From cocktail parties to Netflix nights, your sofa works hard and should look great. Besides being the anchor of the room and a functional powerhouse, it’s also a major furniture purchase that requires some research and real-life testing. Buying a sofa is a big investment, and a well-made one should last, not be something you throw out in five years time. Regardless of how well a sofa is made, you won’t be happy with it if you don’t also love the way it looks. Finding a great sofa is like finding a soulmate: the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
People often buy style over practicality, which is a common mistake.
Whether a sofa’s destined for a public room or a private space, its function—size requirements, lifestyle, and comfort level—and design will set the room’s tone. If you choose well, it’ll be worth the investment. It should be a piece of furniture that you could pass down to your children.
After a lifetime of research, including visiting the world’s best upholsterers and furniture factories including Baker Furniture’s factory in North Carolina, interviewing industry experts, like the world’s greatest sofa designer Antonio Citterio and parking ourselves on nearly every sofa we’ve seen, we can tell you exactly what separates great sofas from future curbside donations. This quick guide will walk you through everything you need to know to bring home a durable, comfortable, and aesthetically pleasing piece of furniture.
We’ve also included our fave sources from the connoisseurs – design names like Adelaide Bragg, Thomas Hamel, Cameron Kimber, Iain Halliday, The Vault Sydney and Collette Dinnigan whose beautiful country estate, is pictured, below. Grab a seat and read on.
PUT FUNCTION FIRST
Tailored pieces that are longer offer additional seating for guests, while lounge-y, less structured models with deep cushions are great for curling up with a book. Envision yourself in the space and how you will use the sofa, then opt for a style that fits those requirements.
CHOOSE YOUR STYLE
Ask yourself, “What style do I like?” Midcentury, traditional, French? Use that as a jumping-off point. Narrow your search to the styles that appeal to you, and that will complement your home’s decor.
CONSIDER SOFT VERSUS FIRM
A plush cushion seat invites people to settle in and relax, while firmer models can withstand wear and tear a little better. When considering firmness, guests should be comfortable balancing a glass of wine while sitting. A cushion-y model might mean more time plumping pillows to perfection.
MAKE IT WORK WITH YOUR DÉCOR
Sofas can be the superstar of the room, given their silhouette and fabric, or they can be low-key supporting players. Some people prefer to take a fanciful piece and upholster it in a neutral fabric, while others prefer a tailored design upholstered in a patterned or velvet textile.
LOOK FOR SUPPORT
A sofa with a high back offers more support for the head and neck. The majority of sofas support the back only—which most people find adequate. Another thing to consider: arm style. An architectural or tuxedo style might feature a tighter corner that cradles you.
HOW TO DEAL WITH IT IN THE ROOM
For TV and more informal rooms, it is lovely to cover the sofa with an assortment of down-filled pillows and to have a throw or quilt hanging over the back. The pillows and blankets are not just for comfort; they also cut what can be a whale-like piece of furniture in the room.
Obviously, you can go in any direction you like, but for those seeking something foolproof, here’s our advice. The fabric you choose should always be tactile – natural wins over manmade. Cotton and canvas are hardwearing, inexpensive and practical when it comes to laundering. Linen and linen blends are generally hardwearing – the more expensive ones are usually tougher and feel softer. Wool serges look great and wear well, but can be tricky to clean. Velvet upholstery in a rich jewel colour is really smart. Dark colours are fabulous backgrounds for cushions in paler shades and patterns.
If you have children, use a pattern to disguise the juice/jelly/whatever; velvet or anything in a solid will be ruined with the first splat. Choose a colour that will outlast fashion.
Almost every style hero lists the Gervasoni Ghost as their favourite sofa design. It’s chic, low-key and perfect for relaxed, elegant living, and also one of the most-copied sofas on the planet. anibou.com.au
We’re glad we asked some of our most stylish friends where they’ve been buying their sofas lately. The answer? Camerich: the contemporary sofa specialist has quickly become the style set and celebrity’s choice for its beautiful, flexible, versatile seating options, which come in modules that you can configure to suit your space with individual, L-shape, or U-shape sofas. Sofas are customisable, so you choose the modules, the colour, and build them to your requirements. Best-sellers include Lazy Time 3-seaters, from $4150, Free Town, and Camerich’s latest release, Nature with Texan leather strapping on sofa sides in black or tan, from $4800. Make sure you also check Rubix and Amor. All sofa frames are solid ash wood, and covers are fully removable for dry cleaning. www.camerich.com.au
CAVIT & CO STUDIO
This is where to get Verellen slip-covered linen sofas which are the Cartier watch of interiors. Our faves are Duke, Camille, and Logan: timeless classics made in solid maple hardwood, with down/feather filling and hand-tied coiled springs. Also Baker Furniture sofa icons by Thomas Pheasant, Barbara Barry and Jean Louis Denoit. We’ve visited the Baker factory in North Carolina, America – and you won’t go wrong with one of their designs, which also feature 8-way hand-tied springs which you only see in very high-end sofas. Pieces to pass down for generations. Plus another fave, Meridiani Italian high-end stunners. cavitco.com
Bigwig architects get their sofas such as the famous Hamilton here, seeking out brands like Minotti, the 70-year old Italian furniture maker who is a global company producing bestselling Freeman, Yang and Lawrence sofas designed by artistic director Rodolfo Dordoni who has been with the business for more than 20 years. We love the look of its 2018 Collection released earlier this month at Milan Furniture Fair including sofas that are like sculptures, such Alexander, Granville and Tate with clean soft contours which go with modern architecture. Repeat clients include Iain Halliday, Alex Tzannes, Alex Popov and Rob Mills Architecture. Dedece.com.au
Have a look at British stalwart, who makes fabulously deep sofas, such as Extended Mac and Extended Two Seater, a classic roll-top sofa, known in the trade as the Howard shape. The name comes from one of the most highly regarded companies of all, Howard Chairs, who has been making comfortable upholstered furniture in England since 1820, and is the down-filled choice of the Queen. You can’t go wrong with a Howard sofa (around $4000) who ships internationally, which can be more expensive at auctions and antique shops, www.georgesherlock.com
The millenial’s fave sofa brand, has affordable, chic designs that look like designer ones for a lot less, which come with removeable slip-covers in colours that will outlast fashion, (charcoal, espresso, ivory, white), so you can change your look with the seasons (or your moods). Plenty of simple, subtle sofas to choose including the Hamptons four-seater, $1698, and five-piece sectionals, $2199, all with five year warranties. A+ looks: you’ll want them all. www.jameslane.com.au
The net-a-porter of Australia in Sydney’s burgeoning interiors hotspot Paddington, where you will find sofas that suit most needs from mod Italian styles to slinky luxe velvet upright affairs with curved arms and wooden frames and modular sprawling numbers. We recommend Pillow, Ademai, Vermont, Esmeralda and Clandon Avalon, pictured below. 180B Oxford St, Paddington, 1800 077 704, www.jamessaid.com.au
Can custom make sofas to any size or specification – in modern or traditional styles that fit a brief of fashion, function and form. A fave with The Vault Sydney, Thomas Hamel, Cameron Kimber, and other top design names. Different inserts to choose from. 13/14-16 Green St, Banksmeadow, (02) 9700 0117.
LIVING BY DESIGN
It’s contemporary sofas are one of Australia’s best kept secrets, (and has quickly become a firm fave with designers). Seek out the Elton 220cm slipcover classic in Cobblestone Ash or Flint Smoke cotton blend, $2399, as well as the best-selling Antonio 240cm sofa in steel or light grey, $2999, and the Flynn four-seater 2600cm stunner in downpipe grey or moss green, $3999. We also recommend the black Livorna modernist-style 198cm sofa in silver ash cotton blend, $1899. They can be in your house in a day or two – the company is scoring point for being nimble, achieving ever-faster speed to market, satisfying consumer demands for sustainability and, most important, they are a brand that accurately reflect the Zeitgeist, have the courage to “self-disrupt” and are emerging as a clear winner. www.livingbydesign.net.au
LIVING EDGE HERMAN MILLER
Herman Miller does some of the best sofas in the world, loved by international architects, and backed by an impressive 12-year warranty. Our pick is Herman’s Rolled Arm Club sofa, a modern take on the trad Chesterfield with legs in walnut, white or ebony ash, 1092cm long, from $7780. Or the beautiful, luxe Bolster sofa: it’s high-end, but if you’re look is modern, you’ll love it, from $18,000, livingedge.com.au
A regrettable name, but the brand earns a place on our list as the place influencers are shopping like crazy according to a recent report in My Domaine. Around $999 will score you the most adorable Hampton sofa, or a classic two-seater sofa in a linen blend called Poppy for $1099. Discover luxe velvet sofas for $1799 with 10-year warranty on the frame. Look for Memphis, $1099 and Florence, $1599. loungelovers.com.au
Sofas to suit Australia’s low-key relaxed lifestyle, from its best-selling slip-covered linen Joe to Lowlife with deep back and black powder coated skinny steel frame and Judd with thick timber frame with leather wrapped linen filled cushions. We recommend Banjo with slender arms, low deep base in pure Italian linen and loads of back cushions for comfort as well as the armless Joe. For even more affordable versions we hear millennials are shopping James Lane for sofas such as Como with success, mcmhouse.com
For the best in chic, Ondene makes fabulously deep sofas – a pair of which featured in the main sitting room of designer Collette Dinnigan’s Southern Highlands estate, recently published in UK Elle Décor Country and UK Elle Decoration. Just great classic contemporary lookers with the Belgian design aesthetic: forever pleasing and a low-key luxe vibe. www.ondene.com.au
POTTERY BARN CARLISLE
This gorgeous piece competes well with Britain’s most famous sofa brands (like George Smith and George Sherlock), for a lot less, potterybarn.com.au
The American giant has one of the biggest and best ranges of Belgian-style sofas for modern or traditional interiors. Renowned for best-selling designs such as Belgian scroll-arm sofas and just as good for contemporary best-sellers such as its newer Cloud sofa which media personality Deborah Hutton has ordered for her newish Sydney Hamptons-style house. www.restorationhardware.com
WILLS & SONS
Leading Australian interior designers swear by this company. You’ll have to order through your decorator or upholsterer, but you won’t go past its sophisticated Brit-style Cliveden, or country-house classic, Adelaide, which Cameron Kimber uses them in his own residences. Leading names like Adelaide Bragg and Anna Spiro are also fans. www.willsfurniture.com.au
A good place to find sofas for a fraction of what they cost originally. These pieces, usually classic shapes, frequently come from very smart interior-designed houses and apartments and are in great condition but upholstered in something dated. It’s where we source our sofas. At Vickers & Hoad, Shapiro or Leonard Joel you can often find sofas for a fraction of what they cost originally, frequently from snazzy, interior-designed interiors that are and are in excellent condition but upholstered in something rather dated. It’s worth considering these options as there is nothing more comfortable than an old-fashioned sofa, and you can always have a poorly dressed one re-covered.
LEAD IMAGE: Collette Dinnigan’s former country estate featuring Ondene sofas, courtesy of Elle Decoration Country, Volume 13. Photo: Felix Forest.