A Sofa You’ll Never Regret: A Buyer’s Guide

After living with a couch whose loose cushions always looked sloppy, a design pro seeks her happily-ever-after seat. Plus: sofa suggestions for five types of shoppers

NO-SLOUCH COUCH The author loved Menu’s uncomplicated Offset sofa. To test its comfort, she traveled from Brooklyn to Copenhagen’s Audo hotel. She was not disappointed. $3,895, lumens.com.

AN UNOFFICIAL, unpaid interior decorator to friends, colleagues and occasionally strangers, I am often asked to advise on the acquisition of sofas, arguably the most anxiety-inducing furniture buy. My credentials: many years designing sets that furniture brands photograph to showcase next season’s merchandise. I trawl design fairs, consume niche interiors magazines, write books about other people’s interiors. There is not a micro-trend, leg nuance or upholstery style that escapes the reach of my sofa board on Pinterest.

My antique-dealer husband, on the other hand, reviles anything new, which explains how—after seven happy years with a couch whose only drawback was its crumb-catching tufts—we recently ended up with a 1964 metal-framed Haussmann sofa that we’d never sat on. Once this midcentury beauty was installed in our half-brownstone’s living room, it became apparent there’d be no sprawling on it; any attempt to relax sent one or more of the 12 separate cushions slithering out of the frame. After considering replacing the pillows with less slovenly filling (as costly as a new sofa), we admitted defeat.

2020欧洲杯APPMy head had been turned by the Offset (above), a sofa by Danish brand Menu. Norm Architects designed the piece as an experiment in marrying architecture and homeyness, something I feel its blocky build with rounded corners achieves. Its style, it turns out, fits one of the furniture trends that a friend, Sebastian Brauer, sees in the offing. The vice president of product design at my sometime employer Crate & Barrel characterized the coming look as “a casual yet polished and luxe sensibility defined by softer and organic lines.”

Any attempt to relax prompted one or more of the 12 separate cushions to slither out of the frame.

At around $4,000, the Offset was over my ideal budget of $3,000, but it would let me steer clear of all my sofa bete noires: visible legs (in so many designs, an afterthought), decorative tufting and, worst of all, multiple floating seat cushions that inevitably look unkempt. I could cope with its back cushions, a trade-off that, when removed, turned the sofa into a twin-size bed for naps and overnight guests. The Offset’s bench—springs double-wrapped with foam—and skinny razor arms cut a chic, discreet silhouette. I saw the Offset adapting stylishly to all my fantasy future homes: the loft, the palazzo, the 15th-century attic.

2020欧洲杯APPThe catch: There was no sample to test in the U.S. I had asked industry friend and sometime collaborator Alex Bates, former creative director of West Elm, her opinion on tightly upholstered sofas. She deemed them “less about lounging and more about transitory spaces.” Think dentists’ waiting rooms. Personally, I could live on a cushion on the floor if it was pretty, but I had a husband and 17-year-old son to think about. I tacked a side trip to Copenhagen onto a work sojourn in London. A couple of Offsets reside at the Audo, Copenhagen’s hybrid of hotel, co-working space and showroom for Menu designs.

2020欧洲杯APPIn my hotel room, I hurled myself onto the Offset with the enthusiasm of a sleep-deprived economy flier. I was very satisfied. (It proved more comfortable than the bed). The upholstery, Kvadrat’s Maple linen blend, has a soft pile to it. This aligned with Mr. Brauer’s declaration that more textural bouclés, chenilles and corduroy were trending as sofa materials. Crisply upholstered without any annoying seat-cushion separation, the Offset seemed the ideal candidate for my living room.

Over the next two days I confirmed my decision by dashing in and out of the many excellent design stores the city has to offer, where I was able to sit on many attractive sofas I had only seen in pictures. I was not swayed.

FIVE IDEAL SOFAS FOR FIVE TYPES OF SITTER

THERE ARE MULTITUDES of sofas to choose from. I’ve narrowed the field to those with solid seats because I’ve come to believe that multiple cushions only look good between your attempt to plump them and the first time anyone sits down. Life is just too short.

Although some regard solid-seated sofas as less comfortable, design veteran and sometime collaborator of mine Alex Baxter noted that “there are some tight-seat sofas that have been constructed for look and comfort. I have a bias toward eight-way hand-tied seats” (a technique that is considered a gold standard of upholstery).

2020欧洲杯APPIn my decades working for furniture brands, including CB2, represented here, I’ve concluded that sofa shoppers can be roughly categorized into these five types. Here are suggestions for each personality.

THE AESTHETE

Illustration: CARLOS APONTE (ILLUSTRATION)

When the Aesthete searches for a sofa, she is already imagining herself perching fetchingly on it for a magazine photo-shoot—or at least an Instagram post. This Vladimir Kagan-inspired couch provides the ideal graceful backdrop. Granted, the sculptural curve and sloping arms make it harder to stretch out on, but overnight guests will not be crashing here, and the aesthete is happy to wait until bedtime to recline. For this shopper, a striking figure trumps all else. Diamond Celine Curved 99” Sofa, $2,199,

THE TREND MONITOR

Illustration: CARLOS APONTE (ILLUSTRATION)

The Trend Monitor has had her very informed eye on channeled upholstery since spying the pink ladyfinger chairs India Mahdavi installed in her endlessly re-’grammed Sketch tea room/cocktail lounge in London’s hip Mayfair neighborhood. The persimmon velvet on this Deco-inspired sofa (too sumptuous to spoil by wearing platform boots) fits snugly into the palette of earthy rusts, olives and corals so au courant in 2020. Modshop Monaco Sofa $3,495,

THE FAMILY MAN

Illustration: CARLOS APONTE (ILLUSTRATION)

This couch might not be the Family Man’s (or Woman’s) dream seat. But it’s the workhorse he sensibly chooses during the child-centric phase of his life. Sectionals can accommodate a crowd but rarely keep their shape. This uncommonly tailored two-piece, with its clean lines and minimum of demanding cushions and toy-swallowing cavities, promises to be robust enough for skirmishes. Also available in sensibly darker upholstery. Lenyx Stone 2-Piece Sectional, from $2,298,

THE PRAGMATIST

Illustration: CARLOS APONTE (ILLUSTRATION)

Aware of all the complexities of sofa-buying, the Pragmatist seeks a piece that is well- made, well-proportioned and stylish—but not madly so, so that it can evolve with her interior choices. Her practicality includes a price modest enough that she won’t be racked with guilt if her circumstances or tastes change. This tightly upholstered example boasts a firm seat, on-trend curves and simple powder-coated feet. Puff Puff 87”, $1,699,

THE TRADITIONALIST

Illustration: CARLOS APONTE (ILLUSTRATION)

A Eurocentric connoisseur of quality and classic silhouettes, the Traditionalist wants a handsome piece that plays well with antique furniture and double-breasted vests. This sofa nods to the past with a tufted seat and turned-walnut legs, and its neat back and single-cushion seat remain ever-decorous. Brass casters, a throwback to pre-vacuum housecleaning, allow for easy moves—perhaps as an instant banquette to a dining table. Gustav Sofa, $4,571,

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