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Sofa Buying Guide

The sofa is a key piece within any home. Often large in scale, and often visually domineering within the space, it is a key investment that should last many years. Buying a new designer sofa is therefore a decision that should not be rushed as making the right choice will mean many years of satisfaction. At Aram we have a lot of experience in helping customers navigate the numerous sofa designs and specification options on offer.

Who and How?

A good place to start is to define who is going to use the sofa, and how they will be using it. Perhaps it is for the family to crash on while watching TV, or for more formal use by friends while entertaining. It could be either of these, or something in-between. But the important point is that the use will have an impact on the form of the sofa. For instance, younger people tend to prefer deeper less structured sofas, with lower seat heights that they can lounge and sleep on. Others may prefer a more formal style favouring a higher seat height, more upright back, and an overall more structured aesthetic.


Once the users and use have been defined, decisions can be made on the detailed specifications. Here there are several areas to decide on, not least choosing between a 2-seat sofa, a 3-seat sofa or a modular sofa.

Configuration: Straight vs L-shape vs Island

Most sofa designs offer the option of straight and L-shape configurations. Some modular designs also offer interesting 'island' possibilities. It’s probably true to say that the majority of sofas purchased are straight rather than L-shape or islands. However, in the end the choice will be decided by budget, space available and envisaged use of the room where the sofa is situated.

The Calmo large 2 seat sofa is an ideal example of a straight sofa
This Marea sofa features a wide chaise unit to create a deep and inviting L-shape
Extrasoft modular units are perfect for creating an island sofa as big as the space available

Construction: Modular vs Fixed Frames

Modular sofas are created from sofa elements that are usually linked together. This allows for flexibility to change a configuration as requirements change, and also allows for easier access where space is tight. If flexibility isn’t required then fixed frame construction allows for larger sections which may have a tidier aesthetic.

Sofa Base: Low vs Raised

A sofa that sits on a low divan-style base that is almost touching the floor gives a friendly cosy feel, and usually suits a more informal setting. Higher legs and sled bases give a ‘lighter’ feel and often work better in smaller spaces as the eye line is extended under the sofa. Being raised above floor level is useful if cleaning beneath the sofa is an important consideration as this is obviously less practical with a low-level base.

Sofa Back: Low vs High

Do you like to be completely supported when sitting, even up to the back of the head? Or do you prefer to be able to sit sideways with your elbow on the back rest? Or both? There are many back-height options, sometimes even with different heights on the same sofa.

Sofa Seat: Soft vs Firm

The firmness of the seat is decided by the mix of foam and feather within the cushions, as well as the sofa support within the main structure beneath the seat cushions. There is a wide variation between sofa designs, with some designs also offering different firmness options on the same design. The use and users of the sofa will have a key influence on what the appropriate firmness might be. For instance, more formal environments will probably be better served by a firmer seat. However, it is very subjective and will vary by personal preference. Design professionals tend to agree that firm cushions provide better overall support because your body will have various contact points that exert more or less downward pressure. Very soft sofas may initially feel comfortable, but sinking into a deep sofa can put pressure on the spine and pelvis, not to mention the extra effort to extricate yourself from the very soft depths.

Hans Wegner's CH162 sofa for Carl Hansen & Son is a raised sofa with an upright shape giving a formal seating position
Arne Jacobsen's Mayor AJ5 sofa for &Tradition is another raised sofa with a high back presenting an even more formal, almost regal, look
The Shiki sofa from Zanotta is low and wide in the divan style but which has options for the height of the backrest
The Polder compact sofa by Hella Jongerius for Vitra goes one further and combines different heights for the back and arms in one
Eileen Gray's Lota sofa features luxurious soft, feather-filled cushions in which to sink and sleek glossy lacquered side boxes
Piero Lissoni's Neowall modular sofa from Living Divani comprises blocks of differing depths and heights
Most versatile of all is COR's Conseta system offering a plethora of components, here as a divan with adjustable arms
This Conseta has a sled base in polished chrome with slender arms and additional cushions with a range of fillings

Upholstery: Leather vs Fabric

Whether to use leather or fabric upholstery is often where people spend the most time deciding, and not surprisingly; it is the most visual element of the sofa.

Leather is easier to maintain, and will normally last longer than fabric, usually getting better with age as the leather softens. Fabric is normally softer and there will usually be many more texture and colour options to choose from. It is also generally true that fabric is more cost effective than leather. Fabric is generally less easy to maintain when it comes to spills and stains, but as most covers are removable, fabric covers can be dry cleaned from time to time. If removing and replacing covers is not such an enticing prospect, there are also very good professional home upholstery cleaning services available.

The fact that most covers are removable means new covers can be ordered to replace well used covers, or simply if a new look is desired.

So, a lot to think about and to decide. Knowing these decisions will help us (and you) narrow down the wide array of choices to a selection of options that work for you. However, there are two very important aspects to double check before finally committing to any particular purchase.

First, will the sofa fit in the space? Perhaps an obvious question, but it is best to double check that once installed it won’t overwhelm the room.

Second, can we deliver it into the space? This is less obvious, but access can be tricky, especially for large pieces. There is usually a way to deliver even if it won’t go up the spiral staircase, but this needs to be considered at the outset. Aram can carry out an access check if you are unsure.