As a living room staple – and often an investment buy – it can be tempting to play it safe when it comes to choosing a sofa. But we're here to tell you there's another way. We've seen so many inspiring living room sofa ideas that show that this key piece can be a serious source of style as well as comfort – as long as you're willing to experiment with color, shape and pattern.
And we're not the only ones who feel strongly about this. ‘The sofa is often the star of the living room,’ says Connecticut and Florida-based interior designer Billy Ceglia. He advocates for basing other living room ideas around it: ‘Just like any successful design scheme, the other elements of the room should play off the main focal element in size and scale to complement and enhance its shape and design.’
Feeling inspired to experiment with your sofa? We've gathered our favorite ideas from interior designers below.
Ellen is Livingetc's print editor, and an experienced interiors journalist. Here, she's picked her favorite sofa styles for contemporary living rooms and quizzed designers on their top tips for choosing a standout piece that will last.
10 inspiring living room sofa ideas
When it comes to choosing your sofa, Chicago-based designer Bruce Fox has one rule. 'Always create a balance,' he says. 'Whether a sculptural sofa or one that is upholstered in a wild fabric, the overall feel of the piece should look at home with the rest of the decor. Select as you would any other piece of upholstered furniture – to work with the other shapes and styles within the room.'
1. Choose a slouchy, statement-making sectional
We're calling it: sectional sofas are having a revival, and the best new designs have the perfect amount of slouch and sofa depth. In this scheme by Berlin-based Takk Studio, the laid-back look is completed by a soft, pastel-pink colorway and contrasting bold, abstract artwork. ‘The client is an entrepreneur, VC investor and a single mom, so we wanted to break her strong business persona with soft and organic shapes,’ says architect and owner Agi Kuczynska. ‘I used a vintage Ligne Roset Togo sofa in powder pink Alcantara.’
Connecticut interior designer Georgia Zikas is also a fan of a sectional. ‘Sectionals have become so much more popular in recent years in large part as a response to the way we are living now,’ she says. ‘With the amount of time we spend at home, comfort and versatility are key. Sectionals offer all of those features, and can even double as storage or extra sleeping space. These workhorse sofas truly deliver so much bang for their buck, and in this day and age, you can get gorgeously stylish sectionals that complement your overall design.’
2. Embrace all things curvy with a shapely sofa
Shapely, sinuous living room furniture pieces are going nowhere, and a curved sofa is a great choice for a truly contemporary scheme that feels a little more unique. Case in point? This scheme by Oxford interior design studio Kindly. 'We chose to center the seating in this formal drawing room and create a conversation circle environment for when the family get together and entertain,' says co-founders Danielle Beeken and Anya Bond. 'We chose soft, curved sofas to contrast the room's angular architecture, including the decorative ceiling coving. It was important to move freely around the space; organic-shaped pieces allow you to do this easily.'
Also key to this look is the luxe green velvet, which fits in well with current living room color trends. 'With such a large space and a preference for contemporary styling, we wanted to add texture where we could to make the room feel intimate and cozy,' add Danielle and Anya. 'Our client loves color and was happy to allow us to be bold with our choice of emerald green, and we feel this related beautifully to the colorful artwork in the room and the green foliage seen through the windows.'
If you're torn between a sofa vs sectional, a piece of this design and shape can offer benefits of both. Perfect for lounging and reading, it is also a statement-piece for when guests visit.
3. Create a sculptural statement with a stand-out design
A major trend in high-end interior design is playful, organic decorating – and this Cloud sofa from Jonathan Adler delivers that in spades. ‘A sculptural sofa adds visual excitement and dimension to a space,’ says interior designer Billy Ceglia. ‘It can accentuate the architecture, highlight the shape of the room, or go completely against the shape of the space to create cozier seating groups or help create a visual flow through a space.’
This sofa also ties into another idea for small living rooms: love seats. ‘Love seats are great for both smaller spaces, in front of windows, where you may not have room for a large sofa, or even very large spaces that need another form of seating but cannot handle another full-sized sofa,’ says Nina Grauer of Florida and Colorado-based interior design studio Dekay & Tate. ‘Love seats can also be fun – feel free to experiment with different colors and textures in upholstery, even different styles than your main sofa, to add some interesting visual tension into your living room.’
4. Opt for a squared-off sofa for a contemporary look
Okay, so we're big fans of curves – but there's definitely still a place for a more structured, squared design in a contemporary scheme. The key is to keep the palette neutral and look for organic details that help soften the look – like the arms of this Ligne Roset Togo sofa, which temper the structured lines of the legs and the seat cushions.
The shape is mirrored in the other living room furniture, like the coffee table, which features two straight edges and a curved corner.
5. Embrace luxe materials for a high-end finish
Using a luxe fabric like velvet in your sofa design will ensure it's the focal point of the room, adding texture and a soft sheen. There's always a place for softer colors in velvet, but for this look, the best couches are bold with dark shades of black, blue or green. In this scheme by Lucy Harris Studio, the New York-based designer selected Edra's On the Rocks sofa, and the combination of deep black velvet makes the piece appear to sparkle.
'Because the home is grand in scale and detail I wanted a sofa that had an edgy modern vibe, was sculptural and could hold its own in the large room,' says Lucy. 'For fabric, we chose the moody black-blue color as it makes the piece pop against the white walls and lighter tone rug. I love the On the Rocks sofa because while it does have an angular and bold look it still has a softness. The fabric that Edra specifically developed for it, and that we used, is soft, textural and very easy to keep clean.'
6. Double up on seating space with a back-to-back design
If you have the space, a double-sided sofa allows for plenty more seating – perfect if you're often hosting guests. It's also a great way to define zones in an open plan area. One side might face a TV, for example, while the other sits across from a couple of armchairs for a space that's perfect for conversation.
'This was the obvious choice for us for a sofa for this space,' says Chelsea Reale, co-founder of New York interior design studio Sissy+Marley on decorating this apartment. 'Its architectural shape and low profile felt appropriate for the space, not competing with the amazing view but just as jaw-dropping. The scale of the living area also lent itself to having two separate seating areas, and this sofa allows for that to happen in a very organic way.'
7. Go bold with pattern for an instant focal point
Maximalism fans, this one's for you: a patterned sofa is a great way to deliver instant statement style to a space, though you should be sure you're going to love it for a long time to avoid buying into a passing trend. Opt for a classic pattern like an animal print, a subtle stripe or tiny florals, and pair it with plain cushions to avoid overwhelm.
This scheme by Louisiana-based interior designer Rachel Cannon is a masterclass in using pattern well: the leopard print design sits on top of a Persian rug, but the double dose of pattern is tempered with an otherwise simple color scheme of tonal blues and gold accents. 'When sourcing sofas for our clients, we like to consider how often it will be used, by whom, the style of the home, and the preferences of the homeowner,' she says. 'This space was used as a place for rest, recharging, and inspiration. The curved sofa works for the purpose of this room, its audience, and the style of our client. It's bold and eye-catching, but free from specific, fleeting trends.'
8. Try a clever color-block design
The color-blocking trend doesn't end at paint: use your sofa as the key piece with which to bring statement shades into your scheme and you'll lock down a truly contemporary look.
Here, a Caravane sofa with a mint green frame and light blue seats harnesses the confidence of the color scheme; it sits against a rich red, paneled wall, and a yellow throw cushion ties in with the framed artwork above.
9. Add a playful touch with a lounge-worthy swing seat
It's a step up from your conventional sofa, but a swing seat is a playful addition to a living room scheme – and one that kids and adults alike will love. This natural living room by Bengaluru-based interior designers Concepto Studio pairs the seat with a custom-made olive green sofa, out of shot, to ground the scheme.
'The furniture is rooted in light, natural wood that pairs beautifully with a cane swing, making it hard not to conjure up an image of a breezy beach vacation at home,' says co-founder Esha Stanley.
10. Use piping details for a playful yet considered finish
Shape, color and texture are all hugely important when it comes to choosing your living room sofa – but the details are just as key to a chic design. Our current favorite way to bring in that extra considered touch? Contrasting piping, which highlights the lines of a sofa and is a great way to bring in an accent color in a stylish but subtle way. Use piping to tie in with your favorite artwork, or opt for a stripe for a hint of pattern.
Where to find the best design-forward sofas
Lulu and Georgia - elegant yet comfy shapes
DWR - mid-century forms and classic designs
2Modern - a brilliant curation of directional and statement pieces
La Redoute - affordable and family-friendly couches
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Ellen is deputy editor of Livingetc magazine. She cut her teeth working for sister publication Real Homes, starting as features editor before becoming deputy editor. There, she enjoyed taking a peek inside beautiful homes and discovered a love for design and architecture that eventually led her here. She has also written for other titles including Homes & Gardens and Gardeningetc. While she gets ready to buy a house of her own, she takes inspiration from the works of some of her favourite architects and tastemakers. She has a particular passion for green design and enjoys shopping small, local and second-hand where she can.
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