Toronto Star - Are You Sitting Comfortably?
Sofa, so good? Hmm. Or perhaps sofa, so bad. If, that is, you rush your chesterfield buying quest without giving its purchase careful consideration. We oft’ declare that ‘to fail to plan is to plan to fail’ and, this in mind, if we’d a dime for every occasion clients have quizzed us about how to choose the perfect seating solution we’d be sufficiently wealthy to dispatch our careers and see out the rest of our lives on a luxurious yacht off Monte Carlo. A rather lovely dream, we might add, but one we don’t expect to realise just yet. Yup, there remains much to be done as our upholstery advisory continues apace: still many designer wrongs to be righted, colours to be chosen and exacting furniture guidance to be delivered.
And, take it from us; in our quest to comfortably seat the entire world, we’ve counselled every social strata. From rock stars to actors and from footballers to lottery winners we’ve done ‘em all. Hey, we even offered tips to British PM David Cameron. Fact! Aye, at a journalist lunch, pre election, Mr C explained he was excited, if not a little daunted, at the prospect of taking over at Number 10. We suggested a traditional design manifesto, quipping that deep buttoned leather upholstery (very gentleman’s club, darlings) might be the perfect solution for a traditional home like Downing Street. His tenure behind the black glossy portal subsequently bagged, we’ve often wondered if he took our advice!
So our soft furnishings counsel touches all walks of life. If truth be known, however, we’re at our happiest when restyling the average home. Sure we love it when budgets are massive (so we can go to town on luxurious fabrics and expensive construction) but it’s extra rewarding to fashion solutions when budgets are relevant to every day life. It’s our stock in trade, we suppose; real homes for real people. And making the ordinary extraordinary…
When considering choices, don’t judge a book, sorry a sofa, by its cover. Selecting, and ultimately paying for, a new chesterfield is a massive commitment. With this in mind, consider every avenue; a clean lined ‘tuxedo’ sofa (with arms and back arranged at the same height), for example, should appeal to traditionalists and modernists alike. A big, squashy rolled-arm alternative, on the other hand, may attract those who enjoy country or cottage style interiors, whereas a vintage couch may lure historical purists or those who prefer a more avant-garde line. It’s all too easy to be misled by first impressions, but, from our experience, true quality - and therefore price - is determined by construction.
It’s also important to think about the way in which your sofa will be used; don’t select by form alone - to the disadvantage of function - and consider, before buying, if you need something for the whole family to gather upon or a more formal sofa for cocktail parties and coffee mornings. One mans meat, after all, is another mans poison. Okay, so that sounds a little dramatic, but you know what we mean…
If space is limited, it makes sound sense to buy a sofa that features concealed storage. Pull out drawers or ‘lift and expose’ space concealed below base cushions is a great problem solver if you need to stash kids toys or books. An ottoman or padded stool in a similar or contrasting fabric to your main sofa will elicit design cohesion and useful flexibility. As coffee tables, dressed with book stacks or display trays laden with precious collectibles, these look wonderful, and, when cleared of dressing they make useful extra seating set to the side or in front of the ‘main feature’.
Two seater sofas or ‘loveseats normally measure between fifty eight and seventy six inches, while standard chesterfields are typically eighty to eighty six inches long. Bear in mind that a heavily stuffed sofa will appear bulkier than a tightly tailored version and be mindful that the overall length of your sofa doesn‘t always relate to it‘s seating capacity. Wide arms can mean less bum space so take all of this into consideration before brandishing your credit card.
If space permits (especially in a casual setting) a sectional or L shaped sofa is a great solution to amp up the number of people who can be accommodated. These can be used to double up as room dividers in larger spaces but always think of the orientation of the unit and, importantly, at which end the ‘corner’ will turn.
If your living space requires to double as guest accommodation - or if you live in a studio or bachelor apartment - then a sofa bed may help problem solve. Be aware, however, of different options and buy accordingly. For occasional use, a foam fold out mattress will probably suffice but if the sofa bed will be used regularly then we’d strongly recommend a wire sprung operation with a mattress measuring at least four inches thick.
Due to a massive surge in on line and catalogue shopping it’s now also relatively easy to buy from home. However - and it’s a big however - we’d urge you to read the small print. On line stores cut out the middle men - and therefore some of the higher costs associated with high street multiples - but it’s worth checking out returns policy and such like before pursuing this route. An increasingly large number of e commerce companies, eager to chase business, will happily take product back, but not all will return delivery or shipping costs. Sure, the same considerations can apply in store but it’s easier to broker a ‘return all costs’ guarantee when face to face with a salesperson.
If you’re feeling adventurous, then it’s sensible to consider custom upholstery, a route which, for us, rules the roost. Often less expensive than you might imagine, this option allows you to tailor requirements to fit your space. If you find a design that you love, a good upholsterer will be able to fatten or reduce arm size as required, change length and width, spec’ up fabric options or change the fill of cushions as required. Flexibility is key with this option and we’d estimate we provide around 75% our client roster in this way, both on and off screen.
Sofa’s, however you source them, are big piece investment items and, accordingly, should be equipped to last for many years. For us, it’s all about build quality, ‘future proofing’ and potential for recovering further down the line if taste subsequently change. Here’s our foolproof guide to help you make the right decisions…
Be spatially aware. Measure up, pre purchase, then make a paper template so you can play around with different lay outs at home. And analyze whether your new piece will actually fit through doors; last thing you want is to have to remove windows to fit it all in. Believe us; we’ve been there!
Think ergonomics; better lumbar support will be derived from a sofa with a shorter seat depth and a fixed back, than from a loose cushioned alternative.
Does your dream sofa come with a guarantee? If defects are discovered, post purchase, you need to be suitably protected.
Don’t cram everything against walls. Seating arranged centrally, space permitting, creates a much better impression. If positioning against a wall is your only option, then choose a setee that’s no longer than three quarters the length of that wall otherwise results will look crammed.
Try before you buy and don’t be afraid to linger, in store. In an ideal world, make joint buying decisions with anyone else in your household who’ll be using the sofa.
Enquire about how your dream sofa has been ‘sprung’. The last thing you want is to feel coiled metal prodding you through insubstantial padding and fabric. Springs should provide yield and support but they should be ‘barely there’ as far as feel is concerned.
Enquire about padding materials (we find that feather wrapped foam is perfect) and investigate whether they - and fabrics - have been safeguarded against combustion.
Carefully inspect upholstery to ascertain how well it’s been stitched, and be on the lookout for good ‘pattern matching‘. Well made pieces shouldn’t display sloppy tailoring.
While we’ve certainly specified a few ostentatious sofas (at our clients behest, of course) we advise choosing models that lend themselves to longevity. Trends arrive and then pass… but classic pieces stand the test of time.
Three piece suites? Ahem, no. They went out with the Arc. Better to mix and match wherever possible. A leather sofa, for example, looks super when paired with contrasting fabric armchairs.
Think practicality, scale of pattern and colour when choosing fabrics. That all white Miami style banquette might not be so great in a home with kids and pets. Unless, of course, it features removable, washable covers.
As a general rule, ‘self coloured’ is best. This choice allows you to switch up detailing, on a seasonal basis, with scatter cushions and throws. Generally speaking, restrained upholstery pattern provides a more elegant aesthetic.