Furniture shopping can be a real challenge, especially when so many sofas and chairs look alike in showrooms, and most shoppers tend to look at the color of the fabrics rather than the style of the frame. The frame, however, is very important. A chair or sofa needs to fit the size and function of the room, and be comfortably scaled for the person who’ll be sitting there. So, what kind of sofa or chair should you buy?
A long sofa, also called an Estate size, is more than 88” long. It can offer plenty of room to lie down, but if it has very wide rounded arms, the extra length will be in the arms and not the seat – be sure to consider this when looking at a long sofa.
A Studio or Apartment size sofa is usually between six and seven feet, much longer than a loveseat. A Studio Sofa seats two or three adults just a like a large sofa, but closer together. I often use a pair of Studio Sofas rather than a sofa and loveseat. Most guests will avoid sitting on loveseats (unless they are a romantic couple) and a Studio sofa is big enough for strangers to share. Choosing a square Modern or an English curved arm helps trim the profile of the sofa, so an 80” Studio Sofa provides for full-length seating in tight spaces. Choosing wood feet on a sofa rather than a skirt makes the room look larger by showing more of the floor beneath.
Sectional sofas can be much more useful than the large pieces seen in many stores. Sectional pieces can be configured to create a long 4 seat sofa, or a sofa with a chaise at the end, for more seating without being confined to an L-shape arrangement. Scatter-Back styles are for crawling into, rather than sitting upon -they make even a dressy living room comfortable.
A big overstuffed Club Chair may be a dream for many, but those with large, rounded arms will fill up the room and only seat one person. If you have a small room but want a big chair to sink into, look for an English arm, or a smaller round arm with a T-shaped seat cushion, since they are just as comfortable and look much smaller in the space. Ordering a nice deep-framed chair with feather and down blend cushions will give you the sink-in coziness you want, and the depth of the chair can be tucked into a corner.
Wing chairs are a favorite form of seating because of the upright support they offer – not everyone is comfortable sinking deeply into furniture. Modern wing chairs are much less stuffy looking, but they still offer stylish support.
How Will You Use the Furniture?
If you like to sit up and read, or entertain more formally, choose tight-back furniture. Dressed-up guests don’t want to be flopping back into a sloppy pile of pillows, and if you really need back support, Scatter-Back down pillows are wrong for you. A tight back sofa is one with springs in the back, rather than loose cushions. Most common are Camelback style sofas, although nowadays there are many other classic tight-back styles being reproduced.
The other advantage of a tight back is that they always look great – no back cushions disarrayed by kids or smashed down by pets. Button tufting is a big trend right now, and it’s beautiful. I recommend it for the back only, since smooth seat cushions are easier to clean.
Make sure the furniture fits you. Sit in the furniture and check the height of the seat – it should not lift your feet off the floor, nor should your knees be at your chest. The front-to-back depth of the seat matters too – with your feet on the floor, can you naturally lean into the back cushion firmly? If not, is it comfortable with a throw pillow behind you? Families that have members of widely different heights should order a chair that fits them each well, and a sofa that fits most people comfortably for visitors to use. If you are very tall or short, it is wise to get a chair that fits you perfectly, rather than subject your guests to a sofa that fits no one but you! Most people are comfortable sitting upright in a seat that is 21” deep, but that can feel skimpy to someone who wants to curl up on the sofa, in which case 23” deep is better.
If your room is small, look for sofa and chair frames that are 36” front to back – they usually have a very comfortable 21” seat depth, and will save a lot of space in the room. Many pieces nowadays are 40” front to back, but still seat people in the 21” to 23” range; they take up extra space with padding but don’t add more seating.
If you like to lie down on a sofa, get a three cushion style to even out weight distribution, and a low curved arm like the English arm is perfect to rest your head. If you primarily sit up and use the armrests, a higher rounded arm may be better for you.
Armless sofas are coming back in style, but they can be uncomfortable for anything but cocktail parties. Be sure to ask about the filling in the cushions – expect a choice of dense foam, down and feather wrapping, and innerspring cores if firm support is needed. In our shop, we make sure to have examples of different cushion fillings for shoppers to try out.
Purchasing upholstery is like buying a new mattress – come prepared to choose the best frame, arm style and cushions for your needs, and you’ll be happy for years to come.