modern khaki sofa with colorful pillows

What Kind of Sofa or Chair Should I Buy?

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?

english arm T cushion
English Saddle Arm with T-cushion
Round Arm Sofa
Timeless Sofa with Round Arm
Modern Sofa with a square arm saves space.
Modern Sofa with a square arm saves space.
Round Arm with  T-Cushion emphasizes comfort.
Round Arm with T-Cushion emphasizes comfort.

Sofa Sizes:
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.

Hollywood Regency Sofa has beautiful flared arms, perfect for a grand space.
Hollywood Regency Sofa has beautiful flared arms, perfect for a grand space.

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.

Lido Sofa in yellow diamond pattern mattelasse'
Studio Sofa with legs and no skirt, makes a room feel more spacious.

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.

This scatterback sectional has two pieces: a full-length sofa and chaise end.
This scatterback sectional has two pieces: a full-length sofa and chaise end.

Chair Sizes:
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.

Ladies Leather Recliner
English Saddle Arm recliner offers deep comfort in a small size.

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.

This Modern Wing Chair has a square tailored style and slipcover.
This Modern Wing Chair has a square tailored style and slipcover.

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.

Tight Back Slipcovered Sofa
Tight Back Slipcovered Sofa

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.

Peacock Velvet Sofa
Custom Chesterfield Sofa we created for a client with smooth down-wrapped seat cushions, in durable Peacock Blue velvet.

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.

Our Timeless Sofa Frame at 36" deep offers comfortable seating without crowding the room,
Our Timeless Sofa Frame at 36″ deep offers comfortable seating without crowding the room,

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.

Our Scoop arm sofa with 3 seats is perfect for lying flat or sitting up.
Our Scoop arm sofa with 3 seats, at 38″ deep is perfect for lying flat or sitting up.

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.

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8 thoughts on “What Kind of Sofa or Chair Should I Buy?

  1. susan hanowell says:

    Love the tight back slip covered english arm sofa. Please email me the dimensions. Also, is a chair available slip covered in this style?
    Thanks,
    Susie

  2. Joan says:

    Would you please share the manufacturer of the tight back slip covered English arm sofa with slip cover upholstery?

  3. webmaster says:

    Hi Joan,
    Thanks for the question – the tight back, English arm slipcovered sofa is one we carry in our shop. We have the frames made especially for us in Hickory, NC and make the slipcovers here in our workroom. Depending on the fabric, it’s usually priced between $2000 and $2500 including a slipcover. The slipcover is fully preshrunk and washable, and we have all of our slipcover fabrics online – you can see them at SlipcoverFabrics.com
    Here’s a photo of the tight-back sofa in our shorter, Apartment size:
    London Sofa, Tight Back
    For a sofa quote, just drop us a note at customerservice@poshsurfside.com
    We’ll ship just about anywhere!

  4. Darlene says:

    Does the welt down the back of the sofa mimic where the attached pillows lie? Is that standard for a fixed back slip covered sofa?

  5. webmaster says:

    Yes, usually we’ll put a welted seam to indicate where the attached pillows are divided; it looks more tailored and retains the style of the sofa underneath.

  6. webmaster says:

    Hi Julie – the Apartment London Sofa is 76″ long. We can make it a little longer or shorter if needed, but I find this length is still something you can lie down on, much bigger than a loveseat. Overall it is 76 long, 32″ deep and the back is 36″ high. The cushions are 6″ including the down/feather wrap.

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