Kitting out your home with a new sofa and chairs can be an exciting, but overwhelming and expensive exercise. Should you choose leather or fabric? Dark or light finishes? A set or single pieces? This guide will give you the answers …
Sofas are the statement pieces in your home you want to get right. Not too hard, not too soft, but just the right amount of comfort, style and practicality. But with an endless amount of shapes, sizes, finishes and prices, choosing the perfect sofa, or couch, that strikes the perfect balance between aesthetics, practicality and price can be a tad, well, overwhelming. Make the right decision for you, your home, your style and your needs with this insider sofa knowledge and advice…
Tip 1. Consider Your Practical Needs
The sofa and chairs you choose will take pride and place in your living spaces, so you want something that works for everyone, looks fabulous and meets your practical requirements. “If you have children, pets, or intend to eat food on the sofa, leather or using fabric slip covers over your sofa are the better options,” explains Chrissie Jeffery, Creative Director for No Chintz Textiles and Soft Furnishings, who specialise in furniture upholstery, fabrics and interior decorating. “Animal hair is difficult to remove from fabric, whereas slip covers can be easily washed. But while leather requires a lot of care and regular maintenance, it can be wiped down.” (see Leather & Fabrics tips below).
The Designers Guild Lino Sofa features deep fixed seats and luxurious back cushions for total relaxation. There’s a choice of three arm styles so you can customise this sofa to suit any interior and modular options are available for large or small families.
FAST FACT: “Originally sofas were not the same as we know them in the modern world, which is fully upholstered front, back, arms, seat, and a spring base,” explains Chrissie. “They started very simply as a timber bench with cushions on it. Then, over time as people began looking for more comfort, they added feather, padding and extra layers, cushioning backs and seats, and padding the arms – you can see that in 18th Century settees, where the timber upholstered and very simple settees had a square back. They were not that comfortable, but they do resemble the modern day sofa. There is certainly a relationship between the sofa we use today and the evolution of cars post World War 1, which were developed with very comfortable spring seats in them. It was around the same time as the development of the inner spring that comfortable couches and mattresses started being made for the home.”
Designers Guilds Harper Bench pays homage to 18th Century sofa designs, with a high back and bench style.
Tip 2. Decide between a Suite or Mix ‘n Matched Chairs & Sofas
A suite is a sofa (two seater or more), with two arm chairs all covered in the same fabric, but while this has been the popular choice for decades, the trend is changing. “Suites are no longer fashionable,” Chrissie says. “You still see them in retail stores, but that’s because it’s easy for manufacturers and retailers to sell one set covered in the same fabric than single pieces. I’ve been interior decorating for more than 30 years, and I haven’t seen suites in homes for a long time. When you look at interesting homes, what you tend to see is a sofa in one fabric and the two chairs in different fabrics, which is more the trend. People no longer want to see too much of the same thing in the room. Instead, they’re opting for one chair in the same colour as the sofa, but in a different texture or fabric, or the chairs can be from completely different sets. As long as they sit well together, it’s great to mix them up.”
Not sure how to choose pieces that will work together? Chrissie says if you’re having a sofa and two single chairs from different sets, ensure the seat heights are roughly the same. “The seat height of most sofas off the ground is roughly 45-50cm, depending on the comfort level,” she explains. “If they’re any lower they’re difficult to get in and out of, especially for older people. As you move on in life, you tend to want your own chair because you feel more cocooned and it holds you better, and when you go to get up, the arms offer support. Whereas if you’re young, you don’t mind having something that is very deep and slouchy because you’re more mobile. It’s all about comfort for the individual.”
Designers Guild Orbit Sofa with a high back two seater sofa and two curvaceous chairs that work well together in an ecclect mix of bright colours to create unity. Featuring Varese Apple on seat cushions and Varese Raven on sofa frame. Chair features Brera lino Ocean on seat with Brera lino Crocus.
Tip 3. Set your Budget. Cheap Sofas versus Expensive…
So what’s the difference between a $500 sofa and a $15,000 sofa? It’s all in the construction of the frame. “You can get a cheap sofa but the construction won’t last,” explains Chrissie. “A cheap construction tends to be made from particle board, and stapled or glued together. You may have it for five years, but then it becomes landfill because the frame collapses, the cushioning sags, and they often can’t be fixed or reupholstered. Whereas a really well constructed sofa may have a metal frame that has bolts and springs and should last 15 years or sometimes much longer. Good timber frames are often made using dowel can be repaired really easily and are strong for years. If something is cheap, you can bet your bottom dollar that when you pull all the top off, what’s underneath is as cheaply put together as the fabric on it.”
David Marks is the Sales & Marketing Director for Radford, the exclusive Australian distributor for Designers Guild, who make high quality fabrics and sofas. David says the sofa Designers Guild designs tend to range from reinvented vintage to modern minimalism, and all are built to last. “They’re made with Italian manufacturing using the latest techniques and finished with distinctive detailing,” he explains.
Ethical Buying: For most people, budget plays a big part in their sofa choice. But investing more money now can pay dividends in the long term, for both you and the environment. “We’re seeing a lot of cheap furniture constructed overseas using, sadly, rare timbers from the rainforests,” explains Chrissie. “Ethical buying is really important and people should think twice before buying inexpensive furniture from endangered rainforests because the long term costs and implications of that may be much dearer for the environment than what it’s costing us.”
Tip 4. Choose your Size
The decision to go for a two or three seater usually comes down to your house size, and how long you plan on having your sofa. But this can sometimes be costly long term. “When you start buying furniture, you choose a smaller sofa because you live in a small house or apartment,” explains Chrissie. “But then you move into your next phase, have a family and upsize and your sofa looks too small, so you buy a bigger one. Then when you get older, you downsize and want a smaller living space and sofa again.” The best option? “If you buy a small and large sofa and try to use them around your home, you can recover them, and use them for life,” suggest Chrissie. “Just look after them, and have them reupholstered well by an experienced person who knows what they are doing. If you’re ever in doubt, speak to the qualified team at No Chintz. We recover furniture at all different levels and want you to make the right decision for you, your home, your style and your practical requirements. Tell us if it’s used by children, animals, or going to be placed in the sun. Don’t just choose a fabric because you like the look of it – you need to choose a fabric that will perform. And we can help you do that.”
Designers Guild Wedge Chair. Single chairs work well with both two, three and four seater sofas, with crisp clean cut angular lines reminiscent of the furniture from the 50’s and 60’s.
A stunning Designers Guild Harper Bench with Arms, referred to as a ‘loveseat’. “A loveseat is a one and a half seater, so named because it’s small, intimate, and if you sat on this with someone you’d be close to them,” explains Chrissie. “This style goes back to the original sofa timber frame, with comfortable padding added to the seat. The high backs were originally designed as a draft stopper, as often the traditional English country homes were cold and drafts came in through the windows, where the sofas were placed.”
The Designers Guild Orbit three seater with the individual high sided design creates a unique cocoon style sofa, works a treat in a variety of settings with varied sofa sizes.
Designers Guild Modular range has ample room for the whole family providing comfort, style and form in many combinations.
Tip 5. Decide if Fabric’s a Better Choice for your Needs
Fabric sofas are great, have a soft feel and won’t stick to you like leather does in summer. Even better, there are endless ways to update their looks. “They can be reupholstered, so if you invest in a well-constructed frame, it can last a lifetime,” explains Chrissie. “Fabric sofa frames can also often be altered, from the look of the legs or arms, for example, or you can change the skirting. You can also use slip covers easily, which are great for washing or changing the fabric look. If you are having your sofa upholstered, choose pre-shrunk fabrics, as some fabrics like linen are moisture absorbent and can shrink over time.”
David says that many people spend their time choosing the furniture, and then choosing the fabric as an after-thought. “But the fabric is what you feel and touch – you don’t sit on furniture, you sit on the fabric that covers the furniture,” he explains. “Designers Guild is first and foremost a fabric design house, fabric design is undoubtedly what they do well and lead the industry with. And they’re furniture represents the unity of innovative design and the diversity of their fabric offering. The best thing to do is start with the fabric selection, and then choose your furniture design – or at least give it equal consideration. Be brave with colour, pattern and texture, and consider how you will be dressing up the sofa with cushions and throws. There is a lot of choice and a lot to weigh up.”
One sofa three fabric ways. The Designers Guild Smooth Sofa in different fabrics and colour palettes shows how your fabric choice can effect the mood and style of a room.
Designers Guild Smooth Sofa in two tones.
Designers Guild Smooth Sofa with a French Provincial feel.
Tip 6: Understand the Pros and Cons of Leather
Leather may seem like the best choice, but be prepared to look after it. “Just like a good leather handbag or your skin, you need to look leather using a conditioner monthly to treat it, or it will dry and crack,” advises Chrissie. “Dark leather can wear over time, while light leather can look dirty if not regularly wiped down. People with small children tend to buy leather because they believe they are easier to maintain but this is not necessarily true. It is the better option if you have pets that lose hair, but be mindful of claw scratches. The downside of leather is that if you get tired of it or if looks grubby, and even if it’s a great frame, it’s very difficult to update, recover or alter. If you do choose this option, make sure you buy the best leather you can and you care for it.”
Dark antique leather work with buttons.
Tip 7. Getting your Cushioning Just Right: Latex, Foam, Feather & Polyester
The inner cushioning is just as important as the frame for that uber comfy feeling and longevity, but what’s the difference? “Cushions are often foam or foam with a feather wrap,” explains Chrissie. “There are lots of different grades of foam commonly used, and there’s also the rebirth of latex back into cushions, which are extremely comfortable. The downside is latex harden with age, whereas foam tends to collapse or go softer with age.”
Cushion sagging is one of the biggest sofa complaints – no one wants to get stuck in a hole! The culprit? Bad quality polyester. “We’ve found cushioned bedheads that have been made with so much polyester that when someone gently leant against it, the whole thing collapsed,” explains Chrissie. “This is because the heat of the body compression compacts the polyester and it won’t bounce back. The cheaper the polyester, the less bounce it has. Some companies like Dupont have invented polyester that is nearly as good as feather. But while it still won’t have the lifespan of feather, it’s pretty good for the first five years of its life. The only thing that doesn’t age is feather. Feather is the same from the moment you buy it for many years to come. However, you do need to shake feather to get the air back into it. For supreme comfort, the best choice is a mixture of foam or a latex bag with feather bag over the top.”
x Miss Stitched