Sofas and chairs buying guide

Buying new sofas and armchairs is a major investment, so you'll want to get it right. We want you to be delighted with your choice, and with so many different options available, it's good to research what’s best for you and your home before you buy.

And if you can't quite find what you're after, discover our Design your own service, to create the sofa or chair you want in the fabric you love. For more food for thought, watch videos about choosing a sofa and choosing a sofa bed.

Sofa sizes

Sofas

Any choice you make when buying your sofa or chair will obviously depend on the size of your room and how many people you want to seat at any one time. If you'd like some help calculating space, many of our branches offer a measuring service.

Getting new furniture can be exciting. But we do want you to make sure that your new sofa will fit before you order, so please take a little time to measure up before you make your final choice.

See our guide to measuring up for the first steps before purchasing. For tight spaces or doorways, some of our sofas come with bolt-on arms or in 2 parts. These will generally be to order, so do ask in our shops.

You need to try and envisage proportion too - many of our ranges have 2 or 3 sizes of sofa to choose from. A rough rule of thumb is that a large sofa will seat 3 average size adults comfortably. Small sofas will accommodate 2, and we also have compact or "snuggler" sofas which provide an oversized chair for one or a cosy sofa for a couple.

To gauge a safe distance between your leather sofa and a radiator to prevent cracking, move your hand away from the radiator until you can no longer feel its heat; at minimum, this should be about a foot (30cm).

Chairs

Work out whether you're best off with 2 small sofas or one large sofa plus a couple of armchairs - they may offer more flexibility as they can be positioned more easily. It's worth remembering that the arms of a sofa can make a big difference to the amount of seating capacity as well as ease of access to a room. If your room is small, narrower sofa arms give the illusion of a more compact piece. 

High backs on sofas and chairs may look best in rooms with higher ceilings. Lower backs in less open rooms can give the illusion of more space, but can also be used effectively in open-plan rooms to emphasise the sense of space.

Open-plan space can also be enhanced by using modular furniture in large configurations, but this type of furniture can be helpful in smaller spaces too because of its flexibility.

All our sofas are titled according to their size (width measurement) so that you can see at a glance whether one is going to be right for you.

Sofa shapes: seats, legs and arms

When looking at shapes it’s important to understand the styles of backs, cushions, arms and legs.

Backs

The style and comfort offered by the back of the sofa is as important as the seat, though some features, such as cushion configuration, are more a matter of personal taste than comfort. When sitting in a normal position on a sofa, you shouldn't be able to slide your arm easily behind the base of your spine if the sit is correct. If there's a large gap, you won't get the correct level of lumbar support.

 

Fixed back

The back frame of the sofa is itself sprung and upholstered, rather than using loose or fixed cushions. Fixed back sofas offer smart, clean, more formal lines with easy maintenance, and tend to offer slightly firmer seating.

 

Scatter back

The upholstered back frame of a sofa is hidden by an arrangement of loose cushions, providing a more informal style. Scatter cushions might contain polyester fibre or a luxurious feather filling. Feather-filled cushions will need to be plumped and dressed more regularly than fibre-filled in order to keep them looking their best.

 

Cushion back

The conventional look of a British sofa is the cushion back. Two or three boxed-sided cushions of an equal size will be placed across the back of the piece. On a fabric sofa these can normally be turned and moved to even out wear and tear. On leather sofas, and occasionally fabric ones, the cushions will be one-sided and sometimes fixed in place with a zip to prevent slippage.

Seats

As with backs, seats can be fixed or cushioned; this affects the sit and your individual comfort.

Fixed seats

This is when the seat of the sofa itself is sprung and upholstered. Like a fixed back, this offers a very neat, tailored appearance which requires no maintenance. As there are no cushions to turn though, wear can be very focused on the specific points where people sit, so this type of sofa suits more robust fabrics with less stretch to match its more formal appearance. Fabrics with more stretch may "puddle" or ripple over time as the foam interiors settle.

Cushioned seats

These are more conventional and are normally reversible on fabric models. Cushions may be filled with foam, fibre, feather or a combination. Each offer a different quality sit and require different levels of maintenance - see the notes on back cushions above.

As a general rule, the softer the seat cushion, the more upkeep it will need to keep cushions in good order and looking neat and well dressed.

Arms

The design of the arm is often what defines a piece of upholstery and identifies it as classic or contemporary. Wider arms give a sofa presence and scale, but can take up a significant amount of overall length. For small rooms, consider a narrower arm to help maximise your seating space.

All our upholstery is designed to be safe if you perch on the arms, but we really don't recommend it as it can distort the frame over time.

Here are some of our more popular arm shapes:

Scroll arms

These are synonymous with classic sofas and chairs. Pleating and insert panels give a more traditional look, and clean and simple make the sofa more contemporary.

scroll arms

Howard arms

This a very classic style where the arm is low and stops short of the front of the sofa or chair; usually accompanied by a T cushion (one that extends infront of the sofa arms in a T shape). A popular look for period homes.

Howard arms

Flared arms

These come in many shapes and sizes but generally flare outwards slightly from the base, and make the sofa or chair look welcoming. A flared arm can take up as much space as a wide, square arm.

Flared arms

Square arms

Square arms are the most popular shape for contemporary upholstery, and come in a variety of widths to help you decide on what's best for your space.

Square arms

Legs

Legs are usually made of wood, available in a section of natural colours. Many shapes are delivered without the legs attached to prevent damage, though some are designed to be integral to the frame for extra strength so can't be removed. The majority of legs are bolted, as opposed to screwed, into place.

Glides

No visible feet, designed to make the sofa easy to manoeuvre. They are incorporated into the design, often covered by a valance.

Glide legs

Bun feet

Round, shallow feet offering a discreet look for classic or contemporary styles.

Bun feet

Turned legs

A classic wooden style which is turned on a lath to produce an equal rounded leg.

Turned legs

Sabre legs

Curved wooden legs, which lend an elegant, unfussy appearance to a piece of upholstery. They should be attached so that the leg flares outwards, not inwards.

Sabre legs

Plinth

Some sofas are designed to appear as if sitting on a wooden platform or ‘plinth, which gives a contemporary, streamlined appearance.

Plinth

Stiletto

A very fine, thin, contemporary leg normally made of metal for strength.

Stiletto

Sofa construct and fillings

Frame

Our sofas are made to a minimum specification ensuring that all our products have longevity and quality at heart. The frame of the sofa creates the basic shape and gives a rigid structure, providing solid attachments for the soft components. We use predominantly hardwood rails, generally firmly jointed with screws and glue, and often supplemented by dowels. All edges are finished smoothly so there is no danger of damage to fillings or fabrics.

Fillings

It may not be uppermost in your mind, but the filling in your chosen sofa does make a difference. Just as they offer different levels of support, sofas and chairs will require different levels of maintenance depending on the filling. Foam or foam with fibre for example will make an easier life for busy families or anyone with more limited mobility or strength.

Foam upholstery

  • will feel firm and supportive; the firmer the foam, the firmer the sit
  • lends a more tailored appearance
  • will recover well and all you'll need to do is turn the cushions occasionally to allow even wear
  • over time, the foam will compact and lose volume a little, though this process is much slower with high resilience foam

Fibre, or foam with a fibre wrap

  • soft polyester fibre is wrapped or enclosed around a foam core
  • provides good level of support with a soft top layer
  • will give a softer look and feel to sofas and chairs
  • just plump and turn cushions occasionally to maintain comfort and wear

Feather or fibre-filled upholstery

  • has a more relaxed, casual look and a softer sit - ideal if you like to curl up on the sofa
  • plump up cushions daily
  • turn and plump cushions weekly

sofas and chairs buying guide upholstery

Suspension

The comfort of your chair or sofa may well be your first consideration. No form of suspension is necessarily better than another, but will offer a slightly different sit.

Coil spring
A series of linked, coiled springs, similar to those found in mattresses. They offer a comfortable sit and a high level of support.

Pocket spring
Like coil springs, but the coils are individually pocketed in a fabric sleeve and offer maximum support in a sofa seat. Generally considered better and longer lasting than plain coils.

Eight-way hand tied spring
A traditional method where the coils springs are hand tied eight different ways to protect the springs against the fabric.

Serpentine, superloop and zig zag springs
These S-shaped or serpentine springs offer a slightly firmer sit than coils. Their differing names suggest different tensions, e.g superloop is a soft tension and used for back suspensions.

Fish mouth spring
Similar to a coil spring, and positioned at the front edge of the seat, this works like a fish’s mouth, opening and shutting as you sit down and get up. This is a less expensive version of a coil but gives a soft front edge.

Webbing
The oldest way to support a piece of furniture, thick elasticated bands of webbing run front to back and side to side. Used in various different types of upholstery from the bottom to the top end. Often used with metal or show-wood frames.

Upholstery fabrics

sofas and chairs buying guide upholstery

Fabric sofas present you with a bigger range of colour options. They usually come in a fibre mix for strength and texture, and all our ranges are thoroughly tested for durability. We sell a range of Aquaclean fabrics that can simply be cleaned with water, and so are ideal for busy households.

It’s good to think about the look and feel that will suit your sofa or chair shape as well as what you really like. Rest assured, all our upholstery fabrics are tested over and above standard requirements for domestic wear, and will happily withstand family life, though some fabrics in our collection are more delicate and better suited to lighter or occasional use.

Some of our leather and fabric options will develop more character over time, and develop into a truly unique piece of furniture to be cherished. All fabrics fade when placed in direct sunlight, so think carefully about strong colours in a very sunny room in case of fading. Rotating cushions will help to slow this inevitable process.

 

When you've found a shape that you like, you can order any or all of the colour swatches available for it by clicking 'Free swatch.’ These will be posted to you or to any UK address by our suppliers within around 5 working days.

Please order only the swatches you need, and make a note of what you've ordered; if the swatches don't arrive in the specified time, please re-order them online. Should your second order not arrive, then do contact Customer Services on 08456 049 049 with details of your order, so that they can chase it for you.

This free service is only available in the UK. We’re sorry that the service doesn’t include samples of leather upholstery, but you can view these in our shops.

All upholstery is marked with a price band from A – H, with A being the cheapest. To help you get it right, here’s some detail on the most common fabric types.

Woven Chenille

Chenille is a beautiful soft yarn which can be made from man-made or natural fibres. The soft yarns will flatten over time, more so on most used areas like seat cushions. This will cause the fabric to develop a shaded appearance and means each piece of upholstery becomes more individual over time.

Woven Chenille

Woven stripes & jacquards

Woven designs come in many fabrics; they can be florals, damasks or a variety of  individual patterns, created by combining different yarns to create distinct decorative effects. The abrasion resistance is usually quite high.

Woven jacquard

Woven velvet  

Luxurious velvet can be made from silk, cotton or synthetic fibres and is best suited to less frequent use, such as on occasional chairs. The lustrous pile in all types causes colour variation, and can develop a distinctive crushed look. Velvets can develop lines, bruises and natural shading over time.

Woven Chenille

Woven wool blend

This rich cloth lends texture, warmth and a luxurious feel, and pilling and bobbling are natural characteristics. The wools are washed and can be brushed to provide a felted look and feel.

Woen wool blend

Linen and linen blends  

These have a casual lived-in look with natural creases that soften over time. Natural yarn blends can feature characteristic slub effects for a textured look. Fine natural threads on yarns can cause the surface to fuzz or ‘pill’ over time, a natural characteristic that doesn't affect durability.

Linen and linen blends

Cottons

Natural cotton fibre is extremely versatile, whether pure or blended. It’s comfortable, easy to care for and easy to live with.

Cottons

Plains & semi plains

These can come in many fabric types, are hardwearing and can work well for all types of interior. These can come in many fabric types, are generally hardwearing and are a good option for day to day family life. 

Semi plains

Leather upholstery

sofas and chairs buying guide leather

Leather sofas can come in a variety of finish; from distressed and antiqued to exceptionally smooth and soft, this is achieved by the tanning process. Corrected grain leather will have had most flaws covered up, but because leather is a natural product, markings, scars and differences in texture and colour will vary from piece to piece as dyes may not take identically throughout the natural leather. Your leather upholstery will develop more individual character with age, more so on most-used areas like seat cushions, so your sofa or chair will become even more special and unique over time.

Leather sofas are easy to look after - remove dust with a slightly damp cloth. Just like fabric, leather's not immune to the fading effects of sunlight so keep at least 30cm away from direct heat sources to prevent it drying out.

Aniline leather

This is a leather that has been dyed to colour and has either received a thin, clear lacquer or no coating finsih at all. It has the advantage that the original leather is showcased at its best - natural blemishes or marks only enhance the stylishly rustic finish of this leather. Colour variation will be a noticeable feature on aniline leathers, and different areas of the upholstery will develop further variation with time as it's exposed to sunlight.

Semi aniline leather

This leather displays all the natural beauty of aniline but with the addition of a thin surface coating. It's the ideal choice to achieve that unprocessed look, whilst the thin protective layer will help to offer a little more serviceability than aniline leathers. As with Aniline leathers any natural marks, lines and scars will be present along with variances in shading and texture individual to each piece. The delicate surface coating may mark and scratches could occur especially in most used areas, this would not affect durability and would enhance the unique appearance.

Full grain/corrected grain pigmented leather

Though occasional natural characteristics may still be noticeable, full-grain leather has a decorative grain pattern embossed into its surface which typically gives a consistent appearance and also has practical benefits. The pigmented finish offers improved durability and resistance to soiling (so it's family-friendly), and allows the leather to be produced in a range of colours. Corrected grain leather has the same benefits, but its top surface is abraded to remove natural characteristics, and then printed to give a uniform texture - perfect if you like a sleek, flawless finish.

Antique appearance/waxy leather

This leather has surface finishes like lacquers and waxes often applied by hand. The leathers go through a milling process to open the wax to purposefully mark and crack the leather to enhance the antique appearance, and they're intended to be more 'lived-in' over time, offering an attractive heritage-inspired look.

The leather is stretched taut during the upholstering process, so lighter areas will be evident on areas like arms and will be more obvious on leathers with waxy finishes (known as ‘Pull Up’). Natural shade variation, markings and scars will be evident to enhance the character of each individual panel of your upholstery. Waxy leathers will mark and scratch during use to add even more personality to each piece.

Buffalo leather

Buffalo hides have deep pores and a defined textural finish. This lends the final, processed leather a luxuriously supple and soft feel when used for upholstery.

Bonded leather fibre

Bonded leather - or ‘’reconstituted leather’’ - is a man-made material composed of 80% to 100% leather fibres. These fibres from the hide are bonded together with latex binders and constructed into a fibrous mat. The final result is a material which looks similar, or identical, to genuine leather for a minimal cost.

Sofa beds

Sofa beds are a flexible piece of furniture that allow use as a sofa by day and sleeping space by night. There are many forms and shapes of a sofa bed depending on the mechanism type.

The sit of a sofa bed will be different to that of a normal sofa. This is due to the sofa bed mechanism which tends to result in a slightly firmer sit.

Traditionally a sofa bed takes the form of a sofa that unfolds to make a sofa bed. There are 2 types of mechanisms used for this type of sofa bed: 3 fold and 2 fold.

3 folds – these take 3 folds to open or close the mechanism. These support a 5cm foam mattress, making them suitable for occasional use and generally more affordable.

2 fold – allows the sofa bed to be unfolded once to open the bed space. As a result, only folding the mechanism once allows for thicker mattress options to be used; often up to 10cm depth. The advantage of holding a deeper mattress helps provide a more comfortable sleeping option, so it can be used more regularly.

Lookout for certain mattress types:

Open sprung – support through polyester fibre fillings for softness and cushioning. It’s important to turn regularly to allow fillings to settle evenly. Suitable for occasional use.

Pocket sprung – for additional support the resilient foam in this mattress is overlaid with polyester for softness and cushioning. It’s advised to turn regularly for fillings to evenly settle. Suitable for regular use.

Memory foam - made from high density foam base overlaid with 25mm memory foam that moulds to the body contours. This requires no turning but regular head to foot rotation is required for even wear.

We also offer a range of sofa beds different from the traditional pull-out bed, including fold-out foam, stacked mattresses, click-clack mechanisms and trundles. Watch our video for more inspiration.

Enhance your sofa

Co-ordinates

A matching armchair is the obvious accessory for your sofa, and it will usually be made in exactly the same way. You might also want to consider an accent chair to co-ordinate rather than match - we've a superb range of chairs, including recliners, that are just ideal for relaxing in to watch TV or listen to music.

Extras

Armcaps are available to order in our shops to match some fabric sofas. These will help to preserve an area of heavy wear, and they're usually washable. You can also order an extra set of loose covers for a sofa so that you don't have to any inconvenience when removing the originals for cleaning. Please ask us about these when you visit our shops.

Corner pieces

Will be marked with LHF (left-hand facing) and RHF (right-hand facing), these directional instructions are as you look at the sofa, rather than as you sit on it.

Cushions and throws

Many of our sofas come with co-ordinating scatter cushions, and we sell a wide range of cushions and throws that will help you create a relaxed look and vary your decor; changing the cushions and throws can update your sofa long before it needs replacing. 

Footstools

Many of our ranges come with matching footstools, plenty of which are large enough to act as extra seating. Easy movement means they're very flexible, but some are quite sizeable and bear that in mind when calculating space. Some will also have a lift-up top, giving you a handy storage option.

Recliners

We offer a range of manual and motorised recliners. A manual is controlled by pulling leaver and a motorised is atached to the mains outlet.

Headrests

Many of our ranges are offered with an optional removable headrest, designed to offer additional head support if you prefer a higher back style of upholstery. Order as many as you like, depending on the size of the sofa.

Please buy your headrest at the same time as your sofa to ensure the fabric colour and pattern matches your upholstery. Fabric batch variations and pattern repeats mean that you may not get an exact match if you order it later. 

Care guide

Here's some guidance on how to maximise the life span of your sofa.

  • Avoid dragging your upholstery, and place furniture gently in place when moving it to prevent damage
  • Protect wooden and delicate flooring from possible marking by feet or castors; make sure too that your product sits on a level floor to avoid rocking or damage to the frame
  • Avoid sitting on the arms of sofas and chairs as it will eventually distort the upholstery
  • Vacuum your upholstery once a week, as dust will cause wear on a fabric. Include the gaps between the seats and arms, and under and behind the cushions.
  • Maintain the shape of scatter cushions by shaking daily; cushion interiors will lose up to 25% of their volume in the first six months. Rotate seat and back cushions weekly to ensure even wear 
  • To plump cushions effectively, place the cushion on one of its edges and beat the opposite side edge inwards with the flat of your hands  (the more vigorously, the better). Repeat on all four sides, giving each cushion a shake before smoothing the cover and replacing
  • Direct sunlight causes covers to fade and will weaken the fibres over a period of time. Try to keep the sofa out of direct light, and if not possible close curtains and blinds
  • Sofas with washable or dry cleanable loose covers are available 
  • Upholstery with fixed covers is designed to be cleaned whilst on the upholstery frame. We recommend that you use a professional cleaning company to clean your sofa, around every 12-18 months. 
  • Remember to clean colour wash co-ordinated items at the same time 
  • Always follow the specific care instructions provided on our loose covered upholstery; these pieces have a 3% allowance for shrinkage after the first clean
  • Always attend to spills immediately; we don't recommend the use of chemical cleaners,so do try plain water first. If you do opt for stain removing products, always follow the manufacturers’ guidelines and try to test on a hidden area to make sure it doesn't fade fabric
  • Avoid cosmetic products such as suncream or body lotion coming into contact with your upholstery, and beware of sharp objects like studs, belt buckles and toys snagging fabric
  • Allowing your pets on sofas and chairs is likely to cause premature wear
  • Recliners have many moving parts and it's normal for minor squeaks and creaks whilst in use. Take care when using the kickboard of your reclines, as you could damage it prematurely if you wear shoes while relaxing in it

Why buy from us?

Durability and quality
 
  • 70% of our sofas are made in the UK
  • All our sofas meet or exceed British domestic testing standards
  • All our fabrics exceed the British standard rub test, ensuring longevity
  • All materials comply with The Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations 1988
  • Our covers are overlocked inside and out, so they won't fray and will last longer
  • Seat webbing is pulled to the same tension on all products, to make sure the seat wears evenly, no matter how you sit on the seat pad
  • Colour continuity cards mean that pieces bought in the same colour and fabric match, regardless of when you bought them
  • The springs in our upholstery are linked by a Harco wire so that they move together, resulting in an even, comfortable sit and greater longevity

Sofa frame guarantee

Your John Lewis sofa, armchair or sofa bed is crafted and built to high standards and sourced from long established manufacturers. With regular care, you can expect it to provide comfort and support for many years. Please read this guarantee in conjunction with the ‘How to care for your upholstery’ leaflet. You’ll find this leaflet attached to your new sofa, armchair or sofa bed when it’s delivered.

The frames of all John Lewis own brand sofas, armchairs and sofa beds come with a 10-year guarantee included, beginning from the date of purchase.

Your guarantee is valid in Great Britain and Northern Ireland only, and is non-transferable. The terms of this guarantee in no way limit your consumer legal and statutory rights.

Your guarantee covers you against faults to the frame of the sofa, armchair or sofa bed, including:

  • Loose joints
  • Timber breakage
  • Spring rails breakage

Your guarantee is subject to the following terms and conditions:

  • Proof of purchase is required
  • Your guarantee provides a repair service should your frame fail during the guarantee period. John Lewis reserves the right to use alternative, similar materials, where the original is no longer available
  • If fabric needs to be replaced due to a frame repair, this may not be exactly the same as the original fabric, but we will try to find the closest available current fabric
  • If your product cannot be repaired John Lewis will replace it with the same model or, if this is no longer available, substitute an equivalent specification or value

Your guarantee will not apply where:

  • The timber has been subject to adverse moisture
  • There is evidence of product abuse, misuse or use in a non-domestic environment
  • The product has not been properly maintained in accordance with care instructions
  • The product is in an unsanitary condition (for example, caused by pets). We reserve the right to refuse to collect and/or dispose of any unsanitary product
  • The product has been exported outside of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

 

If you need help with any other product on our website, please email our Customer Service team or call 03456 049 049, 7am - midnight, 7 days a week. Find out more.