Knowing how to choose the perfect sofa comes with experience and the answers to at least 10 questions. There is nothing worse than going out to shop for a sofa, falling in love with it and finding out it’s too big to get into the house or the room in which you plan to put it, or that the back or seat height is too high or low for the optimal comfort of the other people in the house who will use it.
I recently read an article on the House Beautiful blog about choosing a sofa with tips from seasoned designers. Some I agree with and some I don’t, so I decided to compile my own information from my 20-years’ experience working in over 250 homes (I actually stopped counting after 250) as a residential designer. If you’ve ever renovated or redecorated ONCE, you’ll know that working in that many houses means I’ve see a thing or two…some things that would curl your hair, but I digress….
What you need to know before you buy!
- The average age of the people who will sit on the sofas most often
- Their heights
- Their (approximate) weight
- Physical disabilities or challenges
- Are your pets allowed on the furniture
- What room it’s going into and what will it be used for
- Size of the room in addition to the specific area in which it will sit
- The width of the door opening into your home
- The ceiling height of your elevator if you live in a condo
- Does the manufacturer allow you to supply your own fabric, or do you have to choose one of theirs?
Unlike the Toronto condo above, which had room for a 12 foot wide sectional sofa, the vast majority of existing middle-market homes can only accommodate one that’s 7′-0″ long, and many smaller homes and town houses only have room for a 5′-6″ love seat.
If the people who will use the sofa most often are over 6′-0″ tall, your seat depth (front to back) should be not less than 26″ if it’s a tight back (meaning no cushions) or BEFORE the back cushions. If the back cushions are particularly big and puffy, your seat depth would be better at 28″. Any shallower than this and a tall person will not have their quads properly supported causing back strain over a long period of time.
The average sofa is 36″ deep over all, so ensure you have enough room in front of it for a minimum of 18″ of clearance between it and the edge of a cocktail table for comfortable leg room and the ability to walk in front of others already sitting down.
If you want the sofa for napping and your space can’t accommodate a sofa longer than 84″, look for a low, rolled arm so you can put your head on it, which will give you extra room to stretch out.
Make sure you give the vendor the dimensions of the opening to the house. Some sofas will have detachable legs, or will come apart in some other way to make it easier to maneuver it into the house. If the sofa has to go up or down stairs, ensure that there’s enough ceiling height to be able to swing it around the corners when it’s being delivered. There are few things in home decorating more horrible than having the delivery men stuck in the stairwell with your new, useless sofa.
If you live in a condo ensure the overall length of the sofa is less than the ceiling height of your elevator and that the elevator depth will accommodate at least 1 person plus the sofa for delivery. Some apartment superintendents or condo boards may have a printed guideline of what size furniture will fit in the elevator.
The very best way to be sure the sofa will fit in your room and still leave room for traffic flow and other furniture, is to have a design professional do a furniture plan for you. If you want to DIY, for heaven’s sake, at least use the FURNITURE ARRANGER.
Whether you like soft, squishy seating, or firm, structured models is a subjective decision. Some of it will come down to price since soft, squishy seating is often more expensive. To get the perfect squish and puff, the cushions are a combination of a foam core and a down wrap. A man-made stuffing called Dacron can also be used, but doesn’t have the same WHOOOOSHHHHH when you sit down. The density of the foam core will determine how much or little support you’ll get from the cushions. People with back problems or other lower-body aches and pains are often better off with a firm cushion and less ffffffoooooouuuuuufffff.
Pouffy cushions look and feel best when the upholstery is slightly loose, which gives the whole sofa a slightly baggy look. If you want a nice, tight, contemporary tailored look, go for a tight back and firm foam cushions. But fair warning, on those days when you want nothing more than to curl up with a blankie, a cup of tea, a dog and a soppy novel, the tight sofa won’t give you a snug hug like one with down-wrapped cushions.
For a household with occupants who need to lose a few pounds or many, a firm foam cushion will stand up to longer wear. The same holds true for people with mobility issues, who will have a hard time getting up from a squishy sofa.
If you have to choose the upholstery fabric from the manufacturer, they will come in different grades which correspond to different price points. Be aware that the higher grades of fabric does not necessarily mean it will wear better or resist staining. Be sure you tell the vendor if you have pets who share the sofa with you and whether you’ll be eating sloppy food in front of the TV, so they can guide you to a practical upholstery fabric. If you will be supplying your own fabric, be very careful that you buy an upholstery weight fabric. I have seen people fall in love with a fabric meant for drapery which they then use on their sofa. That sofa will be thread-bare in no time and will need to be re-upholstered.
I have never subscribed to the idea that a sofa should be a plain, neutral fabric that you change up every once in a while with toss cushions. On the other hand, I’m often careful when choosing a sofa upholstery fabric for a client that its pattern or color is so loud that it looks dated and tired very soon after buying. It all depends on the clients’ lifestyle, preferences, and budget. But it also depends on what else is already in the room or is going to go in the room.
Weaves that have two or three colors can be a great choice because you can pull out the colors to use as accents with other fabrics and accessories in the room. Patterns like florals and plaids are fine if you absolutely love them, but may be somewhat more limited if you want to re-decorate around them at some future date.
The fashion for sofa skirts comes in and out as often as women’s skirt lengths change, but some of it comes down to personal preference. But generally speaking if you are going to opt for a skirt, make it tailored rather than frilly.
A frilly skirt — whether on a sofa or a person — can only be worn for so long…
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