Must-Have Living Room Essentials: Sofas, Chairs and Ottomans

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Starting from scratch on furnishing a new living room can be daunting, to say the least. You’ve likely just gone through a long moving process only to realize that you’re now starting over with a new to-do list, and may be feeling a bit overwhelmed at the thought of playing interior designer in your empty living space. 

Well, first things first: you’re not alone. While looking at a sparsely furnished room can induce that feeling of looking at a blank page, there are a few tried-and-true steps you can follow to piece together a living room design, from the sofa to the accent pieces, that feels one hundred percent uniquely yours – one that brings you joy for every moment spent in it.

INTRODUCING: THE THREE UPHOLSTERY HEAVYWEIGHTS

Before you get excited and start thinking about the finishing touches: things like the artwork, coffee table books, window treatments, and more, it’s typically easiest to get the biggest pieces of the puzzle in place first. A good rule of thumb is to work from largest to smallest: starting with the sofa, moving to the chairs, and finishing with the ottomans. These foundational elements will all influencer one another, as well as the more decorative touches in the room, and because they will be the standout (not to mention, the most necessary for daily use) features, that’s the place most people start. 

THE CENTERPIECE: YOUR SOFA

Different Sofa Styles

Sectionals, modern sofas, slipcovered sofas, sleeper sofas, and more. The options seem endless. However, figuring out which sofa best fits your lifestyle is easier than it sounds if you just start by process of elimination. When it comes to the style of your sofa, can probably make some pretty quick cuts upfront based on your unique priorities. 

First, start with the non-negotiable factors. For example, are you working with a vast living space, or a smaller studio apartment? Space constraints will dictate whether a two-seater tuxedo sofa or a much larger sectional is the best option. Next, consider what type of usage will your sofa get. Do you have a big family that likes to gather for movie nights, or are you often hosting guests and in need of a sofa-turned-bed for them to crash? And lastly, what is your personal style? Are you going for a more traditional or coastal vibe (slipcover sofa), or a modern, sleek aesthetic (modern sofa)? These questions will help narrow your list fairly quickly, so you can move onto the fun stuff: fabric.

Figuring Out Fabric

Upholstery choice is where you have the option to truly design the custom sofa of your dreams. If you aren’t sure where to start – from pattern to leather, linen to velvet – not a problem. Again, start with the basics: what kind of usage will the sofa get? If you have kids and pets, consider that as a factor in color and material. Complex patterns are excellent stain and pet hair concealers, vs. a solid-colored sofa. Do have allergies or live in a particularly warm climate? Leather resists allergens and remains cool in warmer months. Do you love feeling soft and sumptuous to-the-touch when sitting on a sofa? Then performance velvet may be your coziest bet.

And, like all upholstery choices, you can order swatches to get a true IRL look-and-feel for the fabric before you commit.

THE ACCENT: YOUR CHAIRS

Once you’ve nailed the sofa, you’re onto the accent chairs. By themselves or in a pair, accent chairs not only offer the practicality of extra seating, but also a complimentary design element to any living room. 

Types of Chairs

There are endless styles of chairs that could work in a living room, but three of the most iconic styles are the tuxedo chair, the cocktail chair, and the slipper chair. 

  • The tuxedo chair is sleek, tailored, and timeless. These modern, geometric club chairs are the furniture equivalent to the classic suit. With a deep seat and robust arms, they make the perfect reading chair for cozying up next to a window or a fireplace. They also work particularly well as a home office duo.
  • The cocktail chair is an elegant armchair that’s reminiscent of mid-century cocktail furnishings when entertaining was every day. With a smaller footprint than the tuxedo chair, a cocktail chair is more of a space-saving accent with a fun and versatile flair.
  • Unlike the tuxedo chair and cocktail chair, the slipper chair sits lower to the ground and lacks arms. The slipper chair made its debut in the early 1700s (whose name derives from the spot that women would put on their slippers) and has since become a favorite amongst decorators for its versatility, shape, and size.

Picking the Perfect Accents

The possible sofa / chair combinations are endless, and we personally believe there are no rules or must-follow design trends: only what makes you happy. However, if you’re grasping for a place to start, here are a few interior design guidelines to consider. 

First, scale. Consider size & proportions, so that one piece of furniture isn’t completely visually overtaking the others. In this same vein, consider seat height and try to keep them relatively consistent. You don’t want guests looking up or down at one another during conversation.

And finally, fabric. If you’re aiming for the tried-and-true pairing method, choose complementary fabrics. If you opted for a solid sofa, consider a pair of chairs in a pattern, such as a ticking stripe. Or, if you love a pattern-on-pattern look, choose patterns in different scales from the same color family. And hey – if you want to go for the matchy-matchy looks with the same pattern on each, remember what we said… the only rule is doing what brings you joy!

THE ALL-IN-ONE: YOUR OTTOMANS 

The ottoman is one of our favorite living room design elements, solely for its versatility. There is hardly a piece of furniture that punches above its weight quite like the ottoman does. Used for sneaky storage, last-minute seating and visual intrigue, the ottoman can also moonlight as an end table, a coffee table and a footrest. Need we say more?

Types of Ottomans

It’s no exaggeration to say that ottomans come in ALL shapes and sizes. In picking the right ottoman (or, pair of ottomans) for your living room, consider first your most functional needs. Is hidden storage important to you, perhaps for those kids’ toys or extra throw blankets? Then a storage ottoman is a no-brainer. If you’re looking for a classic shape that can be easily stowed away under a console for added visual effect when not in use, then a pair of x-benches is your best bet. 

Regardless of the style you land on, one thing is definite: ottomans are better as pairs. If you didn’t have the space for a chair duo, this could be your opportunity to double up. And finally, when it comes to picking a fabric, use the same rules of thumb as you did for chairs above. If you’re choosing fabrics or patterns that make you happy, that will be reflected in your space.

A Debate: Cocktail Ottoman vs. Coffee Table

That brings us to our final discussion point – one where there is no right answer, but that you’ll likely have to consider as part of the finishing touches on your living space. The question becomes: do you opt for a traditional coffee table, or instead use a cocktail ottoman in its place?

As with everything in interior design, there is no right or wrong answer, and each point is subjective. However, there are a few obvious differences between the two that are worth noting. For one, a cocktail ottoman gives you the opportunity to choose custom upholstery for your piece, thus allowing more flexibility to personalize as part of your overall living room design scheme. On the other hand, a coffee table is often wood-based, offering an aesthetic that can’t as easily be customized. 

Finally, the major point of differentiation – and the reason people often opt for the less-traditional cocktail ottoman – is when there are little kids in the mix. As any parent knows, sharp corners are the enemy. Because a cocktail ottoman is upholstered, kids who are just learning to walk (or, when they’re a bit older, using every space in your house as a jungle gym), they’re generally a safer option.