This or That? Sofa vs. Sectional
Sofas and sectionals are must-have furniture pieces in any living space. Besides providing seating, their presence is a focal point that sets the tone for the entire room. What secrets do you need to know when choosing yours? Interior designer and lifestyle expert Elaine Griffin spills the details.
“The biggest difference between sofas and sectionals is size and structure,” says Griffin. When it comes to size, sectionals tend to take up more space than sofas. The structure also differs between the two in that sofas are usually constructed in a straight line, while sectionals consist of different parts that create turns and bends.
Straight-lined sofas typically come in three standard sizes: a seven-footer, a six-foot apartment sofa and a five-foot loveseat. Griffin loves this streamlined, modern apartment sofa, which boasts removable slipcovers—a great bonus to help remedy unexpected (but unavoidable) spills.
Think of a sectional as multiple sofas grouped together to form a large, geometric seating area. It’s got one distinct advantage, says Griffin. “If you want to max out the number of people who can sit in your space, a sectional is the way to go,” she says—it creates seating in that crucial corner.
The L-shaped sectional is the most common, but its dimensions aren’t standardized. You can find both large- and smaller-scale versions, as well as nontraditional shapes. Especially in a midsize living space, a sectional “allows you to up seating where you don’t have enough room for, say, an additional upholstered armchair,” Griffin says. One important thing to evaluate with L-shaped sectionals: configuration options. Some are flexible and allow you to put the extended part of the sectional on either side, while others, such as these two, only work one way.
Have extra spacious digs? “U-shaped sectionals kill it when filling a supersize space,” says Griffin—especially because you don’t have to resort to multiple seating groups. And their design magic also works to help visually fill the space and relax the mood, bringing a comfy, come-on-in-and-sit vibe.
Arm shape determines style
The kind of arm style you choose says a lot about your style and the comfort level you want. Keep these Griffin-approved pointers in mind when making your selection.
- Is the arm shape round (designers call this a “scroll” arm), straight or slightly bent? “As a rule, the larger and rounder the scroll, the more traditional the shape,” she says. “The squarer and straighter the arm shape—whether super slim or extra wide—the more modern the style.”
- Some styles are more versatile than others. The two that Griffin calls the “little black dresses” of arm styles are the Bridgewater arm, which are rolled to the sides, and the right-angle track arm, like on this contemporary Elle Décor sofa. “Opting for one of these elegant and timeless silhouettes means your sofa will always look fabulous and appropriate for your space, even if your decor style does a 180 in three years,” Griffin says.
Material and Cushions
Sofas and sectionals differ in the number of seat backs and cushions, but size doesn’t determine that number. For example, a seven-foot sofa can have one, two or three seat cushions. “I prefer either one or two seat cushions for a more contemporary, stylish look,” says Griffin.
Typically, backs come in two forms: loose with cushions or tight without cushions. Sofas and sectionals with loose backs are more comfortable for seating, says Griffin, but the back cushions may sag more, which means fluffing is essential. For example, a tighter back on this chic leather-look sofa provides a more streamlined appearance, while the detachable cushions on this oatmeal sofa offer a softer, plusher look.
Finally, take a look at your budget, says Griffin. How the springs are tied and the composition of the cushions affect cost. How do you know if you’re getting great quality? “The best of the best include down-filled cushions and eight-way, hand-tied inner springs,” says Griffin. “If you’ve ever sat on a sofa and heard a boing sound or felt a spring, it wasn’t tied down eight ways.” One money-saving strategy is to choose a sofa or sectional that has envelope pillow cushions with foam centers surrounded by a down and feather mix. “Design pros favor this option—adjusting the proportion of down versus feather according to budget,” Griffin says. “It provides firmer seating while looking good.”