Choosing sofas and armchairs is one of the decisions most people agonise over! I’ve been specifying a lot of upholstery for my projects recently as well as sharing tips with clients who prefer to go to the showrooms themselves. There is more to it than you might think!
I’ve also experimented with my own home recently, sourcing sofas for different spaces in my home and have learnt some new lessons. What I will say first of all is that it’s quite a personal thing. What I might find comfortable someone else really won’t like! So, there isn’t really a better way of choosing upholstery that will suit everyone. I hope though that these tips make it a little easier for you.
CONSIDER THE SPACE
To have a sociable space the optimal layout in a living room is to create three sides around a focal point (either TV or a fireplace for instance). So, I tend to choose one large three-seater sofa, a smaller sofa and then two armchairs. I also like an ottoman in the middle as it adds a sense of cosiness.
With corner sofas bear in mind they are great for slouching (so work well for cinemas and snugs) but they aren’t very sociable. Despite the number of seats on a corner sofa it can feel all a bit squashed and no one wants to squeeze in the corner seat!
You can map out the sizes with masking tape on the floor, or enlist the help of a professional to do this for you. A scaled plan is invaluable to avoid expensive mistakes an also map out the position of other items.
CHOOSE AN OVERALL STYLE AND SHAPE
If you would like a more modern look for your country home than choose cleaner lines for the arms, rather than traditional scroll arms. Do bear in mind though that a traditional sofa can look great if you choose a modern fabric. So don’t discount those styles as they are often the most comfortable ones. If I was going to choose one style that works for all interiors it would be a modern Howard, as shown below.
If you like laying on the sofa don’t go too low with the arms. Otherwise, there is nowhere to pop up the cushions and they tend to fall off the side! Seat depth is an easy one to miss. They do vary and I find anything below 800 depth just doesn’t feel that comfy. I normally aim for 950 and above.
For a more welcoming feel choose sofas that have back cushions as they tend to be comfier. For sofas with a fixed back to add more scatter cushions to add comfort. If you go for back cushions don’t buy as many scatter cushions, as there simply won’t be room. So, on a three-seater with a fixed back, I’d have six scatter cushions and with a three-seater, with back cushions, I’d just aim for four.
Chesterfields are beautiful sofas but don’t choose a Chesterfield as your main “lounging sofa” as the backs aren’t very soft. In a living room I like to have a large comfortable three sofa and then a Chesterfield as the two-seater. For me, they are better options where you are mostly sitting up and socialising.
YOUR SEAT FILLINGS ARE KEY TO THE COMFORT
Consider how firm you’d like the seat cushions of your sofa or armchairs to be. The main options are:
- Feather/down – the softest but they need regular plumping as they lose their shape very quickly. This can get quite annoying when you have to do it every day, so probably a better option for a more occasional sofa. You also pay a premium for these and some people find these too soft. These are rarely available from the high street
- Feather – similar to feather/down so still a soft seat and so still require plumping. These aren’t quite as expensive as feather/down and in my opinion, I don’t think there’s much difference. If you do choose feather, ask the upholsterer if they are in pockets, which keeps the feathers well distributed. You’re less likely to get the dip in the middle of the sofa seat. The sofa shown below is feather which looks amazing all plumped but less so after a day of use!
- Foam with feather wrap – a great option where you’d like a slightly firmer seat that still feels comfortable. These don’t really need plumping. This is the option I would normally choose for your day-to-day sofa
- Foam – I never choose foam as I think they are a bit hard
CHOOSE YOUR FABRIC CAREFULLY
Choosing fabric can be overwhelming with the vast array of options and you also need to consider how it fits with your wider decorative scheme. This is the area most find really challenging, particularly when they don’t have a sense about how the wider room might look.
The two main elements to consider are the feel you’d like to create and then the practical side.
I’ll start with the feel. Generally, in modern country homes, most people are looking to create a relaxed welcoming feel. My favourite fabrics to achieve this effortless feel are soft cottons, chunky linens and velvets. I personally find wools too hot in summer and more difficult to look after.
Now on to the practicality. Let’s start with velvet as this is one of my favourite fabrics but proceed with caution! If you have young kids or muddy dogs it’s not the best choice, even if you opt for a ‘smart’ velvet. I think velvet looks better on armchairs and tufted furniture.
On a large modern sofa with clean lines velvet shows up every single pressure mark. I love the character that comes with velvet and actually find the natural markings very attractive. But if you want perfection don’t go for a velvet! You need to embrace its natural characteristics. Mohair velvets are the best options as they have a thicker pile so show pressure marking far less.
For family life with kids or dogs choose brushed cotton or fabric with a pattern. Pattern hides a multitude of sins but you have to love that pattern! I’d normally go for a small-scale pattern and keep the bigger scale ones on armchairs. With dogs, if they are like my dogs they like to brush up and like to sleep against the sofa. This can leave a horrible tide mark around the bottom of the sofa so if you have dogs I’d chose a darker fabric. This chair in my home is my dogs favourite spot but as it’s a darker velvet you just don’t see the marks!
And finally, remember pattern doesn’t always translate well on tufted furniture such as Chesterfields, so I always choose a plain for those. A mohair velvet looks stunning on a Chesterfield.
It’s fairly unusual for sofa companies to offer pattern as one of their standard fabrics. One thing a lot of people don’t realise is that you don’t always have to choose a standard fabric. Sofa showrooms such as Sofa.com and Sofas & Stuff will let you specify your own fabric. So if you’ve seen something you love ask them to quote with that fabric. It will cost more than one of their standard fabrics but if you don’t like them it’s a good option!
My favourite type of fabric is a chunky linen – choose a Martindale rub count of 40,000 or above. The label on the back of the fabric will tell you what the rating is. Basically, the Martindale rub tells you how durable the fabric is. With linens there will always be some creasing but I think this is part of the charm. I then add my pattern and texture with the cushions.
I have written a wider article if you’d like more tips about choosing fabrics in your home.
DON’T FORGET THE SMALL DETAILS
It’s so easy to miss specifying the feet colour and also the finish of the castors. You want to be consistent with other items in the room. But also to choose a finish that goes with the feel for the room. If you’d like a more modern look then choose a light or washed oak and if it’s more traditional then mahogany or dark oak. On castors I tend to choose antique or brushed finishes to avoid the gold shiny traditional look.
I also love box pleat skirts on sofas, although box pleat skirts tend not to be an option on the high street.
And finally, don’t forget the trim! I love a contrast piping on upholstery, to pick out a key colour in the pattern. For a slightly more classic look a bullion trim can look amazing if you choose a fresher more modern colour palette. This can really make a scheme sing.
NEVER FORGET TO MEASURE!
Before you order your furniture check the dimension of EVERY room and door your sofa will travel through. With doors also watch out for low door heights as that’s an easy one to miss. If you are worried about dimensions, then let the furniture company know or pay for an access check. Quite often they can take off the feet to allow for easier access or there may be some other clever solution. Always do that thinking before you buy the sofa as it’s so stressful and disappointing if you can’t get it in! And worst of all very expensive if the fabric is bespoke and it’s non-returnable!
HIGH STREET VS DESIGNER
A question I get asked is whether I source from the high street or designer sofas. I would say a mix, depending on which room it’s going in. And of course, your budget. On the high street I think Sofas and Stuff offer the best quality.
I tend to source my sofas from suppliers such as David Seyfried, Robert Langford and bespoke upholsterers who work predominantly with interior designers. There is so much more choice and it means you can get something different and special. Or if you have awkward access, they can tailor the size for you or make in parts. For a sofa you’ll have a long time I think it’s totally worth the investment. But I wouldn’t invest if it’s a sofa for a playroom for instance! If you were really investing the kings of upholstery are George Smith
I hope you’ve found these tips helpful. If you’d like to get in touch to discuss your modern country home please do contact me.