Is it okay to put a sofa in front of a window? Here's what the experts say
Sometimes the most obvious placement for a couch is in front of a window, but is this a design crime? Our interior experts offer their verdict
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Is it okay to put a sofa in front of a window? This is a question that designers and homeowners looking to redesign their space go back and forth on. Many are staunchly against sofa placement in front of the window, worried of blocking natural light or views, chilly drafts, and simply looking awkward in the room, but 'certain living room layouts mean that putting the sofa in front of a window is unavoidable,' rightly points out Dani Burroughs, from sofa brand Snug. 'This isn’t always a bad thing, the window area is usually a welcomed sun trap, meaning it’s the perfect spot to curl up with a book while basking in the sunlight.'
When it comes to placing a sofa in front of a window, there are no hard and fast rules, but there are clever hints to make sure your sofa works to enhance the architectural details of your room and reflect the mood of the space, and things to take into account. We speak to the experts to find out their thoughts on smart living room furniture ideas and ways to tackle this design conundrum.
Oonagh is an experience homes and interiors writer and editor with an extensive black book of interior design contacts. For this story, she spoke to an array of residential interior designers to find out their preferences on sofa placement and the factors to take into consideration when designing a room with windows.
Should you put a sofa in front of a window?
While it is often disputed in the world of interiors, the simple answer is that yes, it is okay to put a sofa in front of a window. Sometimes, there is just no way around it. But if faced with this design dilemma, there are ways to ensure the overall scheme works well when you're limited to this placement. Think about the layout of the room - whether it's a place of high traffic, and how to place your sofa so that there is space to travel around the room. Think about how you rely on lighting for the space, if your sofa placement is blocking a great view or natural lighting from pouring in.
Also consider how your sofa dimensions, and if from the outside looking in, nosy neighbours will just see an unsightly back of a sofa unit. 'Scale always matters,' points out interior designer Anna Popov of Interiors by Popov (opens in new tab). 'If your sofa is going to dwarf the window, think again before placing your sofa in front of it, as the aesthetic balance of your home will be thrown off,' says Anna. However, if your window has some wall space underneath, your sofa might slot underneath.
Sometimes, your window might be a statement in itself, points out interior designer, Rachel Usher (opens in new tab), so you may want to reconsider placement in front of the window if it will detract from stained glass or some other interesting feature. 'If you have a period property with a statement window it would be worth considering if you could place your sofas perpendicular to the window instead, so that you aren’t obstructing a beautiful architectural feature,' she says.
How does natural lighting impact window sofa placement?
Also think about how natural lighting coming in from the window can impact your furniture, or how a sofa might impact the light in the space.
'The primary benefit of a window is the light that it brings to a room, so by placing a sofa in front of one you’re actively stopping this from happening,' points out James Patmore, design manager at Soho Home (opens in new tab).
If the home features floor-to-ceiling windows and the sofa is in direct sunlight without any trees or greenery helping to diffuse the light, it is important to also note that the sofa back upholstery set against the window will fade notably faster than the rest of the sofa due to the UV rays. 'The darker the upholstery, the faster the fade - this is especially true on waterfront properties - the reflection of the water speeds up the effect of the UV rays,' says Anna. 'With lighter, neutral shades the difference over time is much less obvious. While there are various ways to protect one's furniture from the sunlight, these are important points to consider when designing your space.'
'If lighting impacting fabric is a concern, then I suggest adding living room curtains,' says Nikki James, interior designer and studio manager for Ashton Woods (opens in new tab). 'Not only do they act as a stunning backdrop to your sofa, but they can help protect your furniture from UV rays.'
How far from the window should a sofa be?
If you have the space but in front of the window is the only place your sofa can go, think about keeping it a distance away from the window. This will not obstruct natural light and views, and can help your sofa really stand out as a statement furniture piece. 'A sofa should sit at a minimum of 6-8 inches from the window,' recommends Shoshanna Shapiro of Sho and Co (opens in new tab).
'If foot traffic is expected behind the sofa, we recommend keeping at least three feet between the sofa and the window,' adds Anna Popov. 'If not, about a foot or more is fine — you want to leave open space to account for any kind of window treatment or drapes as well as to protect the wall and sofa from damage. But ultimately, we are in favor of whatever sofa positioning looks and feels the best,' she adds.
'Measure and map your space out first to get an idea for what you're playing with and leave enough space in your map to walk around comfortable,' suggests Dani of Snug, especially when working with a small living room layout. 'It can be snug, but no one wants it to be a squeeze. If you find that you have extra space, a side table makes a great practical and stylish addition. It’s the perfect spot for a table lamp, your favourite plant or as a place to rest your cup of coffee.”
Where should you put a sofa?
Each unique space in a house will dictate where the sofa should be placed - certain architectural lines will appeal more to a sofa placement than others, so look out for obvious living room corners for a L-shape sofa to slot beautifully into, look out for dado rails under a window where a sofa might snugly fit. Keep your sofa away from radiators and avoid in front of doors and areas dedicated to traffic flow. 'The flow of a space will help dictate where to place your sofa—it should improve rather than impede movement in a home,' says Anna.
For others, the optimal placement might be set up to encourage conversation. 'Place two sofas parallel to each other to help with conversation and interaction,' adds Alex Epstein, lead interior designer at Purple Cherry Architects (opens in new tab).
You should also identify what you want the purpose of the space to be, and how you want people to interact with the space as well as together, then position your sofa to compliment this. 'If you want to celebrate a focal point, a TV, fireplace or view, then have the sofa face it; if you want it to be a place of conversation, place the sofa opposite a pair of occasional chairs, or another sofa,' says James of Soho Home. 'You can rank these desires in order of importance, then maybe arrange the space so that you can cater to more than one.'
What type of seating works in front of a window?
A window or bay area of a room is often a natural space where you can slot seating, so if you want to include seating in some form, without adding a bulky sofa to the space, think about a window seat. Creating a cozy nook where you can tuck into a good read or watch the world go by outside, window seats are built into place. 'A window seat should sit at 18 inches high,' says Shoshanna.
Dani also recommends going modular if you're looking for seating that works in front of a window. 'If you’re looking for something more versatile, think modular,' she says. 'Look for a sofa that grows with you and your lifestyle as your needs change. This will mean you can turn your three-seater sofa into a corner sofa in a moment’s notice by simply adding new pieces, and move your sofa around the room if you want to chop and change.'
Also consider daybeds in living rooms - a place to relax next to a beautiful view, but a simple piece that won't block out any lighting, just like this piece as used in this design by Takk Studio Berlin (opens in new tab).
Oonagh is a content editor at Livingetc.com. Previously, she worked on a London property title, producing long-read interiors features, style pages and conducting interviews with a range of famous faces from the UK interiors scene, from Kit Kemp to Robert Kime. In doing so, she has developed a keen interest in London's historical architecture and the city's distinct tastemakers paving the way in the world of interiors.
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