Buying Guide: Sofas

Find the right furniture for your home with our sofa buying guide, packed with professional interior design advice.


Buying Guides

Investing in a sofa for your living room is one of the key purchases you’ll make in your home. Aside from your bed, it will be one of the most loved and well used pieces of furniture you own.

As with most design projects, the sofa you choose should be guided by practical considerations. It’s wise to spend some time in advance considering the style, size and firmness of your desired sofa before getting into the detail of fabric and colours.

To help you make the right decisions and avoid costly mistakes, the Houseology design team have gathered their top tips for buying the perfect sofa for you.

Sofa buying guide - &Tradition FLY Sofa

01.Types of sofa

The shape and style of your sofa and chairs will dominate the overall design scheme of your room so take time to make sure you get this right. What’s your style? Sofas and chairs come in a myriad of shapes and sizes and set the tone of the space. Are you looking for a contemporary linen sofa or a more opulent button-backed velour number?

Is the sofa for a busy family lounge full of young children and toys, or is it a more grown-up and quiet space to relax in? How many people do you want to seat in the room? Identifying your lifestyle and the typical usage of the sofa in the room will also influence your decisions here. Busy kids’ lounges are perfect for large soft, leather clad sofas which are built for durability; while a sophisticated mature space lends itself to more formal shapes and lighter fabrics.

Is the sofa for a TV room? Consider where your television will be in relation to your sofa – do you lie lengthways to watch TV or will the sofa sit facing forward with your entertainment directly ahead? Do you want a deeper sofa for comfort or a more upright shape for functionality?

Having a basic understanding of the layout of the room and how you and the family use it will help you find the perfect sofa.

Search online for inspiration. Gather magazines and cut-outs from catalogues to learn more about the sofas and styles that appeal to you. Look at the shapes and style and available materials and make a scrapbook of shapes and fabric swatches until you get a clear idea of the sofa style that works for you and your budget.

sofa buying guide - grey sofa

02.Sofa sizes

Once you know the shapes and styles you like, the next decision is all about scale and proportion. The size of your room will determine the size of your sofa. Think about the room as it is now and consider any furniture that already lives in that space. Will your furniture be against the wall or will it be used to help divide an open-plan room? Also consider practical points such as, do you need the best sofa for back support or do you want a couch you can lie comfortably on rather than sit upright?

Measure the room carefully along with any existing furniture – your sofa should fit comfortably in the room and leave enough space to move around without having to squeeze past furniture.

A simple way of figuring out what size or combination of sofa and chairs works in the room, is to use newspaper or masking tape to outline the dimensions of the different pieces on the floor before you buy. The right combination should feel proportional and far enough from the walls and other furniture so that there’s ample room to move around.

Finally, consider the shape of the space and width of the doorframe; if you have a narrow space or live in a flat with a small stairwell and narrow front door, delivering your sofa may present a problem. Measure everything to make sure it will fit when delivered and, if you’re dealing with narrow halls and doors, look for a sofa that can be partly assembled after it has arrived.

Consider the size of your room and the sofa’s relationship to it. If your sofa is too big, the room will feel cluttered and closed-off. Too small and it will make the room feel bare and oversized.

If space is an issue, lower backed sofas with fixed cushions and simple arms will help to open up the room and make things feel proportional. If you are creating seating in a larger, open-plan space, think about how modular L-shaped sofas or classic Chesterfield styles can help to divide the room and make it feel cosy and welcoming.

Think about any fixed architectural features in the room such as built-in bookshelves, fireplaces or radiators, and make sure there will be enough space between them and the sofa. A good rule of thumb is to position your sofa far enough from the radiator that you can’t feel direct heat coming off it – this will guard against any heat damage or cracking if the sofa is made with natural materials like leather.

03.Sofa styles

With the practical considerations out of the way you can now begin thinking about the style of the sofa itself and how it will complement your room’s design and clearly define your sense of style. Here’s how you can choose a sofa that fits with one of our three signature styles:

Choose sofas made from natural materials like leather or cotton and steer towards a soft neutral palette of grey, taupe or chocolate brown.

Luxurious details like piping and button detailing will elevate the look and feel of your sofa. Materials like cashmere, velvet and soft sheen fabrics are timeless and sophisticated.

A monochrome colour palette for your sofa is the perfect canvas for bright, colourful accents and soft furnishings. Choose modular or L-shaped sofas to channel a contemporary look.

sofa buying guide - styles

04.Sofa frames

A timber frame is the skeleton of your sofa or chair and is a main contributor to the overall shape and structure of the piece. A good upholsterer uses sustainable solid hardwood frames such as beech, oak or ash typically from European forests, with solid construction techniques that include dowel and dovetail joints with additional strengthening from glues and screwed corner blocks. Due to their quality and durability, this type of frame normally comes with an extended guarantee of up to 15 years.

Softwood frames like pine or plywood with only glued and screwed joints will help to bring the cost of a sofa down, however they seriously compromise the quality and durability of the finished product and don’t typically have guarantees beyond 12 months.

When you’re considering the design of your sofa, it’s the frame that determines the look of the finished piece. This is built up by three key elements that influence the overall shape of the finished and determine if the sofa is right for your style:

The back
The back of the sofa is typically fixed, cushioned or scattered. In each case, the back of the sofa is upholstered with fabric and filling. A fixed back sofa however, is sprung much like the seat in order to offer a more formal style such as a Chesterfield sofa. A cushion back sofa has additional fixed cushions that determine the shape of the sofa and offer back support. A scatter back sofa is made up of multiple scattered cushions which are loosely arranged to cover the back of the sofa.

The arms
The style of the arms is not just important to the overall look of the sofa but to its size as well. Square arms will give a contemporary look and come in a variety of widths and heights. If you need a sofa for a smaller space, square arms feel streamlined and compact. Scroll arms on the other hand are more traditional – they extend beyond the frame of the couch and give the appearance of a plush, luxurious seat. An ornate scroll or Howard arm will suit a period home best and for a more contemporary aesthetic, opt for flared or square arms to channel modernity into your scheme.

The legs
Even though they are often hidden at the bottom of the sofa, the legs are the final detail in your sofa that cements the overall style. You may choose to have the legs of your sofa exposed or hidden under glides. Bun feet are a very popular choice, working in both classic and contemporary rooms, while turned legs lend themselves directly to more traditional schemes. For a great mix of contemporary and classic styles, a timber plinth will frame a sofa beautifully and tapered style legs will add height and elegance.

sofa buying guide - frames

05.Sofa Support

Layered on the timber frame seat and back, is the support or suspension system of your sofa or chair. This determines the comfort level or bounce your sofa will have, much like a mattress. High quality traditional sofas and chairs tend to have an eight-way, hand-tied traditional coil spring system built into the seat of the frame combined with webbing to support the cushions. Alternative high quality systems include pocket sprung coils.

Less expensive sofas use cheaper methods of coil, serpentine or zig zag springs on the seats and backs.

06.Sofa fillings

The filling you choose for your seat and back cushion on your sofa can make all the difference to how much you enjoy using it. Consider what you use the sofa for most – soft sofas with deep cushions are ideal for curling up in front of a movie, while firmer seats that support your posture work better for reading and entertaining. Cushion fillings are much like pillow fillings and there are three key types:

This is the primary filling material in most upholstery and gives the firmest experience, always retaining its shape however this doesn’t make it the most comfortable.

Fibre, or hollow fibre as it can be known, is a man-made synthetic material – much like the inner of a synthetic duvet - that offers medium comfort. The density and weight of the fibre will influence the level of comfort and it has a spring back quality that you don’t get with feathers. Cushions made form fibre alone will still need plumped up regularly.

Feather offers a soft, luxurious and relaxed solution and the density of the feathers determines the shape and comfort of the seat or back. Remember, feather cushions need constant plumping to retain their shape so take this into consideration if you are choosing a feather filling.

sofa buying guide - fillings

Many upholsters have perfected excellent combinations of these three materials to produce the optimum in support, comfort and shape. The best combination tends to be an inner foam core wrapped with hollow fill fibre and layered with feathers to create the most comfortable cushion that doesn’t need regular plumping.

07.Sofa upholstery fabrics

Not only does the upholstery fabric you choose finalise the look and style of your sofa, it is probably the biggest single cost in the sofa manufacture. There are thousands of upholstery fabrics on the market and these often differ from curtain and other soft furnishing fabrics in their weave and construction as they need to be more durable and practical.

There are two types of upholstery materials – man-made and natural - both of which come in fabric or leather finishes. These are classed according to usage from light and general domestic to contract qualities and all upholstery fabrics also have a Martindale rub test value that identifies how durable they are.

As with all foams and fillings in your sofa, all upholstery fabric sold in the UK must also be flame retardant and comply with UK Fire Regulations.

When it comes to choosing your fabric, as you did with the shape and scale of your sofa, consider the usage of your sofa and the style of your room. Some fabrics such as cottons and linens have an inherently casual look and feel, while others such as velours, jacquards and woven fabrics are more formal.

Leather and hard-wearing microfibers are classic examples of materials that can work across both relaxed and formal styles.

To pick your fabric, collect as many samples and swatches as you can and pin them up in your room for a week or so. Look at them at different times of the day and consider all the things that will be going on in the room scheme and in your day-to-day life. Match them up with other carpet, wood or wallpaper samples that you have and look for a common colour tone or theme in the collection you put together.

Sofa buying guide - upholstery

08.Chair buying guide

Chairs are as practical as they are decorative – they will add balance and symmetry to a room, provide additional seating and complement a room’s design through materials and finishes.

The chairs you choose in your home should be guided first and foremost by function – they need to be fit for purpose and meet the demands of your lifestyle. A dining room chair should be sturdy and comfortable enough that your guests can sit comfortably through a long dinner party, while an armchair in your living room or home office should be soft and welcoming, making it easy to get lost in a good book.

Chairs are particularly useful in small spaces and in some cases are more practical than a large sofa. You can group them together to create conversation spaces and they can be moved around the room to accommodate different activities as they arise.

The style of your designer chairs will help to define your room, so determine whether or not you want your chairs to make a key statement through fabric and shape or play down to bring other more prominent room features to the fore. While sofas tend to be a bigger investment, chairs are more affordable and are a great way to experiment with bolder designs and colours as you put together your design.

Consider how shape can evoke a certain style – you can use sharp lines and man-made materials to create a deconstructed urban style, or seek out softer, more natural materials and finishes to reinforce a relaxed, chic style.

designer chairs