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sheridan grey sofa in living room with white brick wall

How to Choose a Sofa: An Expert Guide to Buying Right

The concept of how to choose a sofa seems pretty simple, right? You go to the store, you look at it, you sit on it, then you buy it.

Computer says no. Sorry gang, but buying a sofa (or should I say, buying the right sofa) is far more complex than that. And I know… why does it have to be so hard? Well, today I want to take away all your potential stress around choosing a sofa. Let me give you a full rundown on all the things you need to think about before you even leave the house.

Some of these things seem obvious, I know. But there are other considerations that are far less apparent. Until you purchase the wrong sofa, experience buyer’s remorse, and hate your life. Let’s avoid all of that heartache shall we? Because this extensive list is going to very clearly answer the question of how to choose a sofa you won’t hate. Because a sofa is a long-term relationship, guys. Kind of like me and Sauvignon Blanc. That love runs deep.

By the end of this post you’re going to know exactly how to choose a sofa for your space, I promise. So get your notepad and pen out and let’s do this!

oz design angled sofa in urban interior design style living room dark floors white walls
Via OZ Design

Let’s Start with the Vibe

The style of your sofa comes first. Examine what kind of style your home currently has and then choose a sofa that’ll fit in with that theme. I know, this step seems super obvious, but many people just buy what they like, and sadly what they like doesn’t suit the style of the room a lot of the time. Or it might not work with the rug in the room, or the art that’ll go above the sofa. All of these elements need to make sense together, so you gotta start with getting the look right.

Have a good think about how you want the room to feel when you’re in it. Do you want this space to feel calm and muted (a neutral sofa), fun and exciting (something more colourful), or do you have a really specific theme going on, like mid-Century (in which case Googling ‘mid-Century sofa’ will really come in handy). If you skip this step you might end up with a sofa that’s super comfy but looks completely out of place.

If you need to figure out your home’s design vibe, check out our guide on the most popular interior design styles.

Melbourne apartment make over with grey recliner sofa from Plush and blinds from Luxaflex

Now Move onto Functionality

What you’re using the sofa for is really important. And yes, I know “to sit on” is the answer, but we need to dig deeper here. For example, is this a formal sitting room where you’ll sit down for drinks when people come over? Or is this the room where you’ll watch TV every day? It is a rumpus room upstairs for the kids where they’ll have friends over and eat/drink on it? Maybe it’s a sofa bed in a guest room.

I have a full list of comfortable sofa beds here if you need it, btw.

Each one of the above situations dictates a different style of sofa. Formal can be less comfortable, more structured, more upright. TV-watching sofas need to be cushier; something you can sink into and lay around on. And sofas for kids zones need to take more wear and tear as we all know that most teens do not care about sofa maintenance. They really should teach this in high school.

The moral of the story: don’t skip this necessary ‘how will it be used?’ step.

By now you should have a sofa vibe and use in mind. For example, a bold-coloured sofa with a formal feel for a sitting room. Or, a neutral sofa with a cushy relaxed feel for a TV room. Now let’s move onto the next part.

blue and white abstract canvas art above dark grey sofa in modern living room
Via Metricon

The Ideal Sofa Width & Depth

You have to measure out the sofa you’re considering buying in your current living room. If you don’t do this I guarantee you it probably won’t fit. It’ll either dominate the space and leave no room for a coffee table, or it will be too small and you’ll be left with a dwarfed-looking sofa. Scale, like Uber Eats during a pandemic, is everything.

The sofa needs to fill the room nicely without feeling too large or too small. To get this right, grab your tape measure and measure out your sofa width first. Consider if you want side tables bedside your sofa, in which case you’ll need to add around 50cm width either side of your sofa measurement (most decent side tables hover around 50cm in width).

Sofa depth is also vital to measure out. Some sofas can be up to one metre in depth (from the front of the sofa cushion to the back of the sofa). Given you’ll need to allow 50cm from the front of your sofa to the edge of your coffee table, and then 50cm minimum on the other side of your coffee table, you’d also be wise to measure your current coffee table and ensure it will work with the sofa you want to buy.

modern luxe living room with grey rug marble coffee table and sheer curtains

The Height is Also Important

This element is particularly important if your sofa is cutting across an open plan living room. If it’s a sectional sofa, for example, one of the edges is likely to cut across the room, so you want to ensure that the back is low, so your eye can still glide across it.

Tall-back sofas cutting across living rooms is one of my top 10 living room design mistakes and really does cramp the style of the entire space. Please avoid this at all costs.

If the sofa is backing onto a wall, the height isn’t of major concern, although it is still worth thinking about what size art you want to hang above it. Low-back sofas might not work for you if you’re the kind of person who wants neck support when watching TV. I find as I’m getting older, I want to hold my neck up less and less. Sad fact, but it’s true. A high-back sofa is a wise idea if you’re in the same boat.

home colour trends 2019 dulux lilac living room
Via Dulux

How Low are the Sofa Cushions?

This is definitely a dimension people don’t think about, especially if they’re looking to order a sofa online. You’ll know right away if the sofa is too low for you if you’re road-testing it in-store, but an online purchase is a different story.

A sofa with a seat height of 40cm or less is quite a low sofa. It will be far harder to get out of it than a sofa with a 60cm seat height. As we age, or even if we have mobility issues, this factor becomes so important. You should be able to comfortably stand up from the seat you’re sitting in, not feel like you need help to get out of the chair.

It’s also good to think about the seat height in relation to the height of your coffee table, because the coffee table should never sit higher than the seat cushions on your sofa. Always the same height or lower. I hope you’re making notes!

classic hamptons interior design scheme hamptons white square coffee table in light blue living room

Cushion Depth has a Huge Impact

This is especially important for shorter people, because some sofas are so deep that your feet won’t touch the floor. Trust me, this will not be comfortable and you’ll find yourself needing to add additional cushions behind your back all the time.

On the flip side, tall people with long legs will not find a cushion depth of 60cm comfortable to chill out and watch TV in. This goes back to my point about what the sofa will be used for. A tall person on a sofa with a 60cm cushion depth is going to be sitting fairly upright. This is fine in a formal sitting room, but not in a TV-watching chill-out space.

Also remember: sofa depth and cushion depth are two totally different things. Sofa depth is measured from the front of the base cushion right to the back of the sofa. But the cushion depth is from the front of the cushion to the front of the back cushion. The back cushions on your sofa might be 20cm thick, so don’t go by sofa depth when you’re considering how you’ll feel when you sit on the sofa.

rydell sofa molmic furniture in grey living room with glass coffee table
Via Molmic

Choosing the Right Cushion Inserts

There are loads of different types of cushion inserts and each of them will have a huge impact on not only how comfortable the sofa is, but how it looks and what maintenance is involved in looking after them. When considering how to choose a sofa, this is a really important step.

I’ll cover off the main three cushion fillings below because it’s crucial you choose the right one for your space.

1. Feather-Filled Cushions

This type of sofa cushion is usually filled with duck feather and is the softest option you can go for. But before you say, ‘well of course I want the softest option’ there are other elements to consider. While feather fill is super-cushy, it will sag over time, and it can make your sofa cushions look a little lumpy. You’ll also need to regularly fluff, punch and plump up the cushions so they retain their shape. At least every week. If this feels like too much cardio, you need to avoid feather fill cushions.

2. Foam-Filled Cushions

These ones are the firmest option of the lot, so if you don’t like the high-maintenance vibe of feather fill cushions, foam is your friend. A foam-fill cushion will bounce back to its original shape right away and will maintain firmness quite well over time. Foam is very low maintenance, but the downside is that you won’t sink into them. They don’t feel as soft as feather. It’s not a cushion type you could kick back and watch TV for hours in. I usually get these types of cushions on sofas for formal spaces where you’re not spending a long time sitting down.

3. Foam Wrapped with Feather

This is the best of both worlds and it’s the cushion type I always specify for sofas where comfort is important. The cushion core is made of foam, so you get that sense of support and a little firmness. But then you have the bonus of that foam core being wrapped in a layer of duck feathers. This means there is some light maintenance in terms of fluffing or flipping, but not much. The sagging over time is minimal and you can lay on them for hours in ultimate comfort.

living room with geometric rug black oval coffee table and light grey sectional sofa
Via Metricon

Do the Cushions Flip Over?

This is something people don’t think about when figuring out how to choose a sofa. But trust me, it’s so important day-to-day. Some cushions on sofas can flip, but the underside is not the same as the top side. Some sofa cushions are identical on both sides (this is preferred). And some sofa cushions don’t flip at all and are full attached the the base of the sofa.

Now, if you have kids or pets I would not recommend a sofa with seat cushions that are attached to the base. It makes cleaning spills and messes too difficult.

When sofa cushions are fixed, you’re not able to flip the cushion to hide a stain. You’re not able to take the cushion cover off to wash it. It backs you into a corner a little; hoping for the best that the stain you just made comes out. And if it doesn’t… you’re left with trying to conceal a stain for the rest of the sofas life. Not cute.

coastal living room with black wall mounted tv unit and view of the ocean

What Else is in the Room?

When choosing the right sofa, it’s a good idea to consider what other elements need to fit into the room. I say this because a good-looking, fully-resolved living room should have a sofa, rug, coffee table, side table/s, lamp, TV unit and art on the wall. If you purchase a massive sectional sofa that engulfs the whole room and there’s no space left for a coffee table or side tables, the room won’t feel right.

Definitely measure out your sofa keeping in mind that all of these other pieces of furniture and decor need to fit in the space as well. And each piece needs its breathing room. You don’t want all of the furniture so wedged in that you’re knocking your legs or feet against pieces every time you try to sit down.

Hopefully you’re starting to realise that the question of how to choose a sofa is actually about far more than the actual sofa. Big picture, you guys, always think big picture.

Got a cosy living room and want to decorate it right? Here’s my guide on styling small living rooms to maximise space.

hamptons style open plan living and dining room with black round coffee table and striped armchair
Via Bendooley Estate

A Sectional Sofa, or 2 x Two-Seaters?

When people are figuring out how to choose a sofa, they often have to debate the old ‘two sofas or one sectional’ conundrum.

Often you’ll want to go for a sectional over 2 x two-seater sofas. But a lot of the time nobody sits in the corner piece anyway. On some sectionals, the corner piece is so small it really is the most undesirable place to sit. So, consider if you actually need this over getting 2 x two-seater sofas and putting them in an L-configuration.

Also, sectional sofas are best in larger rooms, so if your living room isn’t big, you’re better off going for 2 x two-seater sofas instead. It will do the room the world of good to have the visual break of all that fabric dominating the corner. And from a functional point of view, you can pop a side table between your sofas and have somewhere for drinks to sit, or a table lamp to live.

If your living room is really small, consider 1 x two-seater sofa and an armchair instead. Despite you wanting to seat as many people as possible, you really should let the room dictate how much sofa is can handle.

Need a small sofa for your space? Here’s my list of best small sofas on the market right now.

sheridan grey sofa in living room with white brick wall
Via Sheridan

Choosing the Right Material

When figuring out how to choose the right sofa, the material it’s made from is obviously very important. And my best advice is to consider who is going to use the sofa, and what impact that has on maintenance.

For example, a leather sofa with kids or pets is easier to clean than a fabric sofa. The downside to leather is that it can be cold in winter and warm in summer. Leather sofas are also harder to accessorise with cushions (velvet ones work well though). And with some pets (like my cats) leather will show up holes from claws more easily.

Fabric sofas are obviously softer and cushier but they can be tougher to clean. Slip cover sofas are a godsend if you have toddlers or pets, but obviously there’s a bit of maintenance involved. So really… have a good think about who uses the sofa and how much patience you have to maintain it. Then which material to choose will become clearer.

If you’re working with an interior designer like me, we can choose bomb-proof fabric from my sofa supplier which is so easy to clean you could practically serve dinner right onto the sofa cushions and not make a stain.

contemporary luxe living room with grey king living sofa and round marble coffee table

Has this post made how to choose a sofa a bit easier? I certainly hope so. The whole idea was to get you thinking about all of the necessary elements, so fingers crossed you’re feeling confident.

Drop me a comment below if you have any additional questions on how to choose a sofa for your home and I can help you out.

This post includes images and/or videos of Metricon display homes and events, reproduced with permission.
© Metricon Homes Pty Ltd 2016.


Chris Carroll

Outside of writing this blog, Chris is an interior designer, presenter and author. He’s also spent time on TV, on Channel 10’s Changing Rooms, as well presenting segments on Channel 7’s Sunrise and The Morning Show. If you’d like to book a design consult with Chris, you can find out more here

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15 Responses

  1. These are great tips. Thank you for sharing this with us! You mentioned that height is an important factor in choosing a sofa. Is there a standard size or height that we should follow? Also, is the 31“ H of the Ligne Roset sofa enough?

  2. Hi Chris – can you pls tell me the make/model of sofa in the Williamstown industrial reno featured here? Love the sloping arms.

  3. I love the gray and a turquoise together awesome that’s the color I’m using for my living room and just gray for the dining room with the little turquoise in that curtains

  4. Thank you for the article-lots of good advice. My question is, I have 2 retrievers and I need the couch to be as pet friendly as possible. The problem is that I want a nice cushy comfortable couch like a white slipcovered Country style. But my husband wants a leather one, which we have now…yes, it’s better for dogs, but not really comfy. This is in our every day room. Any suggestions? thanks. Jani

    1. Hi Jani, no couch is a perfect combo of comfort and durability when pets are involved. So you’re going to have to compromise somewhere. Leather can be scratched up by pet nails, fabrics are harder to keep clean. I definitely would not go for a white sofa with pets though.

  5. hi Chris, thank you for great tips. we are going for a hamtons beachy vibe. i love a modern look generally but some hamptons casual beachy both old and new pieces.
    i was going to start by choosing the lounge first, as i read this, then start adding on from there. Do you recommend this is the way to start?

    1. Hi Annie, if you’re starting fresh with everything then yes, biggest pieces first. If you already have your eye on something you love (like a piece of art) or have some things you’re keeping, use those as your jumping-off point in terms of colour.

  6. Perfect timing-thank you. Currently looking at the King Delta iii. Our room can take 1 x 2 seater 1920mm & 1 x 3 seater but I’m wondering for ‘balance’ would 2 x 2 seaters be more suitable?
    I’d appreciate your advice.

    1. Hey Cathy, I like the sound of the two sofas matching in size. Depends on the shape and layout of the room though. My go to is a sofa as big as is reasonable and then a couple of armchairs.

    1. No worries Julie. I know it’s a lot to think about but hopefully it’s not too overwhelming. Always good to consider all of these things though so you don’t end up investing in a sofa that won’t work for you long-term!

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I’m interior designer Chris Carroll, and at TLC Interiors we’re all about helping you create an amazing home without breaking the bank. It’s affordable designer style at its best, and we make the whole process easy and fun for clients & readers alike!

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