Finding Your Perfect Mate Part 2: The Styles of Sofas

In our previous post, "Finding the Perfect Mate", we brushed up on the basics of sofa construction - ins and outs of what to look for and know before buying.  As a review of those points, I found a perfect illustration from C.R. Laine, detailing the anatomy of what goes into a fine quality piece of furniture:

But I know, what you really want to do now is start shopping!! You know what you need to look for structurally, now your challenge will be to decide on the style that will look and function best for you and your home.

Things you need to think about: back cushions, arm height and size, seat styles and base.... do you want a skirt? Decorative legs? These elements, along with fabric selection, alter the "feel" of a piece, taking it from a contemporary, edgy piece to one that may be more traditional or tailored.

Variations in the shape of the back of the sofa change both the style appeal as well as comfort.
  • A tight back is an upholstered back without removable cushions. It can provide an elegant, tailored or formal look to the sofa. It is often used for modern and contemporary pieces.
  • Pillow-back sofas have cushions that are detached or semi-attached, creating a soft, casual look. This type of back is comfortable and great for areas of high-use and relaxed entertaining.
  • A tufted back offers added elegance, giving much more luxurious and formal appeal.  I often think of a tufted sofa as a timeless classic, perfect for a library or office. Upholstering it in a bright turquoise with raspberry accents changes that theory though!

The seat of the sofa has similar composition and terminology to the back.
  • A tight seat has no individual cushions. It most often is more tailored and sleek and less ideal for lounging or relaxing.  Although, as seen above, there are always exceptions!.
  • A loose seat is the most comfortable type of seat and the most common seen in rooms where comfort is the primary concern. A word of caution when purchasing leather: a quality sofa will have leather on both sides of the cushion.  I have seen instances where a heavy-weight muslin is used on the underside - it reduces cost/price.  The problem with this is that you will never be able to flip the cushions. You want to be able to flip your cushions!
  • A single cushion allows a look close to that of a tight seat but with the comfort of a cushion. The drawbacks to this style are that the fabric can sometimes buckle in the middle the cushion can pop up on one side when you sit on the other if it is not dense enough. It is much easier to provide stability to smaller cushions than one large one. If you decide to buy a single cushion, I recommend a firm density for the insert to allow the cushion to maintain its shape.

    A change in the arm styling creates a completely different silhouette to a sofa.  Though sometimes not seen as obvious a consideration as the back and seat of a sofa, the arms are an essential part in creating the "look" as well as the amount of space the pieces takes up in a room.  Some squared and rolled arms, for example, can create a heavier look, both in appearance and actual measures.

      The skirt or lack thereof is also an important element of style.
      • A skirt can give a sofa a traditional appearance, yet within the category of skirts, we can have everything from a tailored conservative skirt to one that is much more feminine. Kick pleats, box pleats, and dressmaker skirts all create different looks.

      • Exposed legs can also run the gamut of styles. Squared wooden or metal legs can appear contemporary, modern and clean-lined, while carved wood and casters can cross lines of traditional to retro.

        Six of the basic sofa styles most often seen on showroom floors include the English, Tuxedo, Camel-back, Chesterfield, Lawson and Mid-century Modern.  
        • English Sofa: The English sofa typically has a tight back and loose seat cushion, with a roll to the arm and a back that has a slight curve away from the front. When you sit in an English sofa, you will notice that you sit back in it. Though you can certainly have an English sofa made with a skirt, traditionally only casters are seen.
        • Tuxedo Sofa: If you are in the market for a contemporary sofa with lasting appeal, the Tuxedo could be the perfect fit. The Tuxedo’s arm seem to blend into the back as they all come to the same height. With extremely clean lines and a modern yet timeless feel, the Tuxedo sofa is a sophisticated choice.
        • Camel-back Sofa: One of the most traditional sofa styles, the Camel-back, also referred to as a Chippendale, dates back to 18th Century London and the furniture maker Thomas Chippendale. The serpentine curve on its tight back is its distinguishing feature.
        • Chesterfield Sofa: For your office or library, an iconic choice would be the Chesterfield upholstered in leather. Tufting throughout the back, and sometimes seat, the Chesterfield is the quintessential masculine sofa.
        • Lawson Sofa: The Lawson has a low squared off back, with lower square or rolled arms. Usually seen in loose seat and loose back, the Lawson sofa is a comfortable choice for a family room and is seen with or without skirts.
        • Mid-Century Modern Sofa: This sofa looks like it would be at home in a space with retro appeal. The clean, square lines seem to float on thin legs giving it a sophisticated and streamlined, yet fun, look.

        I could continue this already very long post, however I think I've covered a lot of ground! You see the point:  no matter what your taste, style, or needs, there is sure to be a combination of back, seat, arms, and skirt that will look fabulous in your room!

        I hope you have a better idea of what to look for in a quality piece and this has helped you to hone in more closely on what you like.  Happy shopping!


        1. Great explanation of what makes a quality sofa, Sarah. You are an excellent teacher! And I'm loving that green sofa!

        2. I love that tuxedo sofa style; it's right up my alley! And the turquoise one is fun and fabulous! Now I want a new sofa. Uh oh!

        3. Wow, lots of great info (great sofas!) Thanks so much for stopping by my blog and leaving a sweet comment. I'm happy to be your newest follower!

        4. Great job Sarah! This post could be used as a training tool for furniture sales associates! Here's one more tip for "custom" sofa buyers. Most vendors offer a down cushion upgrade, be aware that if you choose this option your cushions will need regular maintenance! Fluffing! Ask me how I found this one out!!!

        5. Hi Lesa, thanks for the tip on the down alternative cushions. It is a great point and one of the reasons why I most often suggest foam core wrapped with down or down/alternative. It gives you an opportunity to get the combined benefits of both. Thanks again; I really appreciate your comments and input!!


        Did I ever tell you how much I love your comments? I really do love hearing your thoughts after reading posts? Lets me know people are reading and helps us keep the conversation going!! ~ Thank you!

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