20 Designer Tips and Secrets: Everything You Need to Know About Sofas

Before you purchase your new sofa, read this. It's everything you need to know about sofas in one place. Experts, including Million Dollar Decorators stars Mary McDonald and Jeffrey Alan Marks, share their design tips on how deep a sofa should be, which style goes with which, how to select pattern, and more.

1. "The perfect sofa is 40" deep, 60" long, and 36" high with a 19" seat height. For a traditional sofa, I like a scroll arm, and for modern, I love a square arm, both with the same overall measurements." -Mary McDonald

2. "Most of my clients ask for sofas to be 'long enough for a nap' - so I make them at least 90" long or even longer if the room allows." -Ginger Barber

3. "Cut a template from brown paper in the size of the sofa you're considering, place it on the floor, and see how it looks before you buy." -Chandos Dodson Epley

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4. "I'll often add a trim or tape to the bottom edge of a sofa and then take the trim and use it to frame throw pillows." -Jeffrey Alan Marks

5. "To establish calm, I upholster sofas in a solid that's the same color as the walls and curtains." -Barbara Barry

6. "I never use two seat cushions, because then three people won't sit on the sofa. I'll use three seat cushions if a sofa is 7' long or longer, and if it's 6' or less, I use just one cushion." -Rose Tarlow

7. "I prefer sofas with skirts because it allows me to introuduce other lighter pieces with exposed legs into the space without the room becoming too leggy." -Kevin Isbell

8. "If you have 8' ceilings, you'll want a low sofa, which gives the impression that the ceiling is taller than it is. In a room with a high ceiling, you want a high-back sofa to be a weighty presence that can hold up to the room." -David Easton

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9. "I never use big patterns or trendy colors for large upholstered pieces. The punch of pattern or hot splash of trendy color should come from the throw pillows so they can be easily substituted when you need change." -Tom Stringer

10. "My dad taught me that to ensure the sofa you are buying is sturdy and well built (he's an engineer), you lift up one of the front legs 5" to 7" - the other front leg should lift as well. If it's still touching the floor, the frame is weak." -Katarina Rodman

11. "If you have a narrow, rectilinear room with the fireplace on the long wall, and you put the sofa facing the fireplace, you've just made the room narrower! A sofa parallel to a fireplace in a narrow room is the mark of an amateur." -Stan Topol

12. "If you're buying a sofa online, a good formula to ensure comfort is a combined seat height and depth of 40" to 44". If the sofa is 16" high at the seat and 24" deep, add them together and you get 40". Or combine a 20" seat height with a 24" depth for a total of 44". If you're short-legged go with 40"; long-legged, 44"." -James Howard

13. "Always use dark fabric for skirts so heel scuffs are not visible." -Jill Sharp Brinson

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14. "Don't center your fabric's pattern on the seat cushions - a pattern is centered on the back of the sofa so that it will run all the way down and match everywhere, including the skirts. If it bothers you not to have the design centered on the middle of each seat cushion then us a pattern with a small horizontal repeat." -Leta Austin Foster

15. "I hate undersized throw pillows! We just did a 20' long banquette and used six 26" x 26" pillows and two long bolsters - it looks like a pasha's lair, but without a million pillows to herd on a daily basis! I find 18" or 20" square pillows to be too small." -Benjamin Dhong

16. "Apartment dwellers, beware: Your sofa should never be longer than the ceiling height of your elevator. Measure once, then measure twice, and just to be triply sure, have your building's super measure, too." -T.Keller Donovan

17. "On a sectional, always do a tight back instead of loose cushions. It will help keep the overall profile from becoming overwhelming. And keep the back fairly low - around 32". This will make the sectional feel a little less imposing." -Madeline Stuart

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18. "Many contemporary sofas are too low! When a woman sits down on a sofa, she has trouble keeping her legs together, and a man over 40 has trouble getting up. My minimum - absolute minimum - seat height is 20". -Stan Topol

19. "Sofas so often end up looking like beached whales! I've been using low backs and simple, strict tailoring lately, so they don't look so big and fussy. I don't want my rooms to look like I spent all the money on upholstery. You want a personal mix of furniture and objects to be the focus, not a piece of fabric stretched over a big piece of wood. The sofa shouldn't be the center of attention!" -Robert Couturier

20. "Tailored slipcovers are a must - somewhat crisp and tight but still loose enough to say, 'Come plop down and read with me.' Even velvets can be used for slipcovers!" -Ginger Barber

Read on for more designers tips and secrets about sofas

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