One of my favorite things to do at Nell Hill’s is to help customers select the right sofa for their homes, because when you think about it, a lot of life happens on your sofa. This all-important piece of furniture needs to fit you, your home and your lifestyle. To ensure you get a sofa that’s just right, avoid these five common mistakes.

1. Don’t ever buy a sofa upholstered in fabric you will be sick of in a few years.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve worked with customers who want to replace an existing sofa that is still in good shape just because they are tired of the upholstery. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long to get sick of a busy floral, bold plaid or strong stripe.

Since sofas can be a sizable financial investment, get one you will love for many years. My advice is to pick a neutral upholstery fabric, one that will serve as a blank slate you can remake over and again simply by pairing it with different accent pillows and throws. When you select an upholstery fabric that works with lots of different palettes, you also can easily redesign the room without having to change the sofa.

If you’re itching to bring some of today’s bold colors and patterns into your room through upholstered furnishings, go for it! Just do so on a smaller piece, like a side chair or ottoman.


2. Don’t ever select upholstery fabric you have to fuss over.

Red wine is going to spill. Dogs are going to shed. Cats are going to cough up hair balls. Spouses and kids are going to eat pizza and popcorn and ice cream on the sofa, no matter how many times you tell them not to. Since real life happens every day, you need a sofa that is prepared to handle it. So don’t ever buy a sofa upholstered in an unforgiving fabric you have to fuss over.

My sofas are all covered in white fabric, which you would think would be a nightmare to keep clean, between the cats, the dog and Dan. Believe it or not, it’s still in great shape, thanks to my Clorox pen. But if I was starting over, I would cover my sofas in outdoor fabric. These durable textiles have come a long way. Now they look just as sensational as traditional fabrics, yet wear like iron.


3. Don’t even think about getting a sofa that isn’t so comfortable you can sleep on it.

I can’t tell you how many nights, when I’m unable to sleep, I come down to read on the sofa and fall right to sleep in its sink-into-comfy softness. It’s essential that your sofa be that comfortable.

If the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears taught us anything, it’s that we all have different thoughts on what’s too soft, what’s too hard and what’s just right. And you’ll never know if a prospective sofa is just right for you unless you sit in it like you would at home. Get in your normal lounging position and see what you think.

Are the arms the right height for you? Some people like low, padded arms so they can rest their head on them when they watch TV or read. Others like sofas with high arms and backs, so they can nestle in.

When I’m helping a couple select a sofa, I often find that what fits the wife doesn’t necessarily fit the husband. So I do a little detective work. Where does each of them tend to sit? Does he gravitate toward a big easy chair, while she likes to curl up on the sofa? Whoever typically sits on the sofa should have the deciding vote when it comes to fit.


4. Don’t buy a sofa that doesn’t fit your room.

Before you buy a sofa, do a careful analysis of the room. First, determine where the sofa will be placed and pinpoint any special considerations that location will bring. For example, if the sofa will stand in front of a large window, you may want one with a low back so it doesn’t block the view. If the window lets in lots of light, consider getting a light colored fabric that won’t fade from the sun.

Next, determine the size of sofa that will best fit the scale of the room. Is the room big and lofty, full of large furnishings? Or is it a cozy spot? I recommend making a scale drawing of the room so you can pick a sofa that’s not too big or too little. (Don’t rely on your memory when you’re in the furniture showroom – display sofas always look much smaller in these huge galleries than they do in a home.) At Nell Hill’s, our designers help our customers do room drawings to ensure their sofa will be a perfect fit. We also help them select sofas that will match the scale of the other pieces in the room so the whole space is cohesive and beautifully styled.


5. Don’t take a sofa at face value – give it character with accent pillows.

Think of your sofa as a backdrop for the sensational accent pillows that will give it style and character. Pillows are the spice of life in your living room, so have fun designing a grouping that plays up your new sofa and finishes the look of the room. One of our tricks at Nell Hill’s is to create  one set of pillows for the warm months and a second for the cold months, so sofas take on completely different looks for each season. It’s easy to do. Just configure a mix of pillow sizes that look great on your sofa, like a Euro for each corner, a standard bed sham for the center and two smaller rectangles for each arm. Next, get high quality down pillow forms. Then, have a set of pillow covers made out of lightweight summer fabrics, like linen and cotton, for warm months, and a set made out of winter-weight fabrics, like wool and velvet, for cold months.

Next Week … Baby nurseries and kids’ rooms are coming of age. Next week I’ll have some ideas to inspire you if you’re decorating a room for a little one.

P.S. Don’t miss a bit of Nell Hill’s news – stay up to date on my favorite finds, new arrivals at the stores and all our special events by checking the Nell Hill’s Facebook page every day. You don’t have to have a Facebook page yourself to look in on the fun, but if you’re already on Facebook, “like” us today!

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22 Responses to “5 Mistakes You Don’t Want to Make When Selecting a Sofa”

  1. Stacy Says:

    Thanks, Mary Carol, for your wise words. I spent too much money on an Ethan Allen sofa that didn’t wear well from my husband’s love of lounging (read: the middle cushion got beat down). Because they are known for their good construction, I had someone from EA come out and look at it. His words, “Well, sofas aren’t really made to be lied on . . .” Thank you for validating that life happens on the sofa!

  2. Kathy Says:

    Mary Carol the off-white and beige sofas featured on your post are all beautiful! So many shown in catalogs are also in these shades… you think they make the best choices? I am leaning to those colors for our next one, but must say our olive/sage green sofa has served us well for seven years, and green can be a neutral, too. In a way. TV hosts advise against too many safe neutrals, I am wondering what to do.

  3. Deb C Says:

    Thanks Mary Carol! I am putting off making a sofa choice, out of fear of it not holding up! How do I know that my frame and cushions are going to stand the test of time?? I am going to choose a traditional style sofa ( for that old style charm) with wood trim, in brown tones, neutral solid fabric and play the room up with changeable pillows and upper wall paper! Color wise I feel safe! Durability wise as for fabric holding up as well as cushions and frame I have my fears!! Help!I I feel I need further advice!!! Such a big investment!!

  4. nancy ford Says:

    I was hoping you would comment on the cushions on sofa’s. that has been my mistake on one of my 3 . I have and was wondering if 3 pillows can be made into one solid pillow??? thanks

  5. Cindy Rippe Says:

    Don’t forget to make sure it will fit through the door – lol. We live in a 125 year old house and the doors are not a standard size. Had to give up a great deal on a sofa because it would not fit through either door. The back was just too high. Thanks for your great suggestions.

  6. Trish Says:

    Wish I had read this years ago—-it would have saved me money and comfort!,

  7. Nancy Says:

    Such great suggestions. However, if you really love a print on a sofa, with companion prints on chairs and benches in smaller scale and similar colors it can work, too. We now live iin a 1,000 sq ft bungalow with two plaid sofas which we have worked the floor plan and other large pieces around. Years ago (20), shortly after bringing them home, our college age son (then) had friends over to watch a movie. Let me tell you, an upside down pepperoni pizza had met it’s match. No tell tale signs,the scotchguard and the plaid print took it in stride! It’s still looking great after all this time. Because we choose a color palate that has been our foundation through the years (jewel tones), we can make simple changes to freshen the look (mattress ticking drapes). True, plain sofa in neutrals work well, transition through the current trends, but give me our traditional plaid!

  8. Mary Carol Says:

    Kathy—Of course your decision is totally up to you, but as mentioned in the above blog—I love neutrals on large investment pieces. The sunbrella fabric, as mentioned, is so easy to keep clean–especially for an active family. You could go with neutrals such as kaiki, black, taupe, off white—or any solids for that matter. Then it free’s you up to put your pops of color in your artwork, pillows, paint and accessories.

  9. Mary Carol Says:

    First of all Deb, I hope you will come visit us—Nell Hill’s Briarcliff, because we have amazing furniture vendors that build amazing product with guarantees backed by us– here at Nell Hills. Any designer that you work with should find out exactly what your family needs happen to be–then make a recommendation accordingly.

  10. Linda Rostenberg Says:

    I am looking for a small desk and chair to serve as a telephone desk in my living room, do you have anything that would work?

    Linda Rostenberg

  11. Mary Carol Says:

    Hi Linda—I believe we have something that might work for you—I will have someone call you.

  12. Robin Frank -- Vision Interiors Says:

    Dashed thru the Briarcliff store with customer on Tuesday . First ……. best sofas ever are there and they will last years and years !!! Gray one that’s to die for ! Would love it if you could carry a few more ” white ” ones too . And Mary Carol … Your hair looked Soooo cute tied back . Hope to have time to visit with ya next time over

  13. Steph Says:

    Do you have the ottomon shown in mistake #3? Looks like an extra wide leather one? If so how much is it?

  14. Evelyn Says:

    My sofa mistake was years ago when I bought a “trendy” loose pillow-back sofa that the manufacturers neglected to put enough padding on the frame behind all those loose pillows. Originally I liked the look and thought it will be great to be able to arrange the pillows to meet whatever sitting/lounging/snuggling configuration was desired. Well, those that are okay with a sofa that looks like an unmade bed most of the time won’t have a problem, but it drove me NUTS! I tend to be on the neat-nick side and every time anyone would get up from the sofa, I felt it had to be “made”. What a maintenance nightmare for me! With my current sofa I fluff a few small decorative pillows, everything looks lovely and I can leave the room happy! Be sure to evaluate just how much “casual” you can stand and how much maintenance is required before you pick a sofa that will drive you batty!

  15. Mary Carol Says:

    Hi Steph—The leather ottoman featured in #3 is a 53×53 and can be ordered for you here at Nell Hill’s. There are several grades of leather available, the mid range would run around $1,686.00. Please call the store at 877-746-4320 for more details.

  16. Mary Carol Says:

    Hi Nancy— If you are commenting on the cushions on the bottom of a sofa the answer is ‘yes’, you can turn those 3 cushions into one long bench.

  17. Bobbie Says:

    Mary Carol, this week’s blog is filled with helpful information. Thanks for lifting my home furnishing spirits.

  18. Karen Osborn Says:

    Mary Carol, What do you think about using leather on sofa and chairs? I have two dogs, one who lives on the couch! Thanks for your weekly messages. I love reading each and every one!

  19. Scarlett Says:

    Looking for the 2 pictures,in the first picture.

  20. stasia litos Says:

    Mary Carol, I am madly in love with the large red and white prints over the console. Do you sell them?

  21. Scarlett Says:

    The red and white prints…any information on them? Thanks

  22. Katie Says:

    Can you tell me where I can find the sofa in picture for #4? Thanks!

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