Don't just plop money down on that sofa

Shape, size, styling - there's much more to finding the right couch than sitting on it


Oh, the pressure of picking the right sofa. There's so much to consider: shape, size, styling, construction and so much more.

Do you want the sofa to make a statement or blend into the background in order to showcase artwork? Neutral or printed fabric? Durable cotton or ethereal silk? How will you use the sofa? As a perch for reading, a high-backed sofa may be perfect. Or if you like to lie down on the sofa, the comfort and height of the arm are very important.

Catherine A. Howard of the Greystone Home Collection, with showrooms in Los Angeles and New York, offers these tips:

Good bones: Like the human form, a sofa has a skeleton or framework that sets the form, comfort and longevity of the piece. Howard insists on a kiln-dried hardwood frame, solid components, double-doweled and glued joints, and a seat frame with corner blocks.

Cover details: When it comes to the upholstery, make sure seams are sewn straight, pleats or folds pressed, welts straight, fabric pattern matched throughout.

Size matters: Howard, who is 5 feet 5, says a very deep sofa would make her feel tiny, while a love seat may make someone tall feel like a giant. Although Italian low-seating lines are fashionable, consider something higher for those who find it difficult to rise.

Dimensions also determine how much space a sofa would take up in your home.

Style and comfort: The choices include modernized 18th-century French; clean, straightforward early American; 19th-century English; and a bit of simplified 16th-century Italian. But remember, comfort overrides all.

Springing the seat: Howard recommends hand-tied eight-way coil springs. The only time sinuous springs should be used is if the seat deck is shallow. Next, look for layering of burlap, cotton or Dacron batting, jute fox edging and foam.

What's in the cushions?: There are several types to consider. Feather and down with a foam interior, feather and down with a coil spring interior or 100 percent down. These are all good and a matter of personal comfort. If the back of the piece has loose cushions, it is best to use feather and down over a foam interior.

When the design calls for a tight back, sinuous or coil springs can be used, and this is usually covered with foam and Dacron.

Art of arranging: Sofas with their backs to the entrance don't invite people to step into the room and those facing the front door make guests feel exposed. Place the sofa at an angle or create a cozy arrangement that's comfortable - an area where someone would want to lounge.

Janet Eastman is a reporter for the Los Angeles Times.

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