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Sofa, So Good: Your Deets to Purchasing the Right Style, Quality and Size

What do your walls, ceilings, floors and sofa have in common? They are the biggest surfaces in your living room and therefore have the most visual impact on its appearance. Like most big surfaces in the home, choosing a sofa requires a little thought.

There are several decisions involved with a sofa purchase: cushion material and configurations, style of skirt, style and weight of fabric, and style and quality of frame.

Sofas are available in widths ranging from 75 inches for a small sofa, also known as an apartment sofa, 80 inches for a medium sofa, and 90 inches for a large sofa. A sofa measuring below 75 inches is called a loveseat. Sofas over 100 inches are usually sectional sofas. I prefer sofas with three over three loose cushions on standard sized, 80-92 inch sofas. I find this configuration to be comfortable, gracious and visually attractive. Four loose cushions work well better on loveseats and apartment sofas. 

Cushions are where many companies cut corners. You can identify a quality cushion by its firmness when sitting on it. It should not fold or buckle underneath your weight. Cheaper cushions will also lump and break down. Cushions should be made of a high density foam core with a Dacron or down blend wrap. Keep in mind, down wraps require more rotation and manual redistributing than Dacron wraps. This is an important consideration if easy maintenance is a priority. You’ll have to decide what’s more important to you, comfort or time. Good news: if your cushions don’t hold up, they can be replaced without reupholstering the sofa. Quality cushions cost around $200 to $400 wholesale per cushion and are available through most upholstery workrooms.

Back and seat cushions can be referred to as “loose” which means cushions are unattached; “tight” which means no cushion at all, just an upholstered back; and “attached” which means cushions are not removable, usually seen on leather sofas.
There are several types of skirts to choose from. Box pleated skirts, or skirts that have multiple pleats across the front, are formal and add material and labor costs to the overall price. Shirred (ruffled) skirts are best suited to feminine spaces. Flat skirts with pleats at the corners are tailored and crisp. If the fabric is lightweight, they need some type of inner lining or backing such as Pellon.

If the room is small or awkwardly shaped an un-skirted sofa is the most forgiving. Because light runs underneath the sofa and through the legs, it creates more space visually. For large rooms, a skirted sofa has an anchoring effect. It creates a cozier atmosphere than an un-skirted sofa. Two facing loveseats are flattering to long, narrow spaces.

Frames may not initially determine the appearance of a sofa, but if longevity is a priority inquire as to the manufacturer’s information and warranty. Two main features to look for are hardwood, kiln dried frames that don’t split or warp. The supports on the frame located beneath the seat cushions, should have a good quality coil system with steel coil springs which are eight-way hand-tied. Sustainably procured wood is thankfully, increasingly important to consumers.

Arm styles are considered to be part of the frame. They are typically squared, rounded or gently rolled. Generally speaking the cleaner the sofa design, the more it lends itself to a contemporary, casual home. A rounder, heavier arm leans more toward a formal, traditional style space. Choose a frame with a classic, timeless arm that won’t “date” too obviously.

When choosing fabric for your sofa, consider quality, color, style and fiber content. Some fabrics pill, others show spots or stain.  Consider your lifestyle. Do you entertain? Do you have kids and pets? What style is the rest of your furniture? Where will you place the sofa in relation to your windows?
I often choose fabrics with texture and a subtle pattern. This type of fabric may be harder to choose but using solid fabrics, particularly solid print cotton is a mistake if you have children. In this case, a better option might be slipcovering. Slipcovers, are great in solid cottons because they are cleanable. They do require reshaping but if you don’t mind this, a slipcover is a good option. I prefer dry cleaning my slipcovers to retain their color and shape. I know this sounds a bit elementary but always stipulate dry cleaning to your dry cleaner. I’ve had a few serious mishaps where they’ve opted for wet cleaning without consulting me first.

Double rubbed upholstery fabrics are standard choices for upholstery. While stylish and attractive, upholstering your sofa in light weight cotton is not a good investment because it will fade quickly and will not retain its appearance or condition. Lightweight fabrics are best when used for slipcovers, window treatments and bedding. If there is an extreme amount of sunlight, consider a light color to counteract fading. Otherwise, choosing a double rubbed upholstery fabric with a medium value (darkness to lightness), slight texture and subtle print is best for concealing stains and pet fur.
When purchasing a sofa from a designer we have what’s called “program fabrics” or “COM”, customer’s own material. Program fabrics are the fabrics that sofa manufacturers provide. They are usually more cost efficient than COM. You can choose from grades A to Z, A being the least expensive and Z being the most expensive. Always choose from the highest grades. The less expensive program grades don’t have the best appearance or wear.  COM may add to the overall price of the piece but it gives my client and me more control of the design scheme and quality. It has a personalized, custom effect. Where program fabrics are lacking, COM fabrics fill the void. Expect to spend a minimum of $85 a yard for a good quality COM upholstery fabric.

Sofa purchases are a large expense for most households. I always encourage my clients to consider reputable, made in the USA, bench made products. Fine brands manufacture products that are high enough quality to be reupholstered and will last for generations to come.

For more in depth design advice, get my free book Shiree’s Design and Lifestyle Tips. It’s an easy step by step guide to building a room or home that has your own unique look.