There are more than one hundred types of chairs. Each one has their merits. Each style looks best in a different environment.
There are also different styles of sofas and couches. Every chesterfield is a couch, but only one style of the couch is a Chesterfield. Or at least an original one.
When it comes time to buy furniture for your living spaces, the places we sit are often the highest priority. Most people take into account three factors when choosing the right sofa or chair:
1. Style & Quality
2. Comfort & Construction
Of course, fabric, seating, the footprint are crucial too, but that is very subjective. At the same time, comfort can be very subjective too.
For example, in the U.S. sofas and chairs are very soft, and people perceive that as comfortable while people in Germany or Italy will find that same sofa overly soft. Vice versa, Americans are likely to complain about hard upholstered furniture when traveling.
If your significant other or the members of your family all like the same kind of softness, you are in luck. Otherwise, it will be a tough challenge finding one that suits you both.
The concept of sitting dates back thousands of years and is almost untraceable. One could argue the first chair was probably a pile of leaves that some caveman put under him to soften the ground he sat on. By the dawn of modern man, chairs were in every home, easy to build or purchase and they looked remarkably similar in comparison to the ones we use today.
Types of Sofas and Couches
All chesterfields are sofas, but not all sofas are Chesterfields. Supposedly developed by the Chesterfield company in England, these quilted leather couches have historically been seen in some of the most prestigious libraries, drawing rooms and salons around the world. Known for its traditional appearance, they have recently made a comeback with the younger generations and are seeing placement in ultra-modern homes to add texture and style. Traditionally, good quality sofa has coils that are hand knotted and should easily last 20 years, but in this day and age the inside is often filled with cheap foam that will show dents after a couple of years. I have seen sofas from the Chesterfield company in person, and while they look great, they were all quite hard and uncomfortable at the same time, the leather was not top notch. So be careful if you order a custom couch.
With chesterfields, it’s important to pay attention to its markers. There are many manufacturers and retailers who use the ‘chesterfield’ name for styles that resemble the tufted originals, however, many of these are not true chesterfields, so it’s wise not to categorize them as such based solely on the appearance. True chesterfields will be labeled as such, and most of them come from the U.K.
But fear not, you can find Chesterfield style sofa that are often even prettier and more comfortable in the U.S., Europe and other parts of the world. My wife and I bought one from Hancock & Moore, and every time we have guests over, which happens frequently, they rave about our comfortable couch and can’t believe how old it is. You can read more about the story of this couch the end of this article.
The Bridgewater sofa is one of those trends that has gone out of style but had the purpose of appearing comfortable in comparison to more formal and traditional sofas. These sofas were king in the 1960s and 70s and were very similar to the English sofa due to their low arms and the rounding of them. Today, despite being less popular, they do serve as a valuable asset for those looking to invest in a more traditional couch that is still comfortable.
Usually the choice of people who for large living spaces where entertainment such as watching television is the primary pastime. The sectional is a series of multiple pieces that can be stacked beside each other and arranged in a variety of ways. In most cases, you’ll find a minimum of three pieces, but they can easily be added to make an even larger configuration. When buying a sectional, it becomes vital to purchase the same series, so the style remains cohesive, and they fit together like a glove. Most sectionals will come with a fixture to hold the pieces together, and those that don’t should be avoided as they tend to disconnect with motion. The very best sectionals will look like a single unit from a distance, rather than connected units. The sectional has been one of the fastest growing trends in much of North America and therefore, it’s available today in many different styles with a variety of options for materials and fabrics. You don’t necessarily need to have a large space, but a small one will rarely work. Therefore, you need to be very careful when determining how many pieces you want to connect or else it might overshadow the rest of the room’s charm. In most houses, the standard positioning of the sectionals is in U or L shapes. However, there are other options including the addition of a chaise lounge or other unique pieces such as recliners. Overall, it is tough to find attractive sectionals that are well made, so be careful and consider other options.
Wider than a chair but shorter than a loveseat, the settee was designed for use by a single person and are often used instead of dining chairs. In most cases, they feature an exposed wood frame and legs. They are especially useful for larger or obese individuals who may have difficulty fitting in a dining room chair.
Think Eames chair. Clean lines, very minimalistic and often, not exceptionally comfortable. This style originally came into play during WWII and then faded away by the mid-1970s. Today, they have come back with a punch and are one of the most popular designs for modern homes and office buildings. Like most couches, they do come in various designs and materials so you can make it work for your home. Room & Board, is probably a leader of new couches in this type of design, that are still made in the U.S. But don’t be fooled – Room & Board uses third parties in the south of the U.S. who make their sofas, and while they look attractive, their foams are not supremely comfortable and not of good quality. Sometimes, you can find the same models from other brands at different prices.
We used to own one from Room & Board and after the few weeks the pillows we sat on were already soggy and we are not couch potatoes by any means. Luckily, you can return your sofa anytime for a refund, and that’s what we did. It goes without saying that we will not buy sofas from them again.
Classic and yet still rather contemporary, the camel back sofa has a high backrest that gradually tapers around the sides to form the arms. Often, these sofas will feature an exposed frame and legs that are uncovered. Ususally, made of wood, they sometimes showcase patterns and require hand carving. Most of the new camel back sofas are more modern when sold in stores, but we highly recommend considering vintage as they tend to be of higher quality.
The Lawson is currently one of the most popular styles of couches sold today. They are designed with low-cost production and comfort in mind. They are often rectangular and practical because they utilize pillows at the back that are separate from the frame. If you have children, you may appreciate the opportunity to quickly flip a pillow that was just stained by your four year-old but generally, the Lawson-style sofa lacks character and looks supremely boring.
Depending on the manufacturer, they can be quite soft and are often chosen by families for use in the most bustling parts of their home such as the living room and family room. These sofas come in a broad range of styles, patterns, and fabrics. Many of them allow you to change the cushions around to facilitate comfort, but many also have cushions that are specifically sized for a particular section of the couch. For those with children, it can be a wise decision to invest in ones with zippered covers so they can easily be cleaned.
Known as loveseats since they are designed for two people to sit close to each other, a loveseat is a two-cushion sofa that is often used as a secondary seat in living spaces. Often, these couches will come as part of a larger set, but like any sofa, they can be purchased as separates. They are not so much as style as they adopt the design of other styles, but they are simply referred to as their own style due to the size. In other words, any sofa can be a loveseat if it has two seats. What’s interesting to note is that many relationship experts recommend single people own a loveseat as it can force someone you’re keen on to sit closer to you than they may otherwise do if the sofa was larger.
In big homes, they are sometimes used to fill up space, and antique loveseats are in fact so tiny that it would be hard to have two people sit on them at the same time.
Pull Out Couch
For homes without a quest room, pull-outs serve well as a guest bed for the occasional overnight visitor. Once the seat cushions are removed, there is a handle that can be pulled which releases the sleeper and turns the couch into a bed. They are not the most comfortable beds but have improved significantly in recent years. We do not recommend this style of a sofa for high-traffic areas, but they work well in guest rooms and other rooms that can double as guest quarters.
You might think about IKEA in one way or another, but it is a fact that their sofas are of very low quality and cheap foam, and as such I recommend you stay clear of them. However, they produce excellent mattrasses, and their pull-out couches are infinitely more comfortable than usual things you find at furniture stores. So, if you want something for your guest room take a look at IKEA, your guests will likely thank you for it.
Think of a seat with no back or arm support. Simply, a cushion to sit on, divans are best used when pressed against a wall as it prevents the person using it from falling off. In most cases, those who own divans will use sets of throw pillows for back support. Often these are used as bench seats at restaurants and bars.
Another popular sleeping couch, the Futon is a sofa that allows the backrest to fold down, turning it into a flat sleeping area. Very popular amongst college students, they are not a sofa we recommend for the elegant gentleman. One interesting thing to note is that futons are often recommended for athletes such as basketball players as they can be significantly longer than a traditional bed that prevents the sleeper’s feet from hanging off the end. The only time this style of a couch is recommended by us is if you happen to live in a tiny space and need a spot for overnight guests to stay for a night or two.
English Rolled Arm
Think high backrests and lower armrests. These are sofas with exceptionally low cushioned arms that can sometimes appear simply as a bump on the edge of the couch. They are designed for the looks but aren’t the best napping or sitting couches due to the low arm. That is unless you use a different pillow or prefer none at all.
With arms that are rarely usable as rests, these couches feature a back that wraps around the sides of the couch forming the arms that are of the same height as the backrest. Historically, these sofas were quite artistic, but in recent years art has been overshadowed by comfort and many manufacturers have turned their focus to increasing the level of cushion in the seat. Known for their exposed frame made of wood at the top of the arms and the backrest, it’s important to note that these sofas don’t typically serve well in high-traffic areas but are better reserved for use in rooms that you entertain in such as a drawing room or music room. If you are planning to use these sofas in high-traffic rooms, consider a modern alternative with covered trim rather than the exposed wood or opt for throw pillows that be used on the sides.
A rather long seat for one, it is the length of a small sofa but is usually reserved for sprawling out on. These are quite popular as styles for therapist’s offices but also as an attachment to sectional sofas or on their own in larger rooms with multiple seating. They almost always have a backrest but do sometimes feature an armrest down one side. They come in a broad range of styles, materials, and patterns and work well in a variety of rooms. We especially recommend using these chairs as accent pieces as they are similar to individual chairs, yet manage to maintain the length of a sofa and fit within that same category.
Forget the name, as we don’t recommend sleeping on them, but they are quite useful for certain scenarios. At one time, they were very attractive as a place to sit in your bedroom and could often be found at the foot of the bed. They are quite similar to a chaise lounge except they have raised ends on the two furthest ends. Despite being called a daybed, they are not very comfortable for anything more than a short nap.
Types of Chairs
Luxurious and sophisticated, the club chair was designed for and named after their most prolific user: the private gentleman’s club. Designed for relaxation, they are very popular chairs for all occasions and can add a touch of elegance to a room when properly used. They come in a wide range of materials, although leather is the most popular and they can often be found in a quilted design or with a nailhead trim. Today, leather remains the most prominent choice, but fabrics are trending as well for those wanting a more contemporary appearance.
Another popular guest chair, the slipper chair has just a seat and a backrest without any place for the arms. Usually rather low off the ground, they sometimes come with covered legs or with exposed wooden ones. Since they are lower to the ground, they can be ideal for senior citizens or those with difficulty sitting. They are also very useful for larger individuals who sometimes have difficulty sitting in a chair with armrests.
Exquisite and traditional, the wing chair is a single person chair that features winged armrests that slope down from the backrest that is usually positioned in a curve to wrap around your back. The armrests will often stop short of the end of the seat cushion and in many cases, they will be virtually useless due to their slope and lack of cushion. However, in recent years many manufacturers have begun to redesign the traditional chair with a more modern feel. These chairs work very well as guest chairs in offices buildings, drawing rooms and other short-term entertaining areas. Due to the design, they work best in older or more traditional homes that may have drafts but can be used in some modern residences as well. Particularly popular for use in front of fireplaces, the backrest is designed to sustain the user’s body heat and protect them from outside elements. In some older chairs, they featured cabinets or drawers under the seat that hot coals could be placed in for the purpose of keeping the user warm. They were also designed to improve acoustics and are excellent chairs for music rooms or if you are hearing impaired. They come in a wide range of materials as well as designs and almost always feature four separate wooden legs that support it.
Modernists marvel the curves of these rather uncomfortable chairs. Available for both indoor and outdoor use, the klismos chair comes in many styles, shapes, and designs, but almost always focuses on the beauty of the exposed frame.
The name speaks for itself. An occasional chair is one specially designed for occasional use. Ideal for smaller rooms or as additional seating when entertaining, the chairs are often used as accent pieces to fill up larger rooms as well. They can be quite beautiful, and many who display them will often never actually sit in them. Unfortunately, they are not terribly comfortable, so it’s wise to offer other seating options ahead of them. In our home, I will almost always offer guests the sofa and will sit in an occasional chair myself.
Upholstery and Material Options
The only difference between a chair and sofa is the size. Chairs are for one person; sofas can accommodate more. In recent years, chairs have appeared that look more like one and a half person chairs to accommodate strong individuals. Regarding construction and materials, a chair is often not much less expensive than the sofa because the labor is very similar and it just comes down to using less material.
The two rules of thumb when buying a sofa or chair is to focus on comfort, the look and quality of materials. Like almost anything in life, you do get what you pay for. Purchasing a sofa that retails for a few thousand may net you beautiful hardwood framing and fine leather upholstery, whereas buying one for a few of hundred dollars from Ikea or Target could very well be made from inferior products like particle board and polyester upholstering.
If you are on a tight budget, buying used and having it repaired at a local upholsterer can get you a quality sofa at a bargain price, but because of the size of sofas and chairs it’s always a big project.
Leather is one of the most popular materials for quality sofas and in most cases it is considerably more expensive than fabric.
Just like any other product, sofas and chairs come in a variety of leathers.
- Make sure it’s leather: Ensure it is 100% real as many manufacturers use a synthetic leather (or pleather) that can easily rip and wear.
- Aniline Dyed Leather: Leather is an animal hide and for couches cowhide is the most popular due to its large size. Now, animals hurt themselves regularly and hence you will see scars in an untreated leather. The most expensive leathers out there are aniline dyed leathers, meaning that the visible layer of the leather has not been coated, and the leather has the same color throughout. Because it is so difficult to find cow hide without blemishes, the prices can be 2-5 times higher as other leathers. While it feels fantastic and ages well, it does not last longer than Pigment dyed leather. In fact, it degrades more quickly in sunlight and spilled food or liquid will remain visible in most cases. So it’s a leather for connoisseurs and not recommended if you eat on your couch or have small children.
- Pigment Dyed Leather: Most leather couches available today are pigment dyed, which means the top layer is coated so you do not touch the surface of real leather anymore. Often, the leather is also sanded and then embossed to look like a perfect, unblemished hide. Of course, the range of qualities for pigment dyed leathers is huge. Cheap leathers are stiffer and heavily coated, so it almost feels like plastic. Premium pigment dyed leathers are often softer and get aniline dyed before a thin coating is added for protection. All that being said, the longevity will be mostly the same, but the feel and look will be very different. You can tell if something is anline dyed if you apply some leather polish to the surface. An aniline leather will absorb it right away, whereas a pigment dyed leather won’t.
- What should you buy? It depends on your needs and aesthetic demands. For example, the Capitol in Washington invested in the least expensive grade leather from Hancock & Moore because it lasts the longest and is hence most cost effective. If you like the look of a waxed aniline dyed leather, and you want to see every little scratch because that’s what a patina is all about, then an aniline dyed leather is better. In high traffic areas or if you have children in your household, get pigment dyed leather. Avoid the cheap ones because sometimes the color comes off and they feel cheap when you sit in them.
- Do Not Expose Leather To Direct Sunlight: No matter what leather you buy, direct sunlight will dry it out, alter the color and shorten the life pan of your sofa or chair considerably. When we received our first leather couch, we changed the furniture around so it would be out of the sun. Also, it pays to clean and apply leather polish to your couch about twice a year. It will nourish the leather and hence make it last longer, and the patina is intensified.
Here you can see how quality leather is made in Italy:
Reserved for some of the most exquisite furniture, silk is quite expensive but it’s incredibly comfortable to sit on. The biggest issue with silk is that it requires a lot of maintenance and protection, so it’s vital you only use it in casual rooms where children and pets aren’t present. Most people like to use if for decorative chairs.
One of the most popular materials for sofas and chairs, microfiber, is a great option for those with children and pets as it’s very easy to clean. Most popular in family homes, it’s more expensive than some of its competing synthetics, but it’s also far more attractive. Almost every style of sofa and chair will come available in microfiber and in many colors and patterns. It’s practical and looks ok, but it’s nothing special
Straight from the sheep, it’s usually very soft and comfortable. Unlike cotton, wool is ideal for rooms with a draft as it tends to maintain heat easier which will help to keep you warm. The biggest drawback is it’s difficult to keep clean, and it will wear out faster than mohair, so we don’t recommend it if you have small children in the house or tend to eat or drink while seated. Make sure you look at the number of double-rubs, that’s an industry standard that should indicate how long the fabric will last. The higher the number, the sturdier it is. Fabrics for restaurants and hotels have a high double rub number, so make sure to check those out if you need something sturdy.
Although a type of wool, mohair is very special, especially when used for upholstery. To learn more about the base material read our mohair guide. Mohair is the most durable natural animal hair and for upholstery it is usually combined with a cotton backing. The resuls is a fabric with a nap. Due to the natural shine of mohair you get a changenant effect that you can sometimes find in older pieces of furniture. If you buy Mohair at retail price , you have to expect to pay about $150 to $200 per yard. So just the cloth will set you back about $1,200 to $4,000. However, you may be lucky and find something on ebay or other cloth outlets. However, with a couch you always need enough material, and so it pays to talk to your upholsterer. to determine how much material you will need.
Easy to clean and very durable, cotton is a naturally soft fabric that can prove to be very comfortable, especially in the summer months or high-humidity regions. The one draw back is you will have to reupholster or replace your sofa sooner as the dye used to color it tends to fade quickly, and the fabric can bunch or wrinkle fairly easily. It is often blended with artificial fibers to increase the number of double rubs. One tip is to buy seating with removable cushions so you can easily clean the fabric without having to constantly higher a professional service.
Another fabric that’s even less expensive than polyester is olefin, which is synthetic and despite its price and ability to avoid stains, it does wear very quickly, and it is virtually impossible to repair if any grease or oils touch it.
Even at the most popular furniture stores, couches and chairs that look like leather are often made of vinyl. This is why you always need to check labels to ensure the material is what you expect. Unlike leather, vinyl is not durable at all, and it’s rather cheap. We don’t recommend it.
Often used in less expensive furniture, nylon is a synthetic material that is great for use in seats frequented by children. It’s very easy to clean, and it’s quite durable, however, it can pose an odor problem, and it doesn’t stand up with to spilled liquids. We recommend using nylon in darker rooms such as rec rooms as sunlight will cause it to fade rather quickly.
Polyester is a big issue with chairs and sofas as it’s one of the worst materials to use. It may be easy to clean, but it’s usually very poor quality, and it can collect fluid very easily. Typically, the least expensive chairs and sofas use polyester. However, one should always check the tags as even the most expensive seats can sometimes include the use of polyester when you would least expect it. Our advice: avoid polyester like the plague unless it’s being utilized in a second home you rarely visit.
The vinyl of wool, acrylic may look and feel like a luxurious wool at first, but it is very prone to damage and staining. Like vinyl for leather, we recommend avoiding acrylic as a substitute for wool. Check your labels.
Where & How to Buy
Buying quality furniture can be very expensive. By the time you have the leather or fabric picked out you like, the cost is often above $10,000 retail price for a piece from Hancock & Moore or Poltrona Frau. Now, if you have a large budget that won’t be a problem but most people cannot afford these kinds of expenses en passant.
My wife and I have very different preferences. She loves a soft couch, whereas I get back pain from a soft chair, and so I prefer harder couches. We tested couches at every furniture store in town and could never find something we both loved. Because of that, I did some research online, and I found the brand Hancock & Moore from North Carolina, and they had a local outlet but a chesterfield style couch would have set us back about $15,000. So we passed and looked online. Eventually, I found a couch on Craigslist in Phoenix, and we ended up buying it for a little over $1,000 – all we had was a few pictures and measurements. We paid another $500 for the transport, and when it arrived, we both loved sitting in it. It was easily a 15-year-old couch, but it was made of quality materials and even after three years it is in great shape. Now, it was certainly risky and not something anybody would do but it worked out for us, and since we like antiques, in general, we had no problem with buying a used couch. At the end of the day, it all depends on your needs, taste, and budget.
Here are a few other options if you want quality on a budget, and you have some time to invest:
- Craigslist: You’d be amazed what kind of vintage piece you can find on craigslist. Vintage Mohair sofas in wonderful Art Deco shapes, exquisite club chairs with, Patina etc. and all that often between $200 and $500. Of course, this requires much more work. You have to find a truck, or ask if delivery is possible, and you can only get what you find at the time, but fear not! Your local upholsterer can be really inexpensive. It pays to look for someone outside the city because usually they are much more reasonable, and for $2,000 they can reupholster your entire Sofa including fabric and tufting. That’s what you pay at stores like Room & Board, HOM furniture etc. for crappy foam sofas Made in China that won’t last more than 5 years.
- eBbay: You can find some amazing pieces and antiques on eBay, but the problem is always shipping. That being said, a quick google search will reveal lots of shipping companies where you can request a quote and have companies bid on the job. For about $500 -800 you can have your sofa delivered anywhere in the U.S. chairs should cost less. I put together a collection for your inspiration here.
- Local Antique stores: I suggest you check out your best antique stores in town because they preselect furniture and only take the good stuff. Nevertheless, the prices are often much lower than even low-end furniture chains. So you can end up with unique furniture with character for less than what you pay at IKEA
- Auctions: Old school auctions can be a fantastic place to buy furniture especially in Europe because just like with antique stores only to good stuff will get to auction and you can score phenomenal bargains.
- Know Your Brands: Most sofas are of such poor quality that they will likely not be sold to someone else, but you can find quality brands that have a reputation that you can rely on. Apart from Hancock & Moore, Baker, Henredon, Karges, Kittinger or even Ralph Lauren have interesting furniture options. It pays to educate yourself and to keep your eyes open. Of course, if you know quality you don’t have to rely on a brand name but in the beginning knowing quality brands will help you to find the couch or chair you want.
There are hundreds of styles of couches, sofas and other seats available with new variations being regularly offered . The ones listed above are the most popular styles and ones we recommend considering. Of course, there are some exceptions: We’re not big fans of futons or pull-outs.
This article was written by J.A. Shapira and Sven Raphael Schneider