the options out there before picking a sofa. And one choice that you should definitely consider is the sectional sofa, a versatile piece that has remained a favorite for decades. In this article, we'll offer an overview of what a sectional sofa is, as well as the different types you can choose from.

The Details: What is a Sectional Sofa?

A sectional sofa consists of at least two pieces or more that can be joined together in various configurations. One of the most significant advantages of sectional couches is that they are so versatile and can be adjusted to suit the layout of your room and your family's particular needs and preferences.

As interior designer Hugh Long explains, "Sectionals come in all shapes and sizes, but the technical definition is a sofa with two or more adjoining sections that attach to create one continuous sofa. This can create an L-shape, a linear shape, or even a semi-circular shape - the versatility is the beauty of the concept."

Interior designer and founder of Dōr Design House, Bri Ussery joined us in our Austin, Texas, studio to give us an overview of sectional sofas, what to look for when buying one and a few styling tips too. Watch the video below: 

Sofa vs. Sectional: What's the Difference?

You may be wondering what the main difference between a sectional sofa and a traditional sofa is. In short, a traditional sofa comes in one piece, whereas a sectional couch is made up of a number of sectional pieces.

"Unlike a conventional sofa, sectionals are composed of multiple independent pieces that may be arranged in a number of different positions," says Channa Alvarez, Production Designer at Living Spaces.

"A standard sized sofa in layman's terms is essentially a piece of upholstered furniture that typically consists of three cushions to seat up to three people comfortably," adds Karen Rohr, interior designer at Mackenzie Collier Interiors. "Meanwhile, sectional consists of two or more joined sections for sitting. Sectionals come in versatile configurations such as an L-Shaped right/Left and U-Shaped to suit different room layouts."

Read More: How to Measure a Sectional Sofa

How to Choose Between a Sectional and a Sofa

There are no set rules to determine whether a sectional or sofa is better for your space. It truly is a matter of your personal preference. To help make a decision on what type of sofa is best for you, Karen Rohr recommends keeping the following requirements in mind:

  • Seating Options: "In just two or three seats are needed, then a sofa is a perfect choice for you. Although if you need more seating and don't necessarily want two sofas to accommodate all your guests, a sectional is a good solution to opt for."
  • Use of the space: "If this is a family room to chill, watch TV and relax, a sectional is ideal. On the other hand, for a more formal set up choose the sofa."
  • Size of the room: "If you have a small space for a couch, a traditional sofa typically works best. However, in some cases, you may find that a strategically placed sectional will make the room feel less cluttered rather than grouping sofas with loveseats or chairs."
  • Flexibility: "If you love rearranging and moving your furniture, a sofa may be a better choice for you, as this will allow you to play with different chair styles and setups. While a sectional sofa offers versatility, your ability to change the layout is limited (unless it's a modular or reversible sectional that allows you to choose if the chaise is left-facing or right-facing)."

The 5 Most Popular Types of Sectional

While most people might picture one particular type of sofa when they think of a sectional sofa — often L-shaped configuration — there are actually many different types of sectional.

Here's a short overview of five popular types and what makes them unique to help you find the perfect sectional for your home:

1. Sofa Chaise

Have you ever wished you could have a luxurious chaise lounge in your modern living room? Well, with the sofa chaise sectional configuration, you can. The sofa chaise is precisely what it sounds like: a sofa with a chaise together. This is an excellent option if you enjoy laying back, reclining, and lounging on your couch.

While a sofa chaise is one type of sectional sofa, there are actually various customization options even within this type. Explains Channa Alvarez, "Appearing on one or both sides of the L-shape or U-shape varieties, the chaise takes the place of several individual seats and allows for proper lounging."

2. L-Shaped Sectional Sofa

The L-shaped sectional sofa, well, looks like the letter "L." While these don't usually fit in smaller spaces, they can be a fantastic statement piece in rooms with enough space for them. Plus, they offer lots of seating and legroom, which is great for bigger families or people who like to entertain.

According to Alvarez, "This sectional extends in an L-shape, either to the left (left-arm facing or LAF) or to the right (right-arm facing or RAF). This type of sectional often has between two to five seats."

3. Modular Sectional Sofa

A modular sectional sofa is made up of several separate, individual pieces that can be combined into any number of configurations. Generally, modular sofas can be made to look like any of the other options we're discussing here (L-shape, chaise, etc.).

Of all the choices on this list, modular sectional sofas are the most flexible and versatile option, making them excellent for people who like to keep their living room furniture layout and home decor feeling fresh.

Each modular sofa design will have a corner piece (with armrests) and armless pieces so you can adjust your layout and add to your sofa at any time. Want to change your three-seater to a four-seater? Just add another armless section to the middle.

Whether you move to a new home, your family grows, the kids move out of the nest, or you simply experience a change in tastes, a modular sofa will change with you and your needs.

4. U-Shaped Sectional Sofa

A U-shaped sectional sofa - you guessed it - looks like the letter "U." The exact size of the U can vary as necessary: "This type of sectional sofa features a shallow or deep U-shape, depending on the number of seats on each side," says Alvarez.

U-shaped sectional sofas have some advantages. First, they're a great way to fit lots and lots of folks on your couch; some can even seat ten people! This is great if you have a big family or see yourself hosting lots of get-togethers in the future (Super Bowl party, anybody?). This way, nobody has to sit on the rug.

Beyond that, U-shaped sofas are also a great way to bring people together. U-shaped sofas create a friendly, welcoming seating area where everybody faces each other, making it easier to have conversations, play board games (especially if paired with the right coffee table), or simply enjoy each other's company.

5. The Pit Sofa

We'll finish off by telling you about the pit sofa, a statement option for people who are willing to go big with both design choices and size. A pit sofa almost looks like an oversized bed, with the entire sofa extended forward so that everybody sitting on it has enough room to stretch their legs forward and even lie down.

A pit sofa is definitely a focal point of any room, taking up lots of space and calling for plenty of attention. If that's something you're okay with - or potentially even excited about - then you'll be able to benefit from the many advantages that come with a pit sofa.

Pit sofas are also great for families with kids, as this sectional configuration is perfect for everything from building pillow forts to having slumber parties.

Speaking of pillows, pit sofas create a lot of options for decoration, as there's plenty of room for throw pillows and comfort blankets that you can use to spice up your living space. So if you're one of those people who always get called out for having too many pillows on the couch, a pit sofa might be perfect for you.

Other Types of Sectionals

  • Reclining sectionals: If you love to sit back and enjoy a good movie, then a recliner might be right for you. If you want an added layer of luxury, you could look at power reclining sectionals.
  • Sleeper sectionals: A sleeper sofa is a great way to create added room for people to stay over for the night. Due to the fact sectionals tend to be larger than the average sofa, they can make great sofa beds. Like Burrow's Nomad Sectional, some have sleep kits to help transform them from a couch into a bed.
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What Else Should You Consider Before Buying a Sectional?

Sectionals can also come with a range of options to help you find something perfect for your space.

Of course, when buying a new sofa, there's s decision to be made about what upholstery you'd like — do you want a leather sectional (or faux leather)? Chenille? Or maybe velvet? There's tons of choice out there, no matter what your preference.

Then there are the seat cushions and back cushions to think about. Do you want removable covers to make your sofa easy to clean? Would you like down or memory foam seats? When you're researching sectionals online, always make sure to look at the finer details and check the materials the sofa is made from, as this will go a long way to determining the overall comfort of the seat.

And finally, it's good to think about any fun extras you might like to have. We mentioned recliners above, but sectionals nowadays can come with various helpful add-ons from cup holders and USB chargers to adjustable lumbar support and headrests.

Written by
Ash Read
Ash is the founder of Living Cozy. He's been featured by publishers like MyDomaine, Realtor, Real Homes, Architectural Digest, The Spruce, Homes and Gardens, and more. As a writer his work has appeared in publications like FastCompany, TNW, and Entrepreneur.
Ash Read
Written by
Ash Read
Ash is the founder of Living Cozy. He's been featured by publishers like MyDomaine, Realtor, Real Homes, Architectural Digest, The Spruce, Homes and Gardens, and more. As a writer his work has appeared in publications like FastCompany, TNW, and Entrepreneur.
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