How to Choose the Right Sofa

Got nagging questions about this big buy? Pull up a seat for the 411.

What Types of Arms Are Cool?

carroway-sofa
Photo by shopsocietal.com

Generally, the rounder the arm, the more traditional the sofa. For a modern pick that’s also pretty timeless, try a tuxedo-style sofa, which has straight arms the same height as the sofa’s back, says designer Elaine Griffin. “It’s the LBD of upholstered seating—it meshes well with any style of room.”

To Buy: Carroway sofa, from $1,400; shopsocietysocial.com.


Sectional or Stand-Alone? I Can’t Decide.

burrard-sofa

Think about your intentions for the space. If it’s more of a formal living room—a stylish spot for occasional entertaining—you’re better off with a stand-alone sofa, which has a sleeker, cleaner line. A sectional is so roomy and inviting that it tends to scream casual (great for lounging, watching TV, napping, or playing games around the coffee table).

To Buy: Burrard sofa, $1,899; article.com.


I’ve Got Kids and Pets. What Fabric Should I Choose?

gentry-sofa
Photo by onekingslane.com

“Cotton velvet is essentially no-fail. It’s plush and wears well,” says designer Young Huh. “Go with a stain-camouflaging pattern in a dark color if you don’t want a ‘no eating on the couch’ rule in your house.” Avoid chenille, which stretches and warps over time.

To Buy: Gentry sofa, $3,495; onekingslane.com.



Foam or Feather Filling? What’s the Difference?

paidge-sofa

A mix is ideal. Instead of all-down (expensive, prone to looking lumpy) or all-foam (resilient but stiff-feeling), try foam-core cushions with feather wraps, says Huh. “This strikes just the right balance between structure and plushness, and it’s also an affordable pick.”

To Buy: Paidge sofa, from $999; westelm.com.

Tip: Tape it out. Before you buy, use blue painter’s tape to “draw” the height, length, and depth right into your living room. This is the best way to check size, says Huh, especially if you fill the outline with empty cardboard boxes, which will give you a true sense of the heft of the piece. Don’t forget to make sure your dream sofa will fit through doorways and halls on its way to its intended spot—particularly if you live in an apartment or an older home with small passageways.


I Have a Small Amount of Wall Space.

sebastian-love-seat
Photo by jonathanadler.com

Resist the love seat. It’s meant to seat two, but since it’s only 60 inches wide, that never really happens. “Two people have to be truly in love to sit together on one,” quips Griffin. Instead, try the decorators’ go-to: a 72-inch “apartment-size” sofa. “It seats two average-size people and is long enough for napping.”

To Buy: Sebastian love seat, $3,595; jonathanadler.com.

Tip: If you’re buying a couch that’s seven feet long or less, choose a single-cushion style, says decorator Chris Barrett. “It’s elegant, and no one has to sit on a crack.”


Seat Depth is Everything

sofa-side-view
Photo by westelm.com

It's the difference between a couch you can slouch into for movie night and one that you (and friends) can sit upright in while chatting over cocktails. Overall depth is less important than the dimension from the front of the seat cushion to the front of the back pillow. Here, a cheat sheet:

18 Inches Deep: Looks cool and modern, but nobody will call this cozy.

22 Inches Deep: Minimum depth for sitting comfortably, but still sleek.

24 Inches Deep: Just deep enough for lying down (solo).

33 Inches Deep: That sink-into-it feel that makes you say, “Maybe I'll just sleep here tonight.”