The Search For the Perfect Couch

Dear Daniel,

I am overwhelmed by picking all the sofa selections available to me. How do I know if a couch is too large, too small or just right?

Sincerely, Does-this-couch-make-me-look-fat?

Dear Couch Potato,

Only once have I seen a couch make someone look fat, and it was a tiny little doll sized settee under a 250 lb man.

The answer is, the couches you’re looking at are almost definitely too big. Have you been in Restoration Hardware recently? How many people do they think you’re having over!? And in what palace!?

For years, furniture in all of the big box stores has continued to grow larger and larger. And it really does look the gigantic showrooms in which it's displayed. However, it will not look the same in your home. Eighty Four inches is a good maximum length for your sofa, and if you live in an apartment, this is a size you’ll be sure to fit into the elevator carriage. There are contexts in which longer couches make sense visually...but almost never is the middle forty inches of sofa occupied by anybody. So, unless you’re running a cocktail bar out of your living room, stick with eighty four.

Also, the height of the back, seat, and arms are all important and all have different outcomes on the look and feel of the sofa in your room.

A couch with a very high back can be very comfortable, but is best against a wall or in a context where you want to separate two seating groups and give the room a dual function. High backed sofas are not good in front of windows with a view, or placed in the middle of rooms that you want to feel airy and open.

The height and profile of an arm can change the feel of a couch both within the overall context of the room and when you're lounging in it. I grew up in a house with a very big living room in which my mother had two gigantic camel back sofas with scrolling arms that were the same height as the back. They were extremely comfortable and looked great in her old living room. However, when she moved into a smaller house, it looked as if she had parked two school buses in her living room. When you sat in the couches, they became like a room of their own, which had a cozy effect in a vast space, but just seemed to add unnecessary complexity when placed in a new, smaller context. In the old room, they were far enough away from each other that you could easily see the people you were talking to, but in the new room, they cut off all visibility. Think about the overall size of your room when you think about the size of your sofa's arms.

As for the seat depth, personal preference and height of user can go into this dimension. I'm currently working for a married couple where the wife is 5'2” and the husband is 6'5”. They defer to her size because if a sofa is too big for her, her feet won't touch the floor and it is a struggle to get up! You shouldn't buy furniture that doesn't dignify the people using it. On a sofa of smaller depth, the husband can simply adapt a more relaxed posture.

In short, when picking the size of your sofa, think proportionally in length, height, and depth.

Sincerely, Daniel

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