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 resarch what’s best for you and your home before you buy.

And if you can't quite find what you heart desires, discover our Any Shape, Any Fabric 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.

Size of sofa

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 shape

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. 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 should not be able to easily slide your arm behind the base of your spine if the sit is correct. If there is a large gap, the sofa or chair is not offering the correct level of lumbar support.

Fixed back

This is when the back frame of the sofa is itself sprung and upholstered, rather than using loose or fixed cushions. Fixed back sofas offer smart, clean lines and easy maintenance.

Cushion back

The conventional look of a British sofa is the cushion back. Here, two or sometimes three, boxed-sided cushions of an equal size will be place formally 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 (not reversible) and sometimes fixed in place with a zip, to prevent slippage.

Scatter back

This is where the upholstered back frame of a sofa is hidden by an arrangement of loose cushions.

Seats

As with backs, seats can be fixed or cushioned. The comfort of the seat will be one of the first things noticed.

Fixed seats

This is when the seat of the sofa itself 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, wear can be very focused on the specific points where people sit. Consider a high abrasion resistance fabric upholstery when choosing a fabric.

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.

T-cushion

This is where the seat cushion extends in front of the sofas arms.

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, which will help maximise the seating space.

It is expected that customers may sit or perch on an arm from time to time, so all our upholstery is designed to be safe should an arm be sat on. However, we do not recommend this as it can distort the sofa frame over time.

We offer a number of arm options, here are some of our more popular:

Scroll arms

These are synonymous with classic sofas and chairs. They can be very traditional, with pleating and insert panels, or very clean and simple, where they are almost 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. 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. This creates a welcoming appearance. 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. They come in a variety of widths for a mixed look.

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. 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 which can be classic or contemporary.

Bun feet

Turned legs

A classic style, wooden leg 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. his gives a very neat, contemporary, streamlined appearance.

Plinth

Stiletto

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

Stiletto

Sofa construct

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. The hardwood rails are generally firmly jointed with screws and glue, 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 will make an easier life for anyone with more limited mobility or strength.

Foam upholstery will feel firm and supportive, and lends a more tailored appearance to a sofa. It will recover well and all you'll need to do is turn the cushions occasionally to allow even wear. Over the years, 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, will give a softer look and feel to sofas and chairs. Just plump and turn cushions occasionally to maintain comfort and wear.

Feather-filled upholstery will have a more relaxed, casual look and a softer sit - ideal if you like to curl up on the sofa. You'll need to plump up cushions daily.

Suspension

For many, the comfort of a piece of upholstery will be their 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 also sell microfibre upholstery that can be simply wiped down with a damp cloth to clean, and so are ideal for households with children or pets. Use soapy water or even baby wipes on stains.

Sofas with washable or dry cleanable loose covers are also available, otherwise we recommend the use of a specialist company to clean your furniture at home. Use an upholstery brush or crevice tool on your vacuum cleaner to remove dirt and dust, and always attend to spills immediately. Be sparing with the use of spot chemicals as they can cause a ring or fading - try plain water first.

Think carefully about strong colours in a very sunny room in case of fading, but rotating cushions will help to slow the process.

We offer a free online service to help you choose the right fabric colour and texture for your new sofa or chair.

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, but the service doesn’t include samples of leather upholstery (though you can view these in our shops), please ask in our shops.

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. 

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

Beautiful, durable and soft, chenille can be made from natural or man-made acrylic fibres and create a formal or relaxed feel. It has a distinctive crushed look or shows natural shading and lines.

Woven Chenille

Woven jacquard

Fine and lustrous, jacquard fabric has a raised design or pattern woven into it.

Woven jacquard

Woven velvet  

Smart, soft and luxurious, hardwearing velvet can be made from silk, cotton or synthetic fibres. All have a distinctive crushed look or show natural shading, and suit more formal interiors.

Woven Chenille

Woven stripe

Striped designs come in many fabrics and work well with co-ordinating fabrics or to break up patterns. Different stripe widths can create a variety of looks, from formal to relaxed.

Woven stripe

Linen and linen blends  

These have a casual, lived in look with natural creases that soften over time. Linen blends’ high linen content means they naturally pill, but this doesn’t affect their durability. Some textured blends have a natural slub effect.

Linen and linen blends

Woven wool blend

This rich cloth lends texture, warmth and a luxurious feel, and pilling and bobbling are natural characteristics.

Woen wool blend

Semi plains

These can come in many fabric types, are hardwearing and can work well for all types of interior. 

Semi plains

Cottons

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

Cottons

Leather

sofas and chairs buying guide leather

Technology has enabled the achievement of all sorts of finish, from distressed and antiqued to exceptionally smooth and soft, where the semi-aniline dyeing process removes most of the flaws. Corrected grain leather will have had most flaws covered up, but because leather is a natural product, markings will differ from piece to piece and dyes may not take identically throughout the hide.

Unless you go for a very smooth, highly treated finish, your leather upholstery will age with use and for many people this adds to the character - it stands up to wear and tear very well.

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

There are many types of leather, each with different qualities, be sure you get the right one for you:

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.

Semi aniline leather

This leather displays all the natural beauty of aniline but with the addition of a thin surface coating. Semi aniline is the ideal choice to achieve that unprocessed look, whilst the protective layer preserves the finish and allows it to be cleaned more effectively.

Bi-cast leather

This is typically produced from a split of leather by applying a glue, a printed texture and a layer of coloured polyurethane. It's a leather by-product that often achieves the look of leather at a more accessible pricepoint, although it may not be as durable.

Pigmented leather

This leather has a pigment layer which typically gives a consistent appearance and also has practical benefits. The pigmented finish offers improved durability and resistance to soiling and allows the leather to be produced in a range of colours.

Nubuck

These leathers are buffed on the grain side to give a luxurious, velvety texture, with an understated matte finish. They're not surface-coatedand so can be more prone to blemishes, making them a less suitable option for busy households.

Suede

These are buffed on the flesh side to give a lustrous nap appearance, perfect for a design-led interior.

Antique appearance leather

This leather has surface lacquers applied, to give an ‘antique’ finish, that will appear more 'lived-in' over time. This offers an attractive heritage-inspired look that is especially suited to traditional styles of upholstery.

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 forupholstery.

PU

Best known for being a substitute for leather, PU is a type of vinyl - a plastic resin. It may also be called ‘’match’’ or ’fake leather’’. It provides the appearance of leather for a lower price, with the added practicality of being low maintenance and easy to clean.

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.

Corrected Grain

Corrected grain is a dyed leather printed with a uniform leather texture that maintains its look over time. This is ideal for the customer who prefers a sleek, flawless leather finish.

Top Grain

Top grain is the most durable form of leather which can be used for upholstery. It is easy to wipe clean and maintain, making it a practical choice for the busy, modern household.

Sofa beds

Sofa beds are a flexible piece of furniture that should allow for 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 type of sofa tot the type of sofa bed and 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.

Additional enhancements

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 online and in our furnishing fabrics departments that will help you create a relaxed look and vary your decor - after all, your sofa should last for years, so changing the cushions and throws can help update it.

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.

Care guide

The following points are a good set of guidelines that if followed will maximise the life span of your sofa.

  • You should avoid sitting on the arms of sofas and chairs as the upholstery will become distorted. 
  • Dust will cause wear on a fabric, we recommend vacuuming your suite at least once a week. Include the gaps between the seats and arms, and under and behind the cushions.
  • Cushion interiors will lose up to 25% of their volume in the first six months. Maintain the shape by shaking daily. Cushions should also be rotated weekly to ensure even wear on seats and back covers.
  • Direct sunlight will always cause 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.
  • Unless you have a loose cover suit, all covers are designed to be cleaned whilst on the upholstery frame. We recommend that a professional cleaning company be used to clean your sofa. This should be cleaned every 12-18 months. 

Why buy from us?

  • 95% 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
  • Feet are bolted, not screwed on, for security
  • 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
  • Our covers are overlocked inside and out (including the parts you don’t see), so they won’t fray after washing or dry cleaning and will last longer.
  • Colour continuity cards ensure that pieces bought in the same colour and fabric match, regardless of when you bought them
  • The springs in our sofas and armchairs are linked by a Harco wire so that they move together resulting in an even, comfortable sit and greater longevity for the piece
  • We use 100% cotton for our platform cloths (beneath the seat cushions and on the base) for added comfort and a quality finish.