Picking Out The Perfect Sofa: Step 2 – Choosing The Right One

Hey guys! I’m SO excited for Part Two of the Four part series – “How To Pick Out The Perfect Sofa”.

If you missed the first post – Creating A Plan – read that first then come back for Step Two.

Picking out the actual sofa is a personal choice. So the “right couch” is different for everyone. Since there are SO many details to be considered, today I’m sharing…

  • Our experience with Walter E. Smithe (the Chicago furniture company we purchased our couch from)
  • Top tips we learned from our designer, Catherine and
  • Words of wisdom from me (having just gone through the process)

The Design Plans

After Catherine, our Walter E. Smithe designer, completed our in house consultation, we scheduled a follow up meeting at their Oakbrook, IL showroom.

Upon arrival, she showed us hew two floor plan ideas, along with picked out pieces. Each layout was based on our living room measurements and laundry list of wants.

The first plan showed two sofas. The second plan showed a sectional.

It was this moment we learned the value of having a designer.

You see, Sean and I initially had different opinions. Shocking I know! 😉 I loved the idea of two sofas. The different sizes, shapes and materials would add interest and style. But Sean gravitated to the sectional. “It’s big and I can lay all the way down while watching TV!”

Then Catherine put us back on track. “Remember your priorities” she said. Which made our decision crystal clear. The sectional! Since entertaining and lounging is important to us, it made the most sense. A sectional would provide more seating, room for sprawling out and she assured us it can be just as stylish!

After nailing down the floor plan, there were still many decisions to be made! Since Walter E. Smithe’s couches are custom, we had to think about size, arm style, pillows, trim, fabric, legs, seat depth, pillows and more. Just when you think you’ve made progress right?!

To make this complicated part easy, I asked Catherine to share her top tips for choosing the right couch. She has over 21 years of experience so she knows her stuff.

And as a bonus, I added our suggestions too! We ALMOST made a big mistake (which you’ll read about below).

If you’re in the market for a new couch or re-designing your living room, these pointers will help you make the right choice – saving you lots of time, money and headache!

Catherine’s 7 Tips For Picking Out The Right Couch
  • Make an appointment with Catherine Piscitelli at the Oakbrook showroom to schedule a home consultation. {Seriously guys. She’s absolutely a dream to work with. AND a few readers have already booked an appointment since my first post! Her email is >> CatherineP@smithe.com}
  • The above step will ensure the right size, style, color, etc. is chosen.
  • Once you know the correct size, comfort is very important.
  • Ask yourself, who will be using the sofa?  How do you use the sofa? Sitting? Curled up watching television? If you are entertaining, is this where your guests will sit? If so, can Grandma comfortably sit and get back out of this sofa?
  • Keep track of styles you like. Do you like 2 seat cushions or 3?  What type of arm style do you like? Track? English? Rolled? Many choices…sometimes it is helpful to look at Houzz or a magazine to find styles that are pleasing to you…this will narrow down your search!
  • After all of the above is conquered, then the fun begins with fabric or leather choices!
  • Throw pillows!!! The icing on the cake!!!

Nicole’s Top Tips Ensuring You Don’t Make The Wrong Decision!
  • Work with a designer. No matter where you buy your couch, this saved us HOURS of time. Whether you hire someone independently or take advantage of a store’s FREE in house designer (like Walter E. Smithe), this alleviated so many headaches. It also kept us focused on what we really wanted.
  • Measure and map out your couch dimensions on your living room floor with tape. Since you can’t return custom couches (and most non-custom couches too), this gives you the closest feel to what your sofa will look like in your space. We did this and was the deciding factor on the depth of our sectional.
  • Speaking of depth, pay special attention to SEAT DEPTH. Not to be confused with the overall couch depth. There’s a big difference and I almost made the mistake of going too narrow. Seat depth is the distance from the front edge of the seat to the front of the back cushion. AKA how much room you have to sit. If you want to curl up on your sofa or lay down with your dog next to you, make sure it’s deep enough. On the contrary, make sure it isn’t too deep to your liking. For reference, ours is 24/25 inches and absolutely PERFECT. But remember, it all depends on what you like. If you’re selecting something for a formal living room (AKA just sitting), you may prefer something narrower.
  • Small spaces don’t mean you have to get small furniture. Referencing the point above, don’t be scared to go for the deeper or longer sofa. Even if your space is small or narrow. With the help of a designer, you can actually go bigger than you may think, making your space significantly more functional. Nate Berkus explains it perfectly here. Initially, I thought we’d have to go narrow and small, given our living room size. I also kept reading on design blogs how “scale is so important!”. But with a couch, this is actually the complete opposite. Since our room is long and narrow, Catherine suggested our couch follow the same shape. We went with four cushions long on one side and three cushions on the other. We also went with the deeper depth! But remember… measure, measure, measure.
  • What’s on the showroom floor can completely transform! When dealing with custom furniture, the fabric, arm styles and all the details you personally select, can change a sofa’s look entirely. So don’t write something off at first glance. So when you are checking out couches in person, have an open mind, use your imagination and again – this is where a designer really helps. If you compared the couch we chose on the floor, to the one in our home, you may be surprised it’s the same one! Our style choices gave it a different feel.
  • Pillow Style: If you have the option, go with piping on the cushions! Catherine and I both agree this gives your couch a finished look.
  • Warranties: This may be the BEST part about working with Walter E. Smithe. Our couch comes with a ten year warranty. AND we also purchased a five year warranty against stains. Which was just over $200. The protectant lasts for the life of the piece, so no need to re-apply! And the fact we can spill on our couch and it’s unlikely to stain is the best feeling in the world. In fact, Sean spilled balsamic vinegar on it last night (ugh, boys!) but it came right out. And if it doesn’t, no problem! Walter E. Smithe will send out a cleaning service or replace the fabric if needed. For free. Bring me alllllll the red wine please!
  • Think Long Term. Remember, if you’re like most people, you have your couch for yeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaars. I love a good trend more than anyone. But you can easily play up color, pattern, texture and trends with pillows, throws and accessories like nobody’s business. So if you think your taste will change throughout the next 10-15 years and don’t want to buy another sofa, I highly recommend going neutral and classic.
  • Two Cushion Sofas: When deciding on the amount of couch cushions (not to be confused with throw pillows), be sure to ask yourself how many people you want to sit on it? Nobody likes sitting on a crack. So if you go with a two seater, expect just two people to sit on it. To accommodate more, go with either three cushions or one long one. I also feel a love seat is tight for two people. So why not try an oversized, comfy chair instead, saving you money and space for something else?!

I really hope today’s post gave you thought points to consider if you’re shopping a new sofa! Don’t forget, there are exceptions to every rule and everyone’s style is a personal choice. P.S. Isn’t Catherine so cute?!

Get ready for the third part in this series – Preparing for Your Delivery! You’ll see our home and the sofa we picked out. Wahoo!


A huge thanks to Walter E. Smithe for partnering on this post! A discount was received as compensation for this series. All opinions are my own and 100% from the heart!

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  • Can’t wait to see your new couch I bet it is beautiful!!

    • Thank you Alison! We seriously love it so much. Sean can’t stay awake on it! LOL!