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Colin & Justin’s Tips on How to Buy A Sofa — or Restyle An Old Couch

The Chesterfield Shop
Published on May 7, 2013

From Homes and Condos, The Toronto Star
, Saturday, May 4, 2013

Thanks to Colin and Justin for “A bit of cheeky advice about sofas”.

Colin McAllister and Justin Ryan Special to the Star

Big bums. Small bums. Medium bums. Aye, the human derriere comes in a flush of sizes, making it fair to observe no two are entirely alike. Think ample (a la Honey Boo Boo’s Mama June), pert (Posh Spice, at her leanest) or curvy like Latino lovely Jennifer Lopez.

Each bottom, regardless of spread, shares a common denominator: a requirement for somewhere to sit.

To properly service the gluteus maximus, the sofa should be an all-giving, all-yielding plonk zone that welcomes, cossets and supports, no matter the proportion of the invader. So, are you sitting comfortably? No? Guess you should read on . . .

We often opine that certain elements of home design (flooring, kitchens and bathrooms) require extra investment. Upholstery, too, falls into the “must endure longer than a passing fad” category. A chesterfield, in most cases, requires planning to tempt stylistic longevity.

So what looks best where? A clean-lined tuxedo sofa (with arms and back arranged at the same height) will probably appeal to both traditionalists and modernists, whereas an outsized squashy option with fat, rolled arms may attract those who enjoy country style interiors. At the other end of the spectrum, a mid-century Danish couch may lure historical purists or admirers of the avant-garde esthetic.

Standard chesterfields? These are typically 203 to 218 centimetres long, whereas two-seater sofas or loveseats, generally speaking, measure 147 to 193 centimetres in length. Bear in mind that a lavishly filled sofa will appear eminently more cumbersome than a tightly tailored chaise and be mindful that the overall length of your couch doesn’t always relate to its seating capacity. Wide arms, for example, mean less sitting space, so do the math and spend — and then sit — wisely.

Other options? Let’s see. Space permitting, a sectional or L-shaped sofa is a perfect solution to amplify the number of people who can be accommodated. In larger spaces, sectionals can be used as room dividers. But take a tip: always think of the sofa orientation and, crucially, at which end the ‘corner’ will turn in relation to other furniture.

Sofa beds? While not their biggest fans, we observe that when space is tight (or has to double as guest accommodation), sofa beds make useful problem solvers. For sporadic use, a foam fold-out design will probably suffice. But for regular use, we strongly recommend a wire-sprung option with a mattress measuring at least 10 centimetres thick.

It’s now easy to buy from home with the surge in online and catalogue shopping. But always read the small print and heed this counsel: Appraise return policies and guarantees. Many e-commerce companies, eager to capitalize, will happily take product back but not all will pay for return delivery or shipping.

If you’re feeling adventurous, it’s well worth considering custom upholstery to tweak your vision and max up or reduce arm size, adjust length or change the fill of cushions as required. Flexibility is key. We provide around 75 per cent of our client roster in this way, both on-and off-creen. In the GTA we send our work to N’shape Design; they have exacting standards, fair pricing and offer good turnaround from planning to delivery.

With that, we offer you Sofa 101 — the ultimate guide:

•Be spatially aware. Measure, make a paper template and play around with different room layouts before purchase. We like to re-arrange furniture each season. Will the size and shape of your new sofa allow you to do this?

•Check that doors are sufficiently wide to welcome your new upholstery. The last thing you need is the prospect of window removal to fit everything in. Believe us, we’ve been there.

•Think ergonomics. Better lumbar support will be offered by a sofa with a shorter seat depth — and a fixed back — than from a loose-cushioned alternative.

•Don’t select by form alone. Decide if you need something upon which the whole family will gather, or a more formal sofa for cocktail parties and coffee mornings. One man’s meat is another man’s poison.

•Use focus. Space permitting, centrally arranged seating creates a better impression. The dentist’s waiting room look is so last year. If a wall is where it must go, choose a settee no longer than three quarters the length of that wall.

•Don’t be afraid to try before you buy. At the very least lounge, stretch out and cuddle on potential options to be assured you’re buying an appropriate model. In an ideal world, make joint-buying decisions with anyone else in your household who’ll be using the sofa.

•Ask how your dream sofa is sprung. The last thing you need is coiled metal prodding you. Springs should provide yield and support, but should be barely there as far in the final feel.

•Enquire about padding. Feather-wrapped foam is a perfect combo as opposed to foam alone, which can be too hard, or feather alone, which can be too soft.

•Look for certification that assures filling and all associated materials have been safeguarded against combustion. Check out Canada’s consumer product safety website (for furniture, décor & garden) at

•Inspect stitching and be on the lookout for good pattern matching. Well-made pieces should never display sloppy tailoring.

•While we’ve specified ostentatious design (at our clients’ behest) we advise choosing sofas that lend themselves to longevity. Trends pass, but classic pieces stand the test of time.

•As a general rule, plain colour is best. This choice allows you to switch up detailing, on a seasonal basis, with scatter cushions and throws.

•Don’t be scared of remodelling. As long as your sofa can meet current safety legislation, what’s stopping you? Just look at today’s before and after. As we found it, the worn-out sofa looked like it smelled of formaldehyde and cat pee. That said, with a good clean, new padding and 15 yards of pink linen, the light of potential shone and Granny Grey Hips sofa was immediately reborn.

The bottom line, if you’ll excuse the pun, is simply this: a well-thought combo of style, size, construction and comfort will always win out.

Colin McAllister and Justin Ryan are the hosts of HGTV’s Colin & Justin’s Home Heist and the authors of Colin & Justin’s Home Heist Style Guide, published by Penguin Group (Canada). Catch them every Monday on Cityline (9 a.m. on City). Follow them on Twitter @colinjustin or on Facebook (ColinandJustin).Check out their new product ranges at Contact them through their website

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