Here’s How to Pick the Right-Sized Sofa for Your Living Room, According to Pros

published Nov 15, 2019
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Finding the perfect sofa is not easy. I should know: I’ve been through 16 sofas since moving out of my parents’ house 18 years ago. Sixteen! I’ve been on this journey to find my sofamate for quite some time and have no plans of stopping anytime soon. And as far as knowing it’s the right one? Other than just “feeling it”, and knowing my personal style, I’m finally educating myself as to what it is I need to look for size-wise.

I’ve made a few mistakes along the way, choosing “cute” but not practical, or “colorful” but obnoxious and hard to live with. Looking back, all were too big for the size room I’d put them in. So I asked interior designers Amanda Norcross and Scott Paterek of Norcross and Scott for help in figuring how how big is too big, and how small is too small. The bottom line: Whether you’ve got the budget for a high-end piece or a Craigslist steal (full disclosure: most of my sofas have come from Craigslist!), the equation for finding the right size sofa is the same every price point. Here’s what Norcross and Paterek have to say.

Credit: Lauren Kolyn

Think about your own dimensions, not just your room’s

“First, the sofa has to fit the client,” Norcross and Paterek say. Factor your height into the purchase, as well as whether you prefer low seating or a more upright position. After that, try to allow for at least three feet of space around it for traffic. “We often use a 72″ mid sofa because so many older homes have a 12-foot-wide living room,” they say.

Factor in your existing furniture

Your furniture doesn’t need to match, but it should all be at roughly the same height, Norcross and Paterek say: “You don’t want to be towering over your guests!” Aim for something that would put you at roughly eye level if you’re sitting and chatting.

Credit: Minette Hand

Consider where you’ll place it

Whether you float the sofa in the middle of the room or place it against one of the walls will affect what size and shape works best. “With floating sofas, curvature is frequently a bonus and can create a pleasing visual,” say Norcross and Paterek. “Half-circle sofas or sectionals with curved corners are often optimal for traffic flow.”

Don’t be afraid to buy a sectional

Sectionals are huge (and heavy), so I’ve never committed to one in my 16 sofas. So I asked if there were a minimum size a room should be for a sectional—and was surprised by the answer. “Often a sectional helps a smaller room,” Norcross and Paterek say. “A sectional following the perimeter of the room, with one interesting chair, takes up very little floor space.”

Fake the look before you shop

Drawing your plans on paper or viewing them in an app can help you decide what’s right, but there’s nothing like seeing your selection in person. But how do you do that without bringing the couch home first? “Using existing furniture is a great way to get a feel for how the space will be occupied,” say Norcross and Paterek. “There have been times we’ve lined up three dining chairs to show sofa placement.” You can also use painter’s tape laid out on the floor to suit the exact dimension of the sofa so you get the feel.

Credit: Julia Steele

Take your measurements with you

Don’t go to the store without everything in hand, including the dimensions of your living room, the locations of your windows, and the height you’re trying to match. Also keep in mind your traffic flow, so you know where you can place your new piece. Happy sofamate searching!