Home Style: Mistakes to avoid when choosing a sofa

Mary Carol Garrity

When you think about it, a lot of life happens on your sofa. This all-important piece of furniture needs to fit you, your home and your lifestyle. To ensure you get a sofa that's just right, avoid these five common mistakes.

1. Don't buy a sofa upholstered in fabric you will be sick of in a few years.

I can't tell you how many times I've worked with customers who want to replace a sofa that is still in good shape because they are tired of the fabric. Unfortunately, it doesn't take long to get sick of a busy floral, bold plaid or strong stripe.

Since sofas can be a sizable financial investment, get one you will love for many years. Pick a neutral upholstery fabric, one that will serve as a blank slate you can remake by pairing it with accent pillows and throws.

If you're itching to bring some of today's bold colors and patterns into your room through upholstered furnishings, go for it! Just do so on a smaller piece, like a side chair or ottoman.

2. Don't select upholstery fabric you have to fuss over.

Red wine is going to spill. Dogs are going to shed; cats are going to cough up hair balls. Spouses and kids are going to eat -- and drop -- pizza and popcorn and ice cream on the sofa. Life happens, and you need a sofa that is prepared to handle it. So don't buy a sofa upholstered in an unforgiving fabric you have to fuss over.

My sofas are all covered in white fabric, which you would think would be a nightmare to keep clean, what with the cats, the dog and the husband. Believe it or not, it's still in great shape, thanks to my Clorox pen. But if I were starting over, I would cover my sofas in outdoor fabric.

3. Don't even think about getting a sofa that you wouldn't want to sleep on.

Many nights, when I'm unable to sleep, I come down to read on the sofa and fall right to sleep in its sink-into-comfy softness. It's essential that your sofa be that comfortable.

You'll never know if a prospective sofa is just right for you unless you sit in it like you would at home. Get in your normal lounging position and see what you think.

When I'm helping a couple select a sofa, I often find that what fits the wife doesn't necessarily fit the husband. So I do a little detective work. Where does each of them tend to sit? Does he gravitate toward a big easy chair, while she likes to curl up on the sofa? Whoever typically sits on the sofa should have the deciding vote when it comes to fit.

4. Don't buy a sofa that doesn't fit your room.

First, determine where the sofa will be located and pinpoint any special considerations. For example, if the sofa will be in front of a large window, you may want one with a low back so it doesn't block the view. If the window lets in lots of light, consider getting a light colored fabric that won't fade.

Next, determine the size of sofa that will best fit the scale of the room. Is the room big and lofty, full of large furnishings? Or is it a cozy spot? I recommend making a scale drawing of the room so you can pick a sofa that's not too big or too little.

5. Don't take a sofa at face value -- give it character with accent pillows.

Think of your sofa as a backdrop for the sensational accent pillows that will give it style and character. Pillows are the spice of life in your living room, so have fun designing a grouping that plays up your new sofa and finishes the look of the room. You can change them seasonally.

The column has been adapted from Mary Carol Garrity's blog at She can be reached at