How to choose the right sofa

A sofa can be amongst the most expensive furniture decisions you will make and you should expect one to last for a decent amount of time.  Styles come and go and our tastes change over the years, so with such a significant investment you need to carefully consider this choice. I have some tips to show you how to choose the right sofa below.

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Choosing the right sofa style

Firstly you need to consider the overall look for your living area.  Do you have a particular style that you love?  Perhaps a Coastal look or a Bohemian style.  Or do you love a crisp, contemporary look without too many frills?  Ensure that you determine the style that you like to help you to decide which sofa style is right for you.

How to choose the right sofa
One World Collection

A classic look with generous arms and higher back cushions is suitable for a country style or a more formal look.  These sofas are also suited to a Hamptons Style or a British Colonial look. They're not dated – quite the opposite – they are just classic.  I also find them extremely comfortable.

How to choose the right sofa
Early Settler

A more contemporary look is achieved with a sleeker style with slimmer arms and cushions and a slightly lower back.  Still very comfortable and relaxed looking.

How to choose the right sofa
Frankie sofa from Lounge Lovers

My advice is to choose a sofa that is fairly simple in design.  Either the more classic look or a slightly more contemporary version.  You can then add different furniture, accent lamps, cushions and throws to give you a different look.  Often the style of the room can be subtly changed with the style of side and coffee table or the type of lamp.

How to choose the right sofa
Birkshire fabric slip cover sofa

If you do opt for a sofa with slip covers, you can change the look of the sofa by purchasing a second set of slip covers in a different colour.  This is the same sofa in white linen and navy linen and you get a completely different look.  If you find a sofa that you love, you can also use it in different rooms and it is not noticeable that they are the same.

How to choose the right sofa
Birkshire sofa from Cafe Lighting

Remember that different styles can be achieved with accessories too.

For example the contemporary Bohemian style introduces layered rugs, greenery, mid-century occasional chairs and distinctive wall hangings.  You will notice browsing through images of the look that the sofas are all pretty classic.

Scandi Style is definitely designed by the colour scheme, mid-century furniture and one off occasional chairs.  I would recommend a more slimline style sofa for this look.  Tan leather works perfectly with this style.

How to choose the right sofa
Nadia sofa from Lounge Lovers
How to choose the right sofa
Interior Secrets

How to choose the right sofa colour

Generally if you want longevity from your purchase I would recommend something neutral.  We no longer tend to decorate with the more traditional 3 piece suite and it is far preferable to have more of an eclectic range of furniture.  Where once we wanted everything to match, we now want items to work together well.

This does mean that decorating a room can be more challenging.  However, this means that you can define the style you want with contrasting occasional chairs.  By purchasing a classic or slightly more contemporary sofa in a neutral tone, you have a lot of possibilities to develop your favourite look.

I do however love it when people choose a statement colour for their sofa.  I originally trained as a colour specialist because I love colour, so it does go against the grain somewhat to keep recommending neutrals.  This gorgeous green sofa below is a fabulous statement piece.

How to choose the right sofa
Early Settler

I would just caution you to ensure you absolutely love the colour as this will be a strong focal point in your room and will dictate the look.  Remember too that you can bring in the colour with an occasional chair which is easier to either re-upholster or to change at some point.

Choosing the right upholstery

I'm not going to go into too much detail here as I have written a very detailed post on how to choose the right upholstery.  The key points that you should consider are:

  • Does your sofa have removable cushions?  If so then check whether you can machine wash them or they need to be dry cleaned. Sometimes cushion covers are removeable, but have to be dry cleaned which can get very costly so you will need to factor this into your budget.
  • How much wear and tear will the sofa receive.  Do you have a large family?  Is the sofa in a formal reading room or a much used Rumpus?  If it does get a lot of use then you need to consider the quality of the upholstery, how easily it can be cleaned and the colour.
  • Leather sofas can be a great option for living rooms.  Leather still needs to be maintained, but can withstand rougher treatment.
  • Many fabrics now have great stain removal properties as they have been pre-treated.  Look out for this as there are some very good quality fabrics on the market, which although they may increase the initial cost of the sofa, will repay your investment when it comes to longevity.
  • Some sofa suppliers will also offer insurance for your sofa to guard against accidental damage.  This can be relatively inexpensive and is a good option if you have a family or pets.
How to choose the right sofa
Lounge Lovers

This sofa above has removable covers, which I think is a must for a white sofa.

Related: How to choose the right upholstery fabric

How to measure for the right sofa

In addition to ensuring that your choice of sofa will fit properly into your space you need to consider these dimensions too:

Overall Depth: This is the measurement from the back of the sofa to the edge of the front cushion.  This is important to consider the overall amount of space that the sofa will take up.  Generally sofas are between 80-110cm in depth

Seat Depth:  This is another thing all together and something you have probably not considered.  This is the measurement from the front of the back cushion to the edge of the seat cushion.  This can vary and is often in proportion to the overall depth.  Generally around 55cm is comfortable for a standard height person.  However, you need to consider how tall the people are that will be using the sofa and whether you like to curl up with your feet underneath you.  In this case you will need a seat with more depth.  You can always add scatter cushions for comfort, but ideally you should be able to sit comfortably with your feet on the floor.

Width: This is straight forward but if you decide that you would like to seat more people but the room just falls short, then choose a design with slimline arms to give you more seating space.

Height: This isn't too much of an issue unless you don't want to block a view.  However you do need to ensure that you are considering the height of the back seat cushion rather than the overall height.  A sofa may be higher because it has a different base or feet.  This is important for tall people as the seat should be at a comfortable height, but you also need to consider the height of the actual back supporting cushion to ensure it will give you the support that you need.

How to consider space planning as part of your sofa measurements

The easiest way to see if your choice of sofa will fit into your room is to measure it out and then spread out paper or towels etc. on the floor so that you can see exactly how much space the sofa will take up.  This works well visually rather than just measuring.  By doing this you can see how it will relate to other pieces that you already have in the space, for example, chairs, coffee and side tables.

You always need to consider how you move around the room.  Are you leaving enough space to access the sofa and any opening doors in the room?  Is there adequate space between the coffee table and seating? Remember you need to be able to comfortably cross your legs.

A note on Modular Sofas

Modular sofas are usually sold by individual elements and this can make measuring tricky.  It does also mean that there is usually a combination that will fit into your space and style of living.  Remember when you select a modular sofa to include end and corner pieces and if you are having a chaise return then ensure you choose the correct side – left or right!

How to choose the right sofa
Lounge Lovers

Cushion filling

Always consider the filling of the seat and back cushions.  Feathers will relax and collapse with your shape and need frequent plumping up to keep looking tidy.  The messiness of a feather seat cushion can also be its appeal if you like a very relaxed and comfortable look.  If you don't though this could drive you mad!

I like a combination of feathers and high resilience foam.  Sometimes a seat cushion may have a different filling to a back cushion which doesn't have to withstand the weight.  Also look out for seat cushions with added comfort wrap as this hides small imperfections and gives the seat a nicely finished rounded look.

Often if you see a sofa that is very affordable it may be that the cushion filling is not up to scratch and usually wouldn't have a comfort wrap.  These seem like small issues, but will add to the longevity and everyday comfort of the sofa.

Don't forget about the feet

You have decided on the style, colour, upholstery and size and then you're asked in the shop about the feet.  This is something you may not have considered, but often sofas come with a range of options.  You may be asked to choose between either timber or metal feet and if timber then the type – perhaps light oak through to a dark Wenge.

You therefore need to consider the colour and type of flooring that you have and the colour of the timber in your room.  I generally find that dark timber feet are less noticeable and this can work well on dark carpet, even if the other timbers in the room are paler.

It's easy if you have a timber floor because you can just match to that, but if the sofa is on a rug or carpet this is something you should consider for the overall look of the room.

How to choose the right sofa


Before making an important decision like this it is useful to put together a mood board.  I have a FREE e-book showing you how to put a mood board together.  You can download this from my FREE Resource Library.

I also have a dedicated post to help you to define your decorating style here.

If you would like to read more about all the different styles to see which one is right for you I have lots more reading here:

5 key elements of Scandi Style

My Guide to French Provincial Style

Hamptons Style – 7 steps to achieve this look

4 key elements of Contemporary Bohemian Style

Australian Coastal Style – 7 steps to achieve this look

My Guide to Country Style


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