by Kit Davey
Are you still hanging onto your threadbare Chesterfield because you are afraid of making a serious decorating faux pas? Feeling dread and anxiety about replacing your couch is natural. After all, when you pick one that isn't right for the room, it's glaringly obvious, and you could be stuck with your "mistake" for years to come.
Before you decide
Before you make up your mind to replace your couch, ask yourself if you really need to. If you are just plain tired of it, rearranging the furniture or replacing the accent pillows and adding a soft throw blanket may give it new life. Having it professionally cleaned and painting the wall behind it could also give it a fresh look.
If you like the size and shape of the couch, and don't want to bear the expense of a new sofa, consider purchasing ready-made slipcovers from catalog or Internet companies such as Sure Fit (1-888-SLIP 1 ON), Home Decorator's Catalog (1-800-245-2217) or Pottery Barn (1-800-922-5507). Reupholstering your couch may also save you a little cash and be better for the environment.
Consider whether you really need a couch. Conventional living and family rooms usually have a love seat or sofa, but yours doesn't have to. Would you really prefer a pair of comfy, overstuffed reading chairs that share an ottoman? If your home has a cottage- or garden-style, why not use a garden bench or wicker pieces instead?
Picking the right couch
If you've made up your mind to replace your couch, decide how much money you are willing to spend. Invest in the highest quality piece you can afford for a family room that gets heavy, daily use. A living-room couch with once-a-month use only needs to "look pretty" and does not require premium quality.
Next, establish the best possible seating arrangement for the room and know exactly where you will place your new couch. It takes muscle, but you can prevent errors if you test your ideas before buying. Move the furniture in every possible configuration, given how you plan to use the room, and including all the pieces you want to integrate. Ask your children and friends for their space-planning ideas.
If you do not have an old couch to place in the arrangement, cut out the footprint of a sofa (approximately 3 feet wide by 6 to 8 feet long) and use it instead.
When you are 100 percent sure of the location of your couch, measure the minimum and maximum amount if space it can occupy. Jot this information down so you can refer to it when you're out shopping.
Next, to narrow down the style and detailing of your new couch, assess the room's design message and consider the style of the major pieces. Create a list of adjectives that describe the look and feel of the room, such as informal, comfortable, airy, natural, country, folk-arty, etc. When you are out looking for sofas and see one you like, compare your word list with the "message" of the sofa you are attracted to.
Analyze the room's predominant colors and textures and jot them down. Take photos and assemble samples to take shopping with you. To pick a fabric that harmonizes with the rest of the space:
* Go neutral. If your furnishings are in the cool colors, select a gray or blue-based white, a solid gray or black fabric. If the space is predominantly warm-toned, go for a golden beige, creamy white, khaki or light-brown fabric and add colorful pillows.
* Select a solid in the most predominant color in the room. For example, if the room is decorated in forest green, navy blue and burgundy, with the green being most present in the space, select a green fabric for your sofa.
* Select a pattern (stripe, floral, plaid, etc.) that reflects the same proportion of colors in it as the surrounding room. If the fabrics in the room are 45 percent gold, 25 percent orange, 30 percent olive, look for a patterned fabric that has colors in approximately the same percentages.
Take your dimensions, the word list and your colors with you when you shop for a custom couch. Buy during seasonal sales to save money. Or, if you don't mind putting in more legwork, try shopping at consignment stores, estate sales and in the want-ad section of your local weekly newspaper.