Recently, I read a question from a reader on a popular decorating site asking for advice on what size sofa to purchase for a "small" room. No further information was given--such as the dimension of the room; whether or not there were windows in the room or how many; if a door opened into the room; or even how many people were to use the room. It prompted my memory on how I had last approached new upholstered sofas and chairs for a major decorating project.
Here are five tips I had used.
1. Available Space
Generally, when you rent an apartment or purchase a home or condominium, a floor plan with measured dimensions is available. If you don't have a floor plan, sketch one on a blank or graph piece of paper. Or try the cool floor planner by Pottery Barn where you can even purchase the furniture pieces and accessories you choose.
- Mark off and measure windows. Standard interior door space, particularly for apartments, is about 33" with a door opening into the room around 33-1/2."
- Where dining space shares the living room area, be sure to mark off how much space is to be given for eating. Is it possible or even desirable to place the sofa or some other seating arrangement with its back to the dining area. This may give you more living room space.
- Will your sofa sit with its back against a window that will have floor length draperies or curtains? If so, know that draperies extend from the wall 2" to 4."
- What other furnishings, such as coffee table, side tables, entertainment unit will go into the room. Will you have enough space to use your coffee table for informal dining? (See my post 17 Tall Cocktail Table Ideas For Informal Dining and Entertaining.)
- I'm a strong proponent for an over-sized ottoman that gives you multiple uses: a place to put up your feet; additional seating; and yes, even serve snacks, hors-d'oeuvre and drinks on a tray. Mine is 40" square. It has been used for all three options, as well as a comfortable napping place for a three year old.
- Can you consider adding floor pillows or poufs. (See Floor Pillows and Spice It Up With A Pouf ) Sizes for floor pillows vary. Personally, for real comfort and enjoyment, I would suggest at least 35." A square pouf, I would suggest, should be 20" to 25" while a round one may be most comfortable at 20" diameter. But don't get locked into what sizes are being offered. Get what is comfortable for you, your family and guests.
2. Number of People Using The Space and How Much Entertaining You Envision
Shop for living room seating armed with the number of people who'll be using it. Is there just you? The two of you? Are children and pets in the home? Will you have guests? How frequent? How many? The first two questions are easy. But when it comes to entertaining, mom or dad may want to pop in from time to time.
Or you've decorated your home so spectacular, you're dying to share its loveliness and comfort more often than you originally planned. Your life style will evolve in one direction or another. Still, you can try to anticipate this by considering how you may want to expand on your seating--and leave a "place card" space for it, such as where could you later add a pouf.
3. Take The Time To Know Your Style
Your style serves as a jumping off point for your decor. It's one of the key elements to a cohesive design. Interior decorators and designers tease out this information from their clients. Professionals understand where to "bend" design rules for a particular style to suit their clients individual tastes and life styles. You can do this too. A skirted sofa is very much at home in such decors as traditional, new traditional, contemporary and shabby chic. Grouped with modern decor pieces, the overall composition can be confusing.
For example, the skirted sofa in this next image seams to work. It "balances" or provides a counterpoint to the legginess of the Wassily chairs. The straight lines of the sofa iterate the vertical straight lines in the chairs, providing some visual cohesiveness. However, the skirted sofa makes it difficult to determine the design intention. One side of the room feels strongly modern. The two Wassily chairs have a very strong modern architectural presence and dominates the room, along with the chrome based pedestal chair and glass and chrome coffee table.
Note here that a Wassily chair works well in this contemporary design and with a contemporary sectional seating that has a fabric (leather?) base substantial enough to imply skirted seating.
4. Look For Quality
Quality in upholstered sofas and chairs construction and fabric used. I last bought new sofas about 12 years ago. They were custom made from Henrendon. My decision was based upon construction; the ability to select features and customize the design; and the Henrendon reputation for exceptional quality--and that was never going to buy another sofa again. About a year after that I retired and became a sales associate with Calico Corners, a national home decor store. The store had at that time only recently offered custom made furniture. Much to my surprise, the construction for sofas and chairs was the same as Henrendon--and at a cheaper price! This taught me that knowing the construction of a piece of furniture was just as important as knowing who made it.
Excerpts from Buyer's Guide to Upholstered Furniture by Keith Reding, suggest the following:
Mr. Reding goes on to describe a second type of frame called "sinuous." It "offers a somewhat softer seat and can be used in pieces that sit lower to the ground as in many contemporary designs. While less costly to produce, it is not necessarily the sign of an inferior product."
Other critical features for upholstered sofas and chairs are found in the seat and back cushions. (Note that these terms are used in the United States. In most other countries, cushions refer to decorative throw pillow.) What I liked about Calico Corners was the variety of cushions offered based upon your personal requirements. You may also want to utilize the Calico Corners Quality Checklist. It's a great resource to take with you when you shop.
In general, there are three types:
- High density polyurethane foam wrapped in Dacron (least expensive);
- Spring-Down cushions consist of innerspring coils surrounded by foam and wrapped in Dacron.; and
- Blendown or all down cushions (most expensive).
I once transformed a 25-year-old sofa by simply ordering new back and seat cushions filled with down, then covered with a custom made slipcover. The sofa frame was in excellent condition and became a fabulous shabby chic statement piece in a guest bedroom:
5. Recycle an old but well constructed upholstered furniture piece.
A perfect example of getting the right seating for your space, is simply to recycle an old but well constructed upholstered furniture sofa and chair. Consider reupholstering or slipcovers. (See The Case For A Custom Made Slipcover. ) If you don't already have an old sofa or chair in your home, flea markets, state auction sales and antique or even consignment stores are the perfect places to look. You'll most likely find smaller pieces due to the continue trend of those who upscale to mansion-size homes with mansion-size rooms.
Living in an apartment or condo? Here are some standard Seating Sizes
Before closing, I thought perhaps you would like to be armed with standard upholstered furniture sizes. Of course, custom made furniture is tailored to your size. And many retailers will offer a variety of sizes for the same design piece.
- Sofa: 3 seat cushion is generally 35" deep and 84" long.
- Love seats run 35" deep and 60" long
- Armchairs are often 35" deep and 35" wide
- Sectional pieces will vary along with the design itself. It's best to get sizes for each piece from the retailer. Then compare that to your floor space.
- Chaise lounge dimensions will also vary but can be found as 33" wide and 67" long or 73" long. Be sure to get clarification on whether or not the dimensions given are inside or outside dimensions. If there is a arm or even a rolled arm, be sure it is included in the given size. Note too that it is ordered by right or left arm.
- Wing chairs and club chairs are another upholstered pieces that seems to vary in size; and in fact, has gotten smaller over the past years. It's best to just get an accurate measurement from the retailer.
- For dining side chairs, depth is generally 18" with an 18" width
- Dining arm chairs will run 18" deep but 22" wide.
Well constructed sofas and chairs will last for decades. Most may even survive the presence of very active children and young people in the household. Regardless of what your situation is, shop for furniture armed with good information--and that includes getting advice and suggestions.