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The couch is seen as a bit of a main player in the home. Like the dining table, the bed, the kitchen countertops, it's an element of a house that sees a lot of traffic and you can't really imagine a home without one. But, a sofa can be a bulky piece of kit, and if you are tight on space, forgoing a sofa can free up valuable square footage. So we are here to persuade you, not every living room needs a sofa, there are some fabulous couch alternatives out there that still add all that comfort and coziness but take up less physical and visual space.
And if room isn't really a problem for you, there's still plenty here to get you inspired. Because even if you have acres of space, a couple of armchairs or a chaise lounge, or a space-saving built-in number can look far chicer than a classic sofa. Still need convincing? Let the experts prove to you why ditching a sofa (or mixing and matching) is potentially the best design decision for your home...
14 ingenius sofa alternatives
It can be tricky to get your head around the idea of not including a sofa in a living space, it's become such an integral part of the room. But if you are dealing with a small living room or you are after something that adds less visual bulk, there are so many other options that are just as functional and look just as fabulous. And sofa alternatives don't just need to be used in living rooms – kitchens, hallways, and bedrooms can all benefit from some extra cozy seating, so consider bringing these ideas into other rooms too.
'Not every living space needs a sofa but often we feel the need to fill a space,' explains Tom Rutt, founder, TR Studio. 'When it comes to choosing seating, think about how the space is going to be used, who by and at what times of day. You might find a small chaise or classic mid-century lounger will be perfect for that reading nook, kitchen dinner, or small living area.'
1. Mix and match furniture
Sofas can be quite restricting when it comes to layout, especially if you are dealing with a small space. Ditch the sofa in favour of smaller seating and you can instantly be more flexible with your layout. In this modern living room, a couple of statement chairs and a chaise were used as a couch alternative, leaving the room feeling more open and welcoming.
'We wanted to create a harmonious balance of seating within this space and used a mixture of vintage and bespoke furnishings to achieve this. The seating arrangement offers a multitude of options for the homeowner and their guests, so it can be used as a larger entertaining space, or a cozy reading nook.' explains designer Natalia Miyar.
'The bespoke grey swivel love seat provides relaxation and comfort, contrasting with the vintage brown leather wooden chair, which offers an air of heritage to the modern scheme. The chaise allows the room to feel open, whereas a sofa in this position would have been more restricting. There is also a dining space in this room so we wanted to make sure that the seating could divide the room without closing off the space.'
2. Free up floor space with a chic hammock
It's the dream right? A hammock in the house. Not only do they bring the vacation vibes and an on-trend boho feel to a room, but they are the perfect couch alternative if you are working with a smaller space.
This minimalist Madrid apartment is filled with small space solutions, but the hammock that stretches the whole width of the living room has got to be our favorite. And unlike a sofa, it's totally flexible and can be hung neatly out of the way when it's not in use. You also get that illusion of there being more space, as even went the hammock is out, it doesn't interrupt the floorspace and the room remains light and open.
3. Create the perfect reading spot with a hanging chair
If a hammock isn't going to be a realistic solution in your home, a hanging chair can still give that same casual, rustic feel and you still have the benefit of it being up off the floor, adding less visual bulk to the room than a couch.
Hanging chairs have definitely shed their retro skin and become a whole different, very stylish, beast. The best options for a living room are designs that don't feel too...outdoorsy. Rattan, like the one used in this space, works perfectly, as it adds extra texture and can be softened up with throws and cushions. Or if you are after something even softer and more relaxed, check out macrame designs (these tend to be the more affordable option too).
Because of the way the cushion is so padded and so melded to the frame of the chair, we think this is one of the more comfortable hanging chairs on the market. Many of them can look better than they feel - this is as lovely to curl up in as it is to look at.
4. Switch a sofa for a pair of armchairs
As this gorgeous light-filled neutral living room, designed by Lisa Sherry proves, even if there is space for a couch, sometimes a pair of armchairs add so much more interest to a room. Plus, more light will flow easily around the space, which is definitely what you want if you are working with smaller rooms.
There's more flexibility with armchairs too, especially if you pick a swivel design as are used here, and they are more... sociable pieces of furniture than a sofa. 'I always start with what’s right for the space, how my clients will use the room and engage with each other, with the media, and with the overall environment. And it’s not always a sofa, which might overpower the room.' explains Lisa.
'Swivel chairs have all the right moves, offering 360-degree access to conversation and vistas. I love the fluidity of swivel chairs. Here two comfy barrel swivel chairs face an equally comfortable sofa,' she continues. 'In this way, everyone can enjoy the beautiful, wooded vistas outside. An accent table serves as a modified “coffee table” between the two swivels. The floor plan and furniture specifications beautifully anticipate the very best use of the space.'
5. Bring in a (grown up) beanbag
Beanbags and floor cushions are having a bit of a moment. So many interior design trends are about creating comfier, more relaxed, and informal spaces that it was only a matter of time before we started to see bean bags making a reappearance. But of course, they've had a glow-up, and you can now find designs to suit the chicest of living rooms.
Designed by architect Michaelis Boyd, this minimalist living room proves that floor cushions can be every bit as elegant as a sofa, and add just as much comfortable seating. We love how in the space, the kind of shapeless and casualness of the bean bag is balanced with the more minimalist slimline pieces that fill the rest of the space, and despite it being pretty sizeable the bean bag's low profile means it doesn't dominate the room either.
6. Add less bulk with a chaise
A chaise is the perfect option if you want to fill a space with a single piece, but don't want the visual bulk of a sofa. You get all the comfort of a traditional couch but with a more elegant and slimline look. Plus, they tend to be far more flexible in where you can position them in a small living room layout. The lack of a high back and bulky arms means they can work in front of windows and not block the light, they can be placed horizontally into a room if you want to fill a corner, and they can effortlessly float in a space too, without looking awkward as a sofa might.
If you are looking for a safe alternative to a sofa, a chaise is where it's at. But that doesn't mean you should play it safe with the piece itself. We love a chaise that makes a statement in a room, whether that be with a quirky vintage shape (scour online marketplaces for an original piece, there are loads out there) or a gorgeous fabric like this one covered in Beata Heuman's Asteria’s Folly.
7. Make it moveable with an ottoman
The first thing you notice about this chic boho living room is the expert layering of textures, the mix of both clean-lined modern pieces and soft casual furniture. What you don't notice is the lack of sofa. The key when choosing couch alternatives is to make sure the space still fills full, not like there's acres of gapping space where it's obvious a sofa should be, or lots of small pieces of furniture trying to make up for the lack of couch. And this small but perfectly formed room does that perfectly.
Despite the smaller dimensions of the room, none of the pieces are small, they don't float in a sea of floor. The chairs are large and comfy, and the fact they mismatch only adds to the relaxed feel. And the ottoman pulls it all together, filling the floor space in a way that makes the room feel welcoming and characterful, almost cluttered – but in a good, curated way.
The takeaway is, even if you are forgoing a sofa, don't be afraid to still bring in larger pieces of furniture, like an ottoman or a couple of larger chairs. Sometimes the less floor space you can see the better.
8. Choose a unique daybed
A daybed is such a gloriously versatile piece, and one of the best sofa alternatives. Much like a chaise, you still get the comfort of a sofa but the designs are far better suited to a smaller space. Plus, there's the added benefit that it can usually double up as a sofa bed should you need it to.
And they are just so much more interesting to look at, especially if you find one second-hand. Remember when shopping for vintage pieces it's all about the shape, don't be put off if the upholstery or tone of wood doesn't speak to you, these can be updated with new fabric and stain or paint. Case in point, this delightful piece, that was made more suitable and usable for the space.
'I don't like sofas at all, so I usually look for furniture that is similar in function but more interesting in shape - chaise longues, ottomans, or day beds.' explains Marta Chrapka founder of Colombe.
'This design is more classic, as we drew inspiration from French interiors. Here, the sofa was replaced by an old French ottoman, bought in an antique shop in France – Object Vagabond. We then sewed a few mattresses on it to make it more soft and cozy.'
9. Keep it cozy with a love seat
It's like a couch and gives everything a couch gives, just on a smaller scale. Slightly wider than an armchair but way smaller than traditional sofa dimensions, we believe every small space dweller should consider a loveseat. And if space isn't an issue? They are a great alternative to adding in a second couch or paired with a couple of adjacent armchairs for a more relaxed layout.
'For small apartments where a sofa might overpower, a loveseat is a good choice, especially where an armchair might be lost in the room, the larger proportions of loveseat fill a space without dominating it.' explains Tom Cox founder of Ham Interiors.
10. Or go with a statement chair
Pick the right one, and a chair can be an excellent sofa alternative. 'I think having a chair like this offers a space to relax alone rather than on a sofa, it’s a design classic and a statement piece that fits to the body to provide a restful, dedicated seat for an individual. With the soft sheepskin it’s a cozy and enticing chair to fully recline in.' explains designer Tom Ruter.
But do consider who uses the space. A single chair, no matter how comfy, isn't going to work as a stand-alone if you share your living room. So perhaps what we should say is the best couch alternative, is a number of chairs. A couple of statement, comfy pieces like this one, that don't necessarily have to match (in fact it's way more interesting if they don't) can easily stand in for a sofa.
11. Build a bench into awkward spaces
Transform an awkward alcove with a built-in sofa. An easy way to add extra seating to a room without taking up any usable floor space. This is a great look for a small living room, where a full-sized sofa might not be an option but you still want somewhere cozy to curl up. And you can bring in a couple of comfy chairs and a coffee table to nicely fill up the rest of the room.
'Here, I made the most of a quirky space tucked between a fireplace and windows, explains designer Lisa Sherry. 'I specified a floating built-in daybed and topped it with a comfy cushion and textural bolsters. This might be the most coveted spot in the living room. I finished the “moment” with a faux-bois gesso table, perfect for a cocktail or coffee an asymmetrical wall lamp looks like art!'
12. Embrace curves
This is something we so often say when it comes to designing a small living room – curves and soft lines are important. A traditional sofa is often quite a structural piece, made up of lots of clean lines and shapes, which can close in a small room. However, furniture that's more open and more fluid keeps the space feeling open and fluid.
'For a small space, you need to be clever with the design and layout so it feels balanced and functional. We chose this gorgeous chaise from Ferm Living with a curved edge as it looks sculptural and provides a statement against this very linear wall.' explain Jen and Marr, founders of Interior Fox.
'We chose this type of chaise over a conventional small sofa as traditional sofa shapes can be very blocky and restrictive, whereas this shape allowed more freedom and movement within the space. It was important to have some back support so you could actually sit back and read a book or scroll on your phone in peace, comfortably as there is nothing worse than a gorgeous sofa that is not useable. A couple of custom cushions were added for visual interest and extra softness to the room as well.'
13. Incorporate a window seat
Window seats are such dreamy additions to any room. But they also make for great sofa alternatives if space is tight or if you want to add a seating area to a more functional room like a kitchen or a hallway. A window seat can transform a usually pretty dead space into a multifunctional spot that can even be used for storage as well as being an inviting spot to perch.
We see window seats used a lot in open-plan spaces, where say a living room and kitchen are within the same room. A window seat creates that kind of link between the two, as you can see here, bringing some softness into the practical space and subtly linking it with the living area.
14. Ditch the arms
Sofa arms add bulk, plus they restrict what you can do in terms of layout. Ditch the arms and you have a much more flexible piece of furniture that's ideal for a small living room. And with an armless chair, you get that lovely relaxed, casual feeling that you really want from a living room.
'Armless sofas are a great alternative to a traditional sofa. They pair exceptionally well with another sofa, especially when you want two sofas and don’t want them to be matchy-matchy. The lack of arms also opens up the space and makes it more welcoming.' explains designer Benjamin Dhong.
What can you use instead of a couch?
'Our favorite alternatives to traditional sofas are custom window seats, day-beds and chaises with interesting edges or seat shapes, and oversized chairs with a matching footstool. There are so many unique pieces out there that can be used instead of a boring straight sofa which may or may not be any more comfortable.' explains Jen of Interior Fox.
Designer Jonathan Adler agrees, 'When it comes to sitting, think beyond the sofa. A chaise? Tres chic. Daybeds? Daring. Daybeds are every decorator’s secret weapon – they add unexpected polish to a living room and bring a neglected corner to life. They’re perfect for an overnight guest, sassy socializing, or the occasional sneaky snooze.'
And if you want more of a classic living room feel, designer Marie Flanigan recommends using smaller pieces to create a balanced look, just as a sofa would. 'I love incorporating two small stools near fireplaces because they add symmetry and function. While it allows for additional seating, it also gives flexibility in the furniture floor plan. I love that you can easily move stools to another area or closer to the fireplace.'
Can you have a living room without a couch?
We think all these chic couch alternative ideas, have for sure proved a living room doesn't need a sofa to feel welcoming. As designer Kathy Kuo says, 'I like to say that there aren’t any hard and fast rules about what any given room “must have.” If you have a living room space that serves you well with several comfortable armchairs and no sofa, then there’s no need to force a sofa! The ultimate goal is to love your living room and feel at home there – both by yourself and with guests – and working with chairs, benches, and chaises can certainly result in a beautiful living room design.' Agreed!
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Hebe is the Digital Editor of Livingetc; she has a background in lifestyle and interior journalism and a passion for renovating small spaces. You'll usually find her attempting DIY, whether it's spray painting her whole kitchen, don't try that at home, or ever changing the wallpaper in her hallway. Livingetc has been such a huge inspiration and has influenced Hebe's style since she moved into her first rental and finally had a small amount of control over the decor and now loves being able to help others make decisions when decorating their own homes. Last year she moved from renting to owning her first teeny tiny Edwardian flat in London with her whippet Willow (who yes she chose to match her interiors...) and is already on the lookout for her next project.
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