Living Room, Showing Chandelier and Sofa, Probably Joseph Verner Reed Family Residence, Walker Evans, 1930–34
The Club Caravan theme this month comes from an interest in trivial matters. Those little bits of semantics that you walk by, or in this case sit on, every day without thinking about. And then one day, you wake up and think, “Wait- what is the difference between a couch and a sofa? And what do I have?” All of a sudden it seems ludicrous that you have never considered this before. When you start asking around, you get the feeling that no one else really knows the difference either. Some people don’t mind living in this kind of ambiguity. Some have fierce opinions without even knowing why. We asked friends and family located in different parts of the country and from varying generations to describe the difference between a couch and a sofa. While each conversation started with declarations of definitive differences, they each ended with an “Oh well I don’t know. Maybe it’s a regional thing.” One dear friend even admitted to having a sofa upstairs and a couch in the basement. When I asked how she knew she had a couch in the basement but not in the living room, she replied, “ Because my kids drew all over the one in the basement.” These odd social phenomena where we collectively share a wrong impression or lack of definition can be such fascinating insights into peoples’ lives and ways of connecting to each other. However instead of connecting through a shared usage of a regional colloquialism, the couch vs. sofa conversation connects us through a shared unknown.
We will be revealing the true difference between couches and sofas for all of you who don’t know already. Their differences may surprise, they may disappoint, you may think life was simpler when you didn’t know. But we have wines that pair with whichever one you happen to be sitting on.
Woman in Turkish Dress, Seated on a Sofa, Jean Etienne Liotard, ca. 1752
Greeks and Romans sat on stone and bronze, and the medieval period boasts heaps of wooden benches. The Ming dynasty (1368-1644) in China even used longer benches with woven seats at the dinner table to allow for reclining at the end of a meal. Benches have been a necessity in every hut, house, or castle since the beginning. While pillows were an equally coveted commodity, their application to seats in the Christian countries would take centuries to evolve. The Christian philosophy of dualism stemming from Greco- Roman philosophy and Hebrew teachings tells us that our spirits and our bodies are opposing forces. Our spirits want to ascend to the heavens and live closer to god, while our bodies pull us toward sin and sensual desires. This created the practice of denying the body comfort when needing to sit or lay down in order to keep it from lapsing into the sinful enjoyment of gravity/ satanism as it will drag both your body and spirit down to irretrievable depths. While Europeans are keeping the tension on their hard benches, Arab countries are creating “suffahs” which are essentially wooden benches covered in blankets and cushions. Therefore, we can technically say that the sofa came first. Not until the end of the Elizabethan era in the late 1500s/ early 1600s was the concept of upholstery introduced. This idea of covering larger pieces of furniture in cushion and fabric became added on to the jobs of those who also created tapestries. This was really made possible by the Renaissance period which encouraged the movement away from traditions of all kinds and toward the exploration of the physical world. This is the time where we might consider the couch to have come to fruition. The name couch descends from the French verb “coucher” which appropriately means “to lie down”. Now that comfort was not seen as damaging, it could start filtering from upper class mansions and estates to the average home. This also ushers in the concept of interior design and how rooms can become distinct from one another beyond function.
From the couch...
I pontificate freely. I relax loudly. I drink bubbly wine from a wide mouth wine glass. I want to really swirl and get a good gulp of this stuff. From here on the couch I play the music loud so I can really feel the vibrations. I'm in the present moment. I'm here, thinking and talking about the now, now, now. That is, unless I'm napping...which I love to do on the couch. When I'm napping on the couch, it's usually a heavy sleep that feels restorative. And, upon waking, I feel like I've just arrived from a faraway place. On the couch, I am casual.
The Unico Zelo Sea Foam is a Pet-nat sparkling wine from the Riverland wine region in South Australia. Made from two varieties: Vermentino and Fiano, these bubbles will get you gabbing. Vermentino gives this wine some vibrant acidity and ripe tropical fruit aromatics. It gives it the energy of spontaneity one can experience from a good couch conversation. There is an additional variety in this wine: Fiano. This is a grape that can provide body to a wine, giving it some weight and a slightly creamy mouthfeel. Fiano provides nice balance to those bubbles dancing on your tongue. It's the cushion that allows you and your mind to relax, so that you can speak a bit more freely in your life.
Overall, the style of sparkling, called Pet-Nat (Petillant Naturale) has generally less bubbles than a Champagne or Prosecco. This style of bubbly wine represents one of the earliest methods used, and also one with the least intervention needed on the part of the winemaker. In this way, we feel it pairs well with couch life. Towards the end of production, as the wine is finishing its fermentation, it is put into the bottle and the closure applied. As the wine finishes fermentation, the CO2 that is produced from the yeast eating the sugars remains trapped in the bottle, giving the finished wine its fizz.
The Green Sofa, Max Pechstein, 1910
For a long time, and without anyone knowing, a sofa was considered to be an upholstered bench with cushioned arms that could also become a bed, while a couch was an armless upholstered bench that is slightly shorter than the sofa. These days, furniture designers and purveyors are starting to acknowledge the interchangeable nature of these terms between their customers and are attempting to redefine couch and sofa to be more subjective. This is done by allowing the term to reflect the usage of the seat rather than the design or structure like in its original meaning. If you are sitting on a more designed, elegant piece of furniture that is well made, potentially more expensive, and something you show off to new guests, you are sitting on a sofa. A sofa might be more of a piece that helps exhibit a space that is less for living in and more for looking at. This makes a sofa something to admire and lightly sit on probably in a nicer outfit while you are trying to behave yourself. A couch is the more casual sibling to the sofa. It is the piece of furniture that does not stand out for its design but for its function as a versatile seat in a living room, bedroom, den, or basement. A couch is for flopping, napping, eating, crowding, crying, sleeping on when sick or mad, and any activity that might need some added comfort both physically and emotionally. A couch is most common in homes with only one living room because it needs to be so many things at once.
Like most things, the best version contains a little bit of both. Nidhi Kapur, founder of North Carolina based luxury furniture design company Maiden Home explains, “The best investment pieces have the elegance of a sofa, but the comfort of a couch. Look for pieces with the design details you love, plus the proportions and comfort that suits your lifestyle”. What an exciting time to be alive! The possibilities of low end sofas and high end couches and everything in between are endless. The only thing left to do is sit down and think about it.
From the sofa...
I wait patiently. I get a little quiet as I observe the world around me and then take what I observe inwards for further meditation. On the sofa, my attitude is a bit more straight, a bit more serious. But this is good. This is where I drink the Edelzwicker. From the sofa my senses feel sharper and I'm able to take in the complexity of a wine like this. A serious wine that offers serious pleasure. On the sofa I'm able to engage on the next level. I can feel the precision of the designed life built up around us, and appreciate it. Lines of architecture, of fashion, of motion...everything comes into clear focus with a sip of Edelzwicker on the sofa. On the sofa, I am ready and engaged.
The Union Sacre Edelzwicker is an homage to the Edelzwicker blends of Alsace, France. As far back as 1644 this has been a "noble blend" of the supposed top white varieties of that region: Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer and Muscat. If a wine was called simply Zwicker, it meant a blend of the (so-called) lesser white varieties: Pinot Blanc, Sylvaner, Chasselas, Auxerrois. Today the term Edelzwicker holds no official designation, and when it is used on wines it is generally for nostalgic reasons. Even without an official order as to what makes an Edelzwicker wine, if you do see this on a label today, most likely the wine is golden colored with opulent aromatics and a palette filled with flavors of ripe, tropical fruit. This blend from Union Sacre is made up of Pinot Gris, Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Sylvaner, and Gewurztraminer.
What keeps this wine on the sofa for us is the fact that its intentions are traditional. It's a wine that names itself as a part of a noble past and tries to emulate this in its style. This is a sofa wine for me because it feels designed, connecting itself to a larger idea beyond its flavors. A sofa holds a similar level of intention and formality through its concern with aesthetics over comfort. The sofa (and Edelzwicker) presents less room for spontaneity of thought, but lays the groundwork for a more focused type of conversation.
A Man of Fashion's Journal, Thomas Rowlandson, May 1, 1802
Our aim is to give a glimpse into the many roles wine has played throughout history. All subjects mentioned deserve more attention and research and we encourage you to keep exploring. We are only here to pop the cork.
Many Thanks, Caravan Wine Shop