How to Select the Perfect Sofa



Buying a sofa feels a little like getting married – there is so much to consider before you pick the one you want to settle down with, isn’t there? Which one has the arms, leg, seats you’re attracted to? Which one will give you a safe place to land when you’re plum worn out by life? Which one do you want to show off to all your friends? In a few days, we start our hugely popular Upholstered Furniture Sale at Nell Hill’s, and all sofas will be 20% off, so we will be helping lots and lots of people find their perfect match … in sofas, that is! Here are the four most important things to consider when looking for true love in a sofa: 

1. Arms of Love

Your sofa can’t just be eye candy. It has to work for your daily life. So take a few seconds to list out what you’ll be doing when you’re settling in: Reading? Napping? Watching TV? Have face-to-face heart-to-hearts with your friends? Then pick an arm style that will help you achieve your checklist.

This is a Chesterfield sofa, one of my all-time-favorite styles and one that we sell the heck out of at Nell Hill’s. This is the sofa style I have in my own home because I like how the high (shelter) arms wrap around me, serving as a back and head rest while I read. I’m also crazy about its classic lines, with the tufted back and nail head trim.

I asked Mark Gilmore, the VP of sales at CR Laine, to weigh in on the how-to-pick-a-sofa discussion, because he’s a pro at helping people make great matches. If you like to nap on your sofa, Mark recommends a rolled arm or a sock arm, which have lots of soft padding, so they can act like a pillow.

This lovely sofa at Nell Hill’s features a track arm, which Mark says is a great option if you want a more modern or contemporary aesthetic. He also points out that with its thinner, sleeker styling, it takes up less room, so it may be a good pick if you have less space for a sofa.


2. Great Legs

What kind of legs would you like on your sofa? Exposed or skirted? Turned or a block leg? It may seem like a small detail, but the leg you pick for your sofa will make a big difference in its overall appearance.

If you want more air under the sofa, Mark recommends an exposed leg that is longer and thinner. At market this year, CR Laine showcased an acrylic leg, a plucky choice that gave a fun contemporary finish. I’m a huge fan of turned legs mounted on castor wheels, as shown in the photo above, from Nell Hill’s. They give a sofa a timeless, gracious feel.

If you like the look of a skirted sofa, and you have pets, I recommend a high-performing fabric you can easily clean: Lots of dogs (like mine!) love to sleep against the sofa and they can leave sofa skirts grungy. Polish from shoes can also stain sofa skirts.


3. Best Seat in the House

In my book, the most important feature of a sofa is that it be sink-into comfortable. Everybody has a different “Goldilocks” point – when the cushions aren’t too soft, or too firm, but just right. Spend some time sitting in prospective sofas to see which ones feel like bliss to you. Mark says their top selling cushion has the feel of down, soft and comfy, but doesn’t actually contain feathers.


Sofas come in lots and lots of different cushion configurations. One of my favorites is a bench seat with a tight back. The Knole sofa, two photos above, is a great example of a bench seat. I love this look, but it’s not for everybody. Over time, the bench seat fabric stretches a bit from use and appears wrinkled, more soft and relaxed.

Another popular pick is a two-over-two or three-over-three style, with matching seat and back cushions. The cushions can either be loose or attached, depending upon your preference. If you have little kids, and you don’t want the cushions made into forts, I’d recommend the attached back cushions! Some seat cushions come in “T” shapes, meaning the outside cushions wrap around the front of the arm. This is the style you see in lots of traditional sofas, like those with English arms (one of my favorite arm styles). Others are square, meaning all the cushions are identical. Mark says one pro of the square cushion is you can rotate the cushions around to keep the wear even.


4. Finish with Fabulous Fabric

When you buy a quality sofa, you will have it for years, so select upholstery fabric you love.

My advice is to go with fabric that is neutral enough you can change its look over and again just by switching up your pillows. I’m blogging about that next week: How to pick pillows that give your sofa loads of character.

This sensational sofa has been a big seller this spring. The classic English arms and turned legs perched on castor wheels makes it a great pick for a traditional home, yet the spunky yellow zebra print fabric makes it anything but stale and boring! Mark says outdoor fabrics have also become a popular option because they wear well and clean up easily, a great choice if you have kids or pets.

One of the best things about our Upholstered Furniture Sale at Nell Hill’s is that it includes all our special order custom upholstery. That means you get to select from 1,400 amazing fabrics, and do unique trims, like a contrast welting, that will make your sofa truly singular. Here is Nichole and Kristen, who lead our fabric design team at Nell Hill’s Briarcliff, in front of one tiny section of our walls and walls of upholstery fabrics (not to mention all the fabric by the yard!).

Next Week … Love your sofa, but just want to give it a new look? It’s time to play with pillows. I’ll have three great looks.