In my profession, getting the couch right is getting the client right. A couch needs to complement the family’s needs. A couch needs to be stylish. A couch needs to fit the budget.
The three traits everyone needs to consider are COST, COMFORT and STYLE. And while all three of these needs are equally important, this is the order that finds you your perfect couch.
Now to finding the perfect sofa/couch for your needs:
COST: What you can spend for a couch is where to begin. Like with all things decor, the quicker you nip the fantasy of that $8,000 couch when you’ve got $1,500 to spend, the better. If you are on a budget, you are on a budget. The good news is that there are couches out there for every budget. If a client has $2000- $3000 and beyond, I start at stores like Room & Board and Mitchell Gold for couches that are made well, use quality and sustainable materials and have a plethora of custom upholstery options. I use the big box stores like CB2 and West Elm for when I have under $1500 to spend and still want a couch with some style and shape. Online stores like Joybird offer an array of great priced sofas but I am wary of shopping for a sofa without sitting on it first. Which brings us to comfort.
COMFORT: For me, a stunning but uncomfortable couch is not a couch I am interested in. Style is always on my mind and will always be incorporated into my decision. And yes, an ugly comfortable couch is no better than a stunning uncomfortable one.
In many ways, a comfortable couch is subjective, as one person’s cozy is another person’s discomfort. This is why it’s imperative that you sit on the couch you will be purchasing. Sit on a bunch of couches (in your price range). Feel the difference between a tight back and a cushion back, over stuffed down vs foam or wrapped foam (these are also things that can effect cost). Also, the depth of a sofa creates comfort or discomfort depending on your height. And don’t be fooled by overly soft “sink in” couches. They seem like a cloud at first, but I find that after an hour or so you’re sucked into the pillows, your body bent like a pretzel. Don’t overlook the importance of firmness. That’s what she said. Sorry.
STYLE: Style is the dessert of the three course meal. In spite of my love of 20th century design, I find that the mid century couches tend to be a bit slim and rigid. So, in more contemporary spaces, I like a boxy couch with squared off arms, and substantial cushion depth. In softer, cozier spaces, I look at the slope of the seat and lower arms. I prefer a tight back sofa for a more tailored look. I shy away from large rounded arms (although I love an English roll arm sofa) and I tend to be wary of buttons and tufting on cheeper couches, so I always sneak a little tug in the store to see if they are firmly in place.
There are two schools of thought regarding color and pattern. The common belief is that you do a big ticket item like a couch in a neutral (grey/beige/white, depending on the color scheme of the room) and then you let fun pillows be the pop of color needed to bring pizazz to the room. I don’t really buy this. First, I don’t always love the “pillow as pop of color” as I find it often just feels like putting lipstick on a pig. I have so many clients constantly in search of that perfect pillow that will make their bland couch seem like something it’s not. Also, if you are changing your decor in ten years, chances are it’ll be time to reupholster that couch anyway.
The other thought is to boldly let your biggest piece of furniture (the couch) be the strong statement in the room with a strong print, or a bright color. A super fun design choice indeed, but often a gamble as you never really know if that hot pink paisley is going to look good once it’s on a huge expanse of furniture. And remember, neutral (see above) doesn’t mean dull, so here I look to my client’s (and my) personal style. Do they wear classic grey and black every day, or do they show up in head to toe color? Two equally stylish types of people, so two equally stylish types of couches. This is why I always try to find couches that can be customized with various fabrics. My signature style when decorating tends to be a mix of both, in that I love using traditional suiting material, be it a subtle wool plaid, or a nubby houndstooth print. That way there is still the understated hue that I love, but with a bold material to give the couture style I vibe towards.
But the bottom line is: knowledge is power. If there is only one shopping expedition with an antsy client, it’s for the couch. The sofa matters. It anchors the room. It’s easy to find the one that suits you best, as long as you do the homework.
SIDE NOTE: The words “couch” and “sofa” can be used interchangeably. In theory (and historically), a couch is more of a comfortable, lay down, family friendly piece of furniture. A sofa is more refined, and meant for sitting. But a sofa is a couch is a sofa. XO
Alec Holland Design, Couches, Finding the best sofa, furniture shopping, sofa, Thoughts and Tips