Sofa Shopping: Finding the Perfect Fit for Your Home

Leigh Hanlon

With great power comes great responsibility, and your sofa easily can become the superhero, or supervillain, of your home.

“A sofa is a powerful piece of furniture,” warns Carol Stolt of the American Society of Interior Designers’ Illinois chapter. “If it doesn’t work with the space, it can negatively affect the overall aesthetic and flow of the room.”

Stolt describes the worst sofas she has seen as “misfits”: They’re the wrong style, too big, too small, or in a color that simply doesn’t fit.

Differences between sofas and couches

First, let’s make sure we define the problem. As in, is there really a difference between a couch and a sofa, or are these pieces the tomaytoes and tomahtoes of the furniture world?

“A sofa is an upholstered piece of furniture that can seat two or more people,” Stolt explains. “Unlike a couch, it is a more structured, formal piece of furniture and must have arms on both ends. Alternatively, a couch could have no arms (think of a sectional) and often is more informal.”

Choosing the right sofa

This dominant piece of furniture typically becomes its room’s focal point and sets the tone for all the other pieces, including companion accessories like ottomans, chairs or contrasting pieces. “Essentially, (your sofa) sets the direction for the space,” Stolt says.

Milano Leather Living Room Furniture

Choosing the right sofa involves much more than measuring its length and width. Color, fabrics and materials used in the furniture’s construction all play a part. An interior designer can help in making these decisions, Stolt says.

But there’s one area in which a test drive is essential: comfort. Legion are those who’ve sat briefly on a showroom sofa, decided it felt wonderful — and then found that once the thing is home, it felt as comfy as concrete.

The types of springs used in the sofa can make a big difference in comfort, Stolt says. Buyers will simply have to sit in a sofa to determine how it feels. Do not underestimate the importance of this aspect of comparison shopping, she urges.

“Sitting for a few moments and then standing up usually isn’t sufficient. You actually have to sit in the sofa for a relatively long period of time so that you can relax. As the tension leaves your body, the sofa will feel completely different. We recommend assessing how you feel after 20 minutes.”

It turns out that when it comes to sofas, looks can be deceiving. “In fact,” Stolt says, “there is some seating that appears uncomfortable but is actually quite comfortable — and vice versa. It has to do with personal comfort and how the piece fits your body ergonomically.”

The test drive also applies to sofa beds, which Stolt says can offer an efficient dual use of space. And keep that 20-minute rule in mind: Test drive for 20 minutes in both sofa and bed modes.

Elliot Fabric Sofa

Sofa trends

In terms of looks, ASID members are seeing a number of trends. Stolt says popular fabrics include ikat (a patterned weave of tie-dyed yarn), big bold prints and color blocking.

If you’d like to experiment with colors and patterns and not be tied down, slip covers are an option. “They are usually washable, and, therefore, easily maintained,” Stolt says. “They can give a new life and look to an older piece of furniture and in that way are a very eco-friendly solution.” One warning, however: Pay attention to size and fit so that the result isn’t sloppy.

And now for the fun stuff. Whenever you feel the whimsy to add a splash of color or introduce a new texture, it’s always appropriate to give your sofa extra personality with a pillow that offers a signature look, size and shape.

Follow this guidance and your sofa can truly be a superhero.