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There’s no getting around it, a sofa will always play a major role in setting the tone of your living room. But not only is it one of the biggest pieces of furniture you can buy, it can also be one of the most expensive. And sometimes investing in a higher-end piece simply isn’t an option.
Thankfully, there are all kinds of things you can do to make a cheaper or second-hand couch look more expensive, and your living room more luxe. Whether you’re looking to dress-up an IKEA number or restore a faded gem to its former glory, these expert-led tips will elevate your space without breaking the bank.
How to make your sofa look more expensive
1. Treat your couch to a professional clean
Giving your sofa a little pampering can go a long way to making it feel more premium. If you can remove the cover, you might be able to clean it yourself (check the care instructions first).
However, especially when it comes to trickier fabrics like velvet, leather or suede, there’s a strong argument to say it’s best to leave sofa cleaning to the professionals. The average cost of getting a three seater sofa steam-cleaned is $55 - a fraction of the cost of buying a new one or even investing in new accessories.
Steam cleaning is the way to go when it comes to cleaning upholstery. Rather than applying heavy moisture, that could leave water marks and damage fibers, the steam gently lifts stains out of the fabric. A previously shabby sofa will look good as new.
2. Layer tactile fabrics like linen and velvet
Once your sofa is clean, you can think about updating its accessories - an evergreen trick when it comes to how to make your living room look more expensive. “You want to make your sofa look inviting and stylish at the same time,” say Kai Price and Amanda Nelson, Founders of Att Pynta. “A great way of doing this is to use pillows in several sizes, starting with large ones at the back and layering smaller ones on top. Using pilows in different shapes will add interest. Ee like using large square ones at the back and a mix of square and rectangular at the front. When it comes to fabrics, go for velvet and linen which are both premium materials, tactile and soft”.
If you had your sofa reupholstered or recovered and have any leftover fabric, use this to create matching pillows. “This creates a clean, sophisticated look,” says Sophie Rowell, Director and Founder of Côte de Folk.
Adding the right throw is another way to elevate the look of your living room sofa. “Use a soft fluffy throw draped over one of the arms,” say Kai Price and Amanda Nelson. “We like to have one neatly folded and in a color that offsets the pillows and the sofa. Using layers of textiles like pillows and throws also helps you update the look throughout the seasons very easily.”
3. Get creative with unexpected textiles
If you’re no stranger to a sewing machine, consider making your own pillows, or even adding fabric to your sofa’s feet. “I love to cover the feet of my furniture for a fun, unexpected twist on traditional upholstery,” says Côte de Folk’s Sophie Rowell. "The finish will likely be cleaner if an upholsterer does this, but if your legs are removable and a straightforward shape you could try it yourself. The same fabric as the sofa will work best, creating a seamless look that also feels playful."
When it comes to homemade pillows, sourcing your fabric from unexpected places can lead to results that feel luxurious and bespoke. “Start collecting vintage fabrics, old quilts, decorative dish towels or handkerchiefs to create one-off, one-of-a kind cushions,” says Sophie Rowell. “For example, we've previously created a check pillow from an old gentleman’s monogrammed handkercheif.”
And in case you're not handy with a sewing machine, Society6's carefully curated - yet inexpensive - pillow collection is the place to shop. Mixing vintage florals with 1960s hippie vibe and everything in between it's a one-stop shop for eclecticism.
4. Move your sofa away from the wall
Simply changing the position of your sofa could make it look more premium - and knowing how to float furniture makes all the difference. “If you have a space that allows it, we always advocate for having the sofa in the middle of the room, away from the wall,” say Kai Price and Amanda Nelson. This can help to balance the room. It can elevate your sofa by treating it as an aesthetic object, rather than a purely functional one shoved into a corner.
“Moving your sofa away from the wall also allows you to add a bench behind the sofa for books, candles and plants, giving the room a luxurious and elevated feel," Kai Price and Amanda Nelson add. "If you have the sofa against the wall we like adding a selection of paintings and prints in different sizes behind it to make the space feel homely and cozy.”
5. Style the area around your sofa
You can enhance the look of your sofa without even touching it by giving the surrounding area some love. “Ensure a good backdrop: this could be a painted wall, wall covering (such as wallpaper or a mural), or it could be a focal point like shelving, artwork, or a mirror,” says Fiona Duke of Fiona Duke Interiors. “You can also help to frame the sofa area with lighting. A pendant light, wall light or a floor/table lamp are all inexpensive ways to add sophistication to the space.”
Placing an area rug underneath your sofa can also help it to “feel grounded,” Fiona Duke explains, while plants arranged around it can have a “softening” effect.
A small side table can also be practical and chic. “Circular ones look great, next to the arm of a sofa,” say Kai Price and Amanda Nelson. “It's great for having somewhere for you and your guest to pop their drink down while lounging. You can also use this space to add a few books, a vase of fresh flowers or a little table lamp for a cozy glow, elevating the general sofa area.”
So you don't need to buy a designer sofa to end up with a stylish seating area. Whether you decide to invest in new accessories, book a steam clean or rearrange your living room layout, there are plenty of affordable ways to achieve an expensive look.
The Livingetc Newsletter
For style leaders and design lovers.
Kate Hollowood is a freelance journalist who writes about a range of topics for Marie Claire UK, from current affairs to features on health, careers and relationships. She is a regular contributor to Livingetc, specializing in reporting on American designers and global interiors trends. Based in London, Kate has also written for titles like the i paper, Refinery29, Cosmopolitan and It’s Nice That.
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