Buying a sofa? An interior designer’s guide on where to start and how to choose the best option for you
Interior designer Deirdre O’Connell shares her tips for this all-important buy, from selected high street choices to vintage buys, to that special made-to-measure approach.
Certain people’s worst nightmare? Sofa shopping! I know many such people and I understand their plight. If you’re renovating a living room or you’ve bought a new home, whatever about the rest, confidently buying the sofa is the holy grail.
As with anything, research goes a long way. The key is to carve out some valuable time, so that you can sit proud (and comfortably) as punch on your new sofa for many years to come.
Give thought to what style of sofa you would like. If you’ve always dreamed of dark green Chesterfields, a luscious, deep-cushioned, luxury corner sofa, or a modern linear lounger from Bo Concept, now is your chance!
If, like many, you don’t have a clue about style, that’s okay. Consider the type of house and room you have, and in what period it was built. A smaller 1950s house will take a compact mid-century style sofa well, or a country house might call for an elegant, upholstered English roll-back.
The style of the house and room can often bring focus to the type of sofa to buy, or helpfully, not to buy! Pick up some home décor magazines or go online to look at sofa styles. Hone in on the photos you love. If you have time, visit some sofa shops with no agenda in mind and see what styles you’re drawn to.
While on the style hunt, get the practical work underway. Decide on a budget. While sofas range from €1,500 to €15,000, unless you’re on a tight budget, I advise allocating €3,000 to €5,000 on a quality three-seater sofa which will last.
If buying a high street sofa, I know it’s “Irish Mammy” but there are huge discounts in sales season and with end-of- line stock.
Measure up the room. You might have room floor plans with measurements marked up, or else grab the measuring tape. Use masking tape to mark out shapes. A funny-shaped TV room will quickly determine what type of sofa not to buy!
Consider who will use the room, how many people, at what time of the day or year. Be honest with yourself, don’t plan a living room for 12 people for book club once a year if it’s usually two of you on the sofa.
Think about what format of sofa you’d like. A three seater, set of two-seaters, a large corner, a chaise lounger or a modular, and what other furniture you would like in the room – armchairs, pouffes or ottomans, and/or two occasional chairs for example. This will help determine the format to choose.
The comfort search
Rule number one is to only buy a sofa you have seen and sat on! You must be able to experience the sofa you intend to buy. Hence I would rule out online shopping, unless you’ve physically sat on the sofa and are 100% confident.
Nothing is ever as it seems online, so while Made, Loaf, Kave, Anthropologie, H&M and Zara Home have enviable pieces and the pricing is great, get over to the UK or Spain to their showrooms to try before you buy.
Tastes vary when it comes to either sitting upright or lounging on a sofa. A mid-century sofa can look amazing, but is more formal to sit on. A deep luscious lounger might mean you and your (aforementioned) book club are panned out, near horizontal while trying to sit up for a drink and chat. Sit on a few sofas and tell yourself what you like about each one.
Custom-made or from the floor
For design vultures with money to spend, many of the iconic Italian, European and American sofa pieces are available through shops like CA Design, Minima, Bo Concept and Roche Bobois. The Togo, the Serpentine Sofa, Lips and a firm favourite of Hollywood, the Cloud, are renowned. Lost Weekend in Dun Laoghaire carries many of these designer brands.
I advocate custom-made sofas. They meet the style, format and price expectations all in one handy go, and offer the widest choice of fabrics and finishes. Alongside the style of the sofa, the fabric choice, leg shape and leg are important for a designed look.
I recommend Finline Furniture and the Sofa Factory, both of whom have beautiful sofas available in a wide choice of fabrics and finishes. These are locally produced here in Ireland and tend to be available without the half-year wait time!
For more luxurious looks, both Ventura Design and Helen Turkington will custom-make very appealing sofa styles with the material and finish of your choice.
On the high street, Arnotts, DFS, Michael Murphy and EZ Living Furniture have extensive ranges with fabric selections available and there is no matching the price of high street sofas during sale season. With the right eye, you can leave the store with a very stylish, comfortable sofa.
The Designer Furniture Outlet in Sandyford often has ex-display models at great prices so it’s worth a visit.
Vintage and second-hand
While I don’t push second-hand upholstery items necessarily, sometimes you can find nearly new or ex-display sofas on the resale websites. And if you are buying pre-loved, there are some really great re-upholsterers out there.
It’s not always cheaper to have sofas re-upholstered though, so I don’t recommend it unless you’re keen.
To be really matter of fact, an interior designer can provide huge help in this process, helping you tease out the style, taking all the measures and dimensions and getting you options. It will save you the hassle, money and by far the most valuable thing, time.
Interior designers have the experience and knowledge, and access to fabrics, upholsterers and manufacturers well-versed in delivering the best.
This article was originally published in September 2022.