Living Room Sofa Guide

Buying a sofa for your living room is not rocket science, but there are some things to be aware of in order to make sure you know what you are getting. How important are certain attributes of a sofa to you?

  • Comfort
  • Durability / Longevity
  • Space Requirements
  • Cost

This section is broken down into five parts to use as a guide when shopping for your sofa. Happy Shopping!

Sofa Sizes and Types of Sofas PART TWO:
Sofa Frame Construction and Cushion Fill Materials PART THREE:
Cushion details and Sofa Back Upholstery styles. PART FOUR:
Sofa Base Styles, Sofa Arm Styles, Sofa Accents PART FIVE:
Delivering your Sofa
PART ONE: Sofa Sizes and Sofa Types

  1. SOFA SIZES The size of your sofa will help to define your living room area. For some interiors, there may be only one or two options where a sofa will fit. These areas will dictate what size sofa you can buy. For others, the space may be larger and require the sofa to be larger. Full size sofas come in a variety of standard sizes that go from about 74” through to over 100” wide. GET THIS: Pay attention to the arm size of the sofa. Because they vary so much in size and shape, they can greatly alter your seating space and overall sofa width. For living rooms with limited space, it is best to go with a smaller and straighter arm so that you gain more seating area on your sofa. If you use a large roll arm sofa in a living room with limited space, you will be losing more of the seating area on your sofa due to the larger arm size.
    • Sectional Sofas: A sectional sofa is comprised of smaller individual sofa pieces that are put together to form one large sofa. They offer more seating then a standard full size sofa. They are great for rooms that have a more narrow width where two individual sofas won’t work as well. They are also a good option for large rooms that need definition to the space. They can have as few as two or three pieces and go up from there. Sectionals can also have chaises at one end which are longer pieces that a person can lay on and stretch out. Some sectionals also offer recliner features.
    • Three Cushion Sofas: Sofas with three cushions tend to be larger in width starting from about 80” wide and going up to over 100” in some cases.
    • Two Cushion Sofas: A sofa with two cushions is not only for two people, it just has two separate cushions instead of three. These sofas tend to start a bit smaller, like 70” and can go up to about 90” or more.
    • Bench Cushion Sofa: This type of sofa has one long cushion across it. They can vary in size from 70” to 90” or above, however because it is a single cushion, the larger it gets, the more chance it will lose its shape quickly and begin to buckle throughout. These cushions look best on a sofa that is not larger then 88” wide.
    • Kidney Sofa: A kidney shaped sofa is just what it sounds like, a sofa shaped like a kidney bean. It is curved slightly in the back, and also curves into itself in the front. Because of its unique shape, it looks best when it is viewed from all sides instead of up against a wall.
    • Barrel Back Sofa: A barrel back sofa is a sofa that has a continuous curve through the back and the arms.
    • Camel Back Sofa: A camel back sofa is a sofa that forms a center curve at the back and dips down just like the back of a camel.
    • Loveseat Sofa: A loveseat is a sofa made for two or maybe three people. It is smaller then a full size sofa and starts at around 45” wide and goes up to about 68” wide. It is good for small rooms or in larger rooms to be combined with a full size sofa.

PART TWO: Sofa Frame Construction and Cushion Fill Materials

  1. FRAME CONSTRUCTION The type of sofa frame construction can greatly alter the cost of the sofa as well as the quality. The most durable sofas are made from a kiln dried hardwood like oak or maple. Less durable or lasting sofas are generally made of softer woods like pine. The way in which the frame is joined together will also add to the longevity of the sofa. Better quality sofas are screwed together and use mortise and tenon joints, whereas the lesser quality sofas are stapled and not properly braced together at the edges.
  2. SOFA FILL MATERIAL The fill in your sofa cushions dictate how firm or soft your cushions will be. There are a lot of various synthetic materials as well as some blends of down and synthetic. Here are a few with their pros and cons:
    • All Down: Cushions with all down upholstery are usually the softest of the upholstery options. They are not always comfortable for people who need more of a firm seat, and they tend to sag after prolonged use.
    • Polyurethane Foam: This is a synthetic material that gives a much durable and firmer seat then all down feathers, however may not be as comfortable as down.
    • Combination Fills: These are cushion fills that usually combine a synthetic material and down feathers in order to achieve soft comfort along with more durability and longevity. Some even incorporate a spring system to enhance the strength and durability of the cushion which is noticeably more resilient then only using foam and down inserts.

PART THREE: Cushion details and Sofa Back Upholstery styles and Sofa Bases.

  1. CUSHION DETAILS The functional and decorative details that your cushions have will change the look of your sofa. GET THIS: Cushions can have zipper enclosures which let you take the fabric off of them in order to clean as necessary.
    • Welt or Trim: Welt: A welt is a fabric used on a cushion or pillow in order to cover the seam as well as strengthen the upholstery. Self Welt: A self welt is a welt that matches the rest of the upholstery on the piece. Contrasting Welt: Contrasting welt is a welt that does not match the rest of the upholstery and is meant to stand out. Fabric Trim: A fabric trim is an already made decorative detail that can be applied like a welt along the seam of a cushion or pillow, as well as along other areas of an upholstered sofa to add detail.
    • Cushion Shape: Straight Cushion: A straight cushion ends at the arm of the sofa. T-Cushion: A t-cushion has a piece that runs in front of the sofa arm. (insert photos)
    • Cushion Style: Box-Edge Cushion: A box-edge cushion is a cushion that is shaped like a box with a flat front. It usually has a welt or trim on the top and bottom. Soft Box-Edge Cushion: This is the same as a box-edge cushion except is its less square at the corners to create a softer look. Knife-Edge Cushion: This cushion type has the fabric continue around with a welt or trim in the center. It is a less constructed look then the box-edge cushion.

    SOFA BACK UPHOLSTERY STYLES The back of your sofa upholstery can be detailed in many ways. Here are some examples of standard sofa back upholstery.

    • Tight back: A tight back sofa has tightly upholstered fabric going straight across the back for a more tailored look. The pro side to a tight back sofa is less maintenance to make the sofa look neat by constantly adjusting back cushions. The down side is that it is not as comfortable for lounging. You can add throw pillows to make it a bit more comfy, however you will be back to fluffing and adjusting pillows.
    • Loose cushion back: A sofa with loose cushions mean that the individual cushions along the back of the sofa are part of the sofa visually, however they are loose and can be taken off of the sofa individually. This is a more comfortable alternative to people who like to lounge on their sofas as well as an easier maintenance option since the cushions can be removed for spot cleaning or washing the fabric cover.
    • Attached cushion back: A sofa with an attached cushion back has a similar look as the loose cushion back however the cushions cannot be removed from the sofa. They are attached to the back of the sofa. The pro side to this is they wont have to be adjusted like a loose cushion back, but the down side is the limit the flexibility of removing them from the sofa and cleaning them.
    • Channel back: This sofa has a back that is upholstered in vertical rows. Although is it still a tighter upholstery, because of the channels it may be a bit more comfortable then a plain tight back sofa.
    • Tufted back: This sofa back has tufts in it which can be simple or with buttons.

  1. Sofa base style, Sofa Arm Styles and Sofa Accents To skirt or not to skirt? Depending on your style and maintenance preferences, you may prefer either an exposed wood base or a skirted sofa base. The skirt of a sofa is fabric that hangs on the sofa base, whereas a wood foot or exposed wood frame does not have a skirt.
    • Kick pleat skirt: A kick pleated skirt is a standard skirt that has a pleat at the corners of the skirt and sometimes down the center. It is a nice tailored look for a sofa skirt.
    • Box pleat: A box pleated skirt is a straight, symmetrical skirt that has evenly spaced double pleats throughout the skirt. It is also a nice, tailored look, but less minimal then a standard pleated skirt.
    • Dressmakers skirt: This skirt is a classic look that best shows the pattern of the fabric you are using. The skirt drops down from the top of the back of the sofa as well as from the deck in the front of the sofa.
    • Exposed wood foot: A sofa without a skirt will have an exposed wood foot or frame. There are different types of wood foot options like a bun foot, a tapered foot or a square foot. This look can be traditional or contemporary depending on the type of foot that you choose.
  2. SOFA ARM STYLES The arm of a sofa will not only add the look, but it will also have a big effect on the sofa size. GET THIS: When looking for sofa dimensions, keep in mind that the overall dimensions of the sofa will differ from the interior dimensions of the sofa. A sofa that has a very large arm style may seem big at 90” wide, however since the arm is so large, the interior dimensions may be more like 66” wide. If you need a lot of seating on this sofa, you may want to consider a style with a more narrow arm in order to increase your interior seating dimension.
    • English arm: An English arm sofa is a traditional, yet tailored look for a sofa arm. The arm is fairly narrow and dips down slightly in the center and then comes up again at the front. Since it is not very wide, it will work well in smaller spaces.
    • Roll arm: A roll arm sofa is also a traditional. The look of a roll arm can vary depending on the sofa and size of the arm. A very large or wide roll arm will tend to have a more rustic or country feel to it. A smaller roll arm can look more tailored depending on its detailing.
    • Square arm: A square arm is a contemporary look and can be one of the best fitting arms for small spaces since it can be the most narrow arm style.
    • Tuxedo arm: The tuxedo sofa is a very tailored and contemporary look for a sofa. The arms of the sofa are generally at the same height as the back of the sofa and the overall shape of the arm and frame is very square and straight.
  3. SOFA ACCENTS Sofas have a variety of decorative accents that either come with or can be added onto the sofa.
    • Trims: Decorative trims on the edge of the upholstery can vary from very simple and soft, to overly ornate and contrasting. One popular sofa trim is a rope trim. They come in different thicknesses and colors and can be matched to almost any fabric. Another way to add a finishing touch to the seam of the upholstery is with a self welt. This uses the fabric that is already on the sofa and finishes it in a very subtle way.
    • Nail Heads: Nail heads are decorative metal buttons that are applied all around the edges and arms of the sofa frame. They tend to be a more traditional look and are usually found on leather sofa.

Once you finally have selected the sofa that fits you and your interior, it is important to make sure that you or the delivery people will be able to get it into the space. Most of the time, people forget to measure doorways, elevator cars or stairwells and can have a problem getting the sofa into their home. The best thing to do in this case, is measure any passages the sofa will have to go through and inform the store or better yet, the delivery company of the dimensions for their approval.

In the event you get your sofa and it does not fit through a doorway, don’t panic just yet. There are actually companies who specialize in disassembling and reassembling sofas for just this purpose. It may set you back a couple of hundred dollars additional, but if you already own the sofa and cant return it, at least this is a better option then having the sofa sit in your hallway.

Now, although I mentioned at the beginning that sofa shopping was not rocket science, you can see how involved it can become when choosing your sofa. Someone once told me that they spent more time sofa shopping then they did planning their own wedding! Being prepared when you go shopping will make this process much easier and if you have a good idea of what you are looking for and what questions to ask, you should enjoy the process of choosing your new sofa!