There's a brand new sofa trend and it's tricky to get right - design experts explain how

Bold piping against a colorful fabric is big news for sofas in 2023. Our experts explain how to make them look gorgeous, not garish

A rust coloured sofa with bold piping detail against a green wall
(Image credit: Love Your Home)

As the piece of furniture most associated with relaxation and leisure, it’s perhaps no surprise that sofa trends are often fun. From designs that use bright, statement colors, to curvaceous silhouettes, to playful, modular shapes, sofas have taken many exciting forms in recent years. 

One of the latest living room trends is similarly irreverent, yet all in the detail. Set to gather pace in 2023, the bold sofa piping trend is a fresh way to add life to any living room, especially when combined with a bold colored fabric. 

"Piping creates a graphic look and draws attention to the lines of a piece. It really makes a sofa stand out in a room," says Kristen Rivoli of Kristen Rivoli Interior Design. 

But applying contrast to such a large and often dominating piece of furniture can be risky. Get bold sofa piping wrong, and you’ll end up with an eyesore. 

“When done correctly, piping is a wonderful opportunity to add a pop of color or contrast in texture to a piece of furniture—but it can make or break the overall design aesthetics,” says Sharon O'Connor, Director and Founder of Vintique Upholstery. “The color, texture and size of piping are important considerations. Piping cannot be changed at a later date unless the sofa, chair, footstool or chaise is being recovered or reupholstered.”

How to choose the right fabric for your piping 

Close up of a green sofa with contrast piping

(Image credit: Vintique Upholstery)

If you’re buying a new sofa with contrasting piping, your fabric choices may be limited. But if you are getting an existing sofa recovered or reupholstered, you may have to source or choose the fabric yourself—for both the sofa cover and your feature piping. 

“Definitely think about the end use of the item,” says Sharon O'Connor. “One question I always ask my customers is, do you have cats? If so, I would avoid a woven or wool fabric that a cat can scratch and instead opt for a velvet, which has less chance of catching a claw.”

Choosing a piping fabric with a high enough rub count is also essential. “As piping tends to be on edges like arms and seat cushions, which get a lot of abrasion, choose nothing less than 40,000 for your piping trim,” says Sharon O’Connor. “While it may look good, light cotton, wool or silk used as piping will wear or pill far faster compared to a high-rub count polyester. The last thing you want to see is tatty, worn piping on an otherwise good-condition sofa or chair. The rub count on your main fabric is also essential to consider. For example, for a high-use item, look for a rub count of 40,000+.”

How to use a color wheel for contrasting sofa piping

A turquoise sofa with contrasting piping in a green living room

(Image credit: Love Your Home)

Once you’re confident in your fabric choice, it’s time to think about color. When it comes to applying contrasting colors, a color wheel is your best friend. 

“With any bold color combination, it's all about balance,” says Kristen Rivoli. “Piping draws attention to the form of a sofa, so one way to have a successful result is to make sure there is high contrast."

Kristen Rivoli continues: “Using a color wheel is a great way to make sure that you get the right amount of contrast. First, find the upholstery fabric's color on the color wheel, then draw a straight line across the color wheel to the color’s complement. These colors are basically opposites. For example, if you start with red, its complement or opposite is green. The complementary color offsets the main color.” 

While going full contrast will create a fun and unique kind of vibrancy, this isn’t the only option. “If you wanted a more subtle effect, one would look at the split complementary colors, meaning that once you find the complimentary color, you choose one of the colors next to it to give it a more subtle look,” says Kristen Rivoli. 

Contrasting your fabric with neutral tones is another way to make the look striking, yet sophisticated. “To achieve this look, use a color wheel to select one shade and a neutral, or two shades of similar tones,” says Abi Boura, Creative Director at Love Your Home.

Bold sofa piping tips 

1. Consider contrasting textures 

A turquoise sofa with contrasting piping

(Image credit: Love Your Home)

Color isn’t your only tool when it comes to contrast with piping. Using piping to contrast two textures, like velvet and linen in the image above, can create contrast without having to be daring with color. Layering up textures in this way can have a calming, soothing effect, creating a sense of harmony in spaces like transitional style living rooms. 

As Love Your Home’s Creative Director Abi Boura explains: “Don’t forget to also mix fabric textures as well. A common misconception is that using colors from opposite ends of the spectrum is considered adventurous. However, colors with similar tones or neutral tones, combined with varied fabric textures, create a bold effect without being garish.”

2. Consider using pattern 

A patterned arm chair in many colours with pink piping

(Image credit: Vintique Upholstery)

If you're working with pattern, pick out a color from the patterned fabric to use in the piping. 

"A printed fabric (as the main fabric) paired with a solid colour from the print as piping can look particularly striking," says Sharon O'Connor. "Conversely, a printed piped edge against a plain sofa also works well. In fact, the bigger the contrast the better the outcome. After all, life's too short for ordinary furniture!"

An burnt orange coloured sofa with contrasting piping

(Image credit: Love Your Home)

Far from making a shouty statement, bold sofa piping can actually tie a room together. In this way, it can even have a calming effect. If you’ve chosen a bright blue piping, for example, you might like to find artworks or cushions in shades of blue too.

“Whether it's linking the piping with a new armchair or accessories, or with older pieces already in your room, this is a great trend for tying your space together and a lovely method of creating cohesion,” says Abi Boura. 

So with a bit of planning—and when armed with a color wheel—anyone can apply this fun living room sofa idea while maintaining balance in their space. 

And as for where's the best place to buy a couch, our guide will help you here.

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.