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Pick the right sofa for your space

The average life span of a sofa is 10 to 15 years—choose wisely

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Whether you call it a couch or a sofa, it’s often the largest and longest lasting investment in your living room, so it’s important to think about more than just how comfortable the cushions are.

“The overall aesthetic of the room or house, the client’s personal taste, and use of the sofa should dictate the style of the sofa,” says Susan Snow of Moving Designz Home and Cottage in Charlottetown.

Size is a good starting point in the sofa selection process. “Before we get into styles, colours, and fabric even, it’s more like what size sofa will fit in your space,” says Suzanne Saul, co-owner of Attica Furnishings Ltd. in Halifax.

Beyond the size of the sofa itself, consider factors such as the room’s traffic flow, size of the living space, and how many other pieces of furniture are in the room.

Moya O’Neill of Moya O’Neill Design in St. John’s, Nfld. says a house, condo, or apartment’s architecture plays a large role in sofa purchasing. Depending on its age, some buildings have layouts that don’t accommodate certain types of furniture.

“[Consider] the hallway for sure, especially in heritage homes,” says O’Neill. “Older homes come with narrow staircases, but also consider this for apartments.”

Do some simple math to ensure the sofa you want will fit through your front door. Measure the door’s height, width, and clearance (the space you have to enter the door before encountering a wall). Measure the length of the sofa from arm to arm and the diagonal depth (learn how to measure it below). To fit through the door, your sofa’s length must be less that the height of the door and clearance area; the width and diagonal depth must be less than that of the door.

In addition to getting the sofa into your home, consider how its size suits the room. “For nine-foot and 10-foot ceilings, you could consider a taller sofa so as not to dwarf its size,” says O’Neill. “For an eight-foot ceiling, you should consider a low sofa as this will give the illusion of a taller ceiling.”

When it comes to design, Snow suggests modern spaces should take a more “tailored approach,” with square arms and no piping, or fabric trim. A cottage sofa should be accented with armrests and slipcovers for a casual relaxed look, while a more traditional space goes well with button tufting on the seats, she says.

Colour is equally important. In Snow’s experience, a neutral colour is a safe bet for any space. “Neutral does not mean boring,” she says. “You can add interest through fabric textures or details, such as button tufting and nail heads.” A neutral sofa colour allows you to add and change accent colours and patters easily with cushions or throws.

“The sofa is a very large structural piece, so I like to keep it simple,” Saul says. “I don’t look to the sofa to be overly complicated because I think there’s more opportunity in other aspects of the room, either in the occasional seating, artwork or cabinets… there are other places where embellishments can be made.” Don’t run from colour, but be sure it complements your room.

“A sofa in a great bold colour, such as a deep navy or emerald green, can really anchor a room,” says Snow. “My design advice is to either go neutral on the sofa with colour on the walls or colour on the sofa with neutral walls.”

When choosing fabric, pick something you like, but also think about the furniture’s use. O’Neill suggests starting at the base by making sure your sofa is made of a hardwood that will stand the test of time and avoid sagging.

“Leather still seems to be the most durable,” says O’Neill. “It is tough, easy to wipe and very practical for kids and adults.” Cotton and cotton blends are very resistant to wear and fading, but stain easily.” Clothing dyes transfer easily to cottons.

Picking out a sofa isn’t easy, but it is important. “Take your time, shop around, look at different styles and do some research,” says Snow. “Purchasing a sofa is usually a big investment that you want to last for a long time.”


To find diagonal depth: run a straight edge from the top of the back of the sofa to the front of the arm; measure from the rear corner of the sofa to the straight edge. To fit, your sofa’s length must be less that the height of the door and clearance area, and the width and diagonal depth must be less than that of the door.


  • Pick a fabric that suits the furniture’s function and the room’s use. For example, leather is more durable, but cotton is more resistant to wear.
  • Neutral colours are always a safe bet, but if a room is filled with neutral colours a colourful sofa can accent the space.
  • Pillows and throws add a splash of colour to a neutral coloured sofa or space. Plus they’re easy to change.
  • Large scale patterns don’t always work in small spaces, as they tend to take up more room.
  • Size is a big factor and this extends to more than the sofa itself. Take into account the dimensions of the room, including the ceilings, hallways, and doorways.
  • Layout is also key. After measuring your room, draw up a floor plan and potential room designs.
East Coast Living