Sofa vs sectional – which one is right for you?

Selecting a sofa for your room scheme is a major part of the design process. The style, size, scale and orientation will determine how you use your living space.

A sectional sofa is a great way to incorporate more seating without taking up too much square footage. However, two three-seaters placed opposite each other may be more appropriate in your living room.

Whichever you decide will impact the layout and the flow of the room. So take the time to consider whether you want a standard sofa or a sectional.

To explore the pros and cons of sectionals vs sofas, we've asked the experts. And selected the best couches in each camp from the best home decor stores, so you can choose what suits your home. 

1. Best linear sofas

2. Best classic sofas

3. Best linear sectional sofas

4. Best chunky sectional sofas

What is the difference between a sofa and a sectional?

A sectional is a type of sofa that consists of two or more joined sections for sitting. These are available in versatile configurations to suit different room layouts and preferences.

Some are two or three-seater sofas with an attached chaise on the left or right side. L-shaped sofas can consist of two sofa sections with a corner seat, or a three-seater sofa and an armless love seat.

A U-shaped sectional has a center sofa with a chaise or an equal number of seats on either side. 

The difference between the two is that a sofa is a single piece, while a sectional often has multiple pieces within it, expanding the seating area. 

'It comes down to preference as both styles can work in most settings,' says Silvia Roldan, lead designer at the Stylesmiths. 'If you're more the loungy type and like to have your legs up when watching TV or reading, then a sectional is the ideal choice. If you prefer something a bit more formal, a sofa is the way to go.'

'A sectional works great in a corner as it fills the room and can avoid any dead-end corner space,' adds Silvia. 'Sectionals can also help close off a low-traffic area of a room. A sofa, on the other hand, can be teamed up with a pair of armchairs to allow for flexible seating arrangements, and you can mix different styles or fabric options.'

What are the pros and cons of sectionals?

A sectional sofa can maximize space in a living room. As it can fit snugly against a wall or within the dimensions of the space, without the need for more chairs or sofas.

Some sectionals are available as sleepers, with additional storage in the chaise for bedding, as well as a pull-out or fold-down mattress. .

On the down side, a sectional is a large piece of furniture and takes up a lot of space in a room. This rules it out in most small living rooms. Also, some can only be arranged one way, which makes rearranging the furniture in your living room difficult.

'L-shaped sectionals (or corner sectionals) are perfect for spacious living rooms where you plan on spending a lot of time — whether hosting friends, watching movies, or spending time with your family or roommates,' says Heather Goerzen, lead interior design at Havenly. 

'Whereas a two or three-seater sofa is designed more for a small living space or more formal sitting room, corner sectionals are ideal for TV rooms, dens, basements, etc — wherever you see yourself watching movies and TV, lounging, relaxing, potentially napping, etc. Due to the extra seating space, they’re great for larger families or people who love to host.'

Is it a good idea to have a sofa and a sectional together in a room?

'Both styles of sofa can be used in a room together however it comes down to how big your room is and the location of the sofas,' says Silvia. 'If I've specified either a sectional or a sofa, I will combine this with a couple of armchairs to provide flexible seating options, or team two sofas together.'

A large living room allows for both these seaters to exist together and even increases the functionality of the room. In a luxury living room, you could create two seating systems – a formal one with sofas, armchairs, and ottomans, and an informal one with a sectional and stools. 

'Do keep in mind that when planning a layout, it's important to have adequate seating and different types of seating,' says Victoria Holly, principal, and founder of Victoria Holly Interiors.

'I like to have at least three types of seating, such as a sectional or sofa, accent chairs, and then an ottoman. This is great for kids who want to play while watching TV. Having multiple types of seating also allows for breakout conversations as well as main conversations within the space.'

Jacky Parker is a London-based freelance journalist and content creator, specialising in interiors, travel and food. From buying guides and real home case studies to shopping and news pages, she produces a wide range of features for national magazines and SEO content for websites

A long-time contributor to Livingetc, as a member of the team, she regularly reports on the latest trends, speaking to experts and discovering the latest tips. Jacky has also written  for other publications such as Homes and Gardens, Ideal Home, Red, Grand Designs, Sunday Times Style and AD, Country Homes and Interiors and ELLE Decoration. 

With contributions from