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Emily Henderson

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by Arlyn Hernandez
photo by sara ligorria-tramp for ehd | from: 7 fool-proof ways to design a home you truly love

Warning, hyperbole ahead: There are two types of people in this world—the kind that just resolves to buy a sofa that’s comfortable no matter how boring it looks (i.e. my husband) and the kind that toils and tinkers online and in-store for days/weeks/months on end trying to find something a little more interesting (uh, me, always and forever). At a high price point, it’s not that difficult to source something really special, but it’s far more tricky when you’re talking anything mid-range or even budget-friendly.

While designing the living spaces of themountain house, I’d kept hearing Emily talk about the sofa selection process with the design team. She wanted something comfortable but visually different…not the standard boxy sofa available at every retailer. And while there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a straight-forward design (which can easily be dressed up with other unique pieces in a room) and no one is going to take you to design jail for going the simple route, a silhouette with some flair can be nice to really shake things up and put your personal touch on a space. Sometimes even a leg detail that’s a little different or the slope of an arm can level up a boxy, standard design. It doesn’t have to be over the top to be interesting.

photo by zeke ruelas | from: introducing my living room

Let’s take THE sofa, for instance. That baby up there is epically iconic around here and if you’ve been reading this blog for a few years, you know it. Had this been a boxy gray number (or you know, the equivalent of pre-furnished college apartment furniture), I guarantee no one would remember it, which of course would be fine for most people but if you’re that second type of person I mentioned up there, the “me” in the situation and you’ve been spinning round and round hoping for something more sculptural, I hear you, I see you, I am you.

Neustadt 4
photo by tessa neustadt | from: my house tour from good housekeeping

Goodness, I remember when I saw this sofa from Emily’s previous living room. I mean, the leather sides and straps at the back made me weak in my knees. Most sofas are not meant to be seen from EVERY angle (particularly not the back), but floating a sofa in a space is sometimes your only option depending on your layout and something that’s interesting in 360-degrees is just going to make your design that much more elevated.

photo by sara ligorria-tramp | from: arlyn’s living room makeover takeover

When I was working on my living room makeover, I knew the sofa I wanted immediately (the one I had before was INSANELY comfortable but kind of just a gray box and didn’t work great in my living space stylistically) and while it’s not necessarily anything mindblowing in terms of silhouette, it’s lower slung than most “standard/basic” sofas, the walnut and brass legs really take it up a level and the updated English roll arm on it looks a little different than what you expect to see in a traditional sofa so in general, it’s not CRAZY DIFFERENT but just different enough that my living room feels specific to my tastes.

Going the vintage route is always a pretty solid way to get something interesting looking. Sites like Chairish, Etsy, Everything But the House and even Craigslist might take a little digging—and reworking—but there are absolutely treasures there. We have a few picks from some of these sites below (you’ll see them marked “I’m vintage!” or “recover me!”) but also a ton of new pieces in a wide variety of price points to aid in your shopping no matter what your budget looks like.

First up, our picks under $1,500:

Emily Henderson Non Basic Sofas Under $1500 2 Across

1. Olsen Sofa | 2. Vicente Faux Shearling Sofa | 3. Carlo Mid-Century Sofa | 4. Marissa Velvet Sofa | 5. Ruby Sofa | 6. Hoxton Stone Sofa | 7. Milo Baughman Style Midcentury Sofa | 8. Aalto Sofa | 9. Logan Grey Boucle Sofa | 10. 1960s Danish Sofa | 11. Magner Sofa | 12. 1980s Print Sofa With Upholstered Frame | 13. Greta Recycled Leather XL Sleeper Sofa | 14. Cadet Armless Sofa

First and foremost, I want to call out some of the vintage picks from this roundup: #7 is, well, boxy, but the wood plinth it sits on makes it feel like something you’d find at a super high-end design store BUT IT’S 715 DOLLARS! Leaving it in the white would be great if you have a modern vibe going on, but if you have some wiggle room in your budget, this could also be SO great in a wonderful patterned fabric or even a slate-y blue or olive linen textile. OH, and #12 looks NUTS right now (I believe it’s from the ’80s) but the stepped design of the bottom frame could be SO fun if you reupholstered. After Emily did the sherpa fabric on the sofa in the Atlanta showhome from early this year, we’ve been pretty obsessed with the cozy fabric, which is why #2 and #9 are something I’m very into (besides the fun shapes). And finally, the super fun settee with drink holder (#5) was just too cute not to include. It might be technically a loveseat, but if you’ve got a tiny little apartment, it could still work for you!

Emily Henderson Non Basic Sofas Under $1500 To $3000 3

1. Remy White Wood Base Sofa | 2. Franklin Sofa | 3. Franklin Sofa | 4. Forte Channeled Charcoal Velvet Extra Large Sofa | 5. Drops Leather Sofa | 6. Drops Leather Sofa | 7. Benedict Sofa | 8. Benedict Sofa | 9. Bardot Sofa | 10. Jason Wu Custom Sofa | 11. Infiniti Curve Back Sofa | 12. Chelsea Sofa | 13. Brooklyn Down-Filled Leather Sofa | 14. Cadet Black Leather Sofa | 15. Corinne Sofa | 16. Forte Channeled Saddle Leather Extra Large Sofa | 17. Justina Blakeney Moses Sofa Natural | 18. Oak and Linen Sofa | 19. Larry Sofa | 20. Mid Century Gold Tufted Sofa | 21. Murphy Sofa | 22. Fabienne Velvet Sofa Moss | 23. Reclaimed Wood Sofa | 24. Puff Puff Sofa

Okay, this mid-range board has some of my favorite picks of the whole bunch. For instance, the base of #1 is SO GOOD if you’re into that ’80s modern thing that’s happening right now (but the charcoal keeps it super fresh instead of dated). The wood frame of #2 reminds me of Mel’s sofa which I adore, and the channel tufted of #4, #9, #12 and #16 feel super interesting to me in a variety of textures. Even the subtle slope of the back of #15 makes that rather simple shape exciting. And because curved shapes are very in now (again, I think in an answer to an ’80s and ’90s revival), #11 just really shapes up the traditional straight-edge sofa silhouette.

Emily Henderson Non Basic Sofas Under $3,000 Plus

1. Amura Lapis Sofa | 2. EJ 880 Savannah 2-Seater | 3. Chambley Sofa | 4. Dandy 96″ Leather Sofa | 5. Casey McCafferty Bone Velvet Walnut Sofa | 6. Beice 3-Seat Sofa | 7. Donato Sofa | 8. Edmund Sofa | 9. Vintage Teak Minerva Daybed | 10. Caravan Day Sofa | 11. Douglas Sofa | 12. Mello Modular Sofa | 13. Kalmar Sofa | 14. EJ 485 Bow Sofa | 15. Moreno Sofa | 16. Rhys Three-Cushion Sofa | 17. Glam Emboss Sofa | 18. Sauvie Sofa | 19. Rivera Sofa | 20. Vintage Mid-Century Sofa | 21. Scandinavian Cognac Brown Leather and Rosewood Sofa | 22. Tepee Sofa | 23. Spindle Sofa | 24. Sense 3 Seater Sofa

And finally, while I know it’s not exactly hard to find cool, edgier furniture at price points like the above ($3,000+), I couldn’t help but show you some VERY cool pieces (some Emily pinned and saved herself for the mountain house during that furniture selection process). Man do I love SO many of these. #1 kind of looks like smooth rocks (that happened to be covered in blue velvet) but those are the coolest rocks ever, okay? The leather sides of #2 remind me a little of Emily’s vintage sofa I showed you earlier in the post. #4 is BURGUNDY LEATHER so that’s all I have to say about that and #10 is a sofa the design team has used numerous times from Katy Skelton and it so beautiful in person. The straight-up coolness of that weathered leather from #16 and #21 is for anyone who really loves that California casual vibe, and the spindles on #5 and #23 are just rad.

And this is where I leave you for today. But before I go, I’m curious where all of you land on my “two types of people in this world” statement from the beginning of this post. Let’s pretend there was no sacrificing comfort…are you more drawn to a straight-forward sofa style or are you into these different shapes? Which are your favorite? OH and also, raise your hand if you’ve ever bought a vintage/second-hand sofa and gone through the process of reupholstering it (how much did it cost, how much fabric did you need, was it worth it?). Spill the beans, folks!

** Looking for more of our shopping picks? Head to our shop page

  1. My current sofa is 300-euro grey box, because I was working with a very specific, narrow space in my tiny studio apartment and it wasn’t going to be a “forever” piece. It’s also a sofa bed, which is convenient when having friends over.

    Related, I’d love to see a round-up of decent-looking sofa beds for those of us who don’t have the luxury of a guest room. (The vast majority of us Europeans, for example.)

    1. Would also *love* a sofa bed round up

      1. It’s a bit old at this point, but here’s the post we did on sleeper sofas a few years back (some of these might still be around!): https://stylebyemilyhenderson.com/blog/30-best-sleeper-sofa

  2. i love this post! this is absolutely my issue. we are in the market for a new couch/sofa/sectional. We have 2 young “high-spirited” (read: wild) children, so anything beautiful and precious won’t work (cry-face emoji). We need comfort and durability.
    I am absolutely in the second kind of people category, but life circumstances require the practicality of the first kind of people.
    I’d love to do vintage and reupholster, but that cost is so high! wah!
    So, ultimately, i’d like to find a happy medium. and i have found a few here. so, thank you.

    Can you PLEASE do a post like this, but about dining chairs. I am looking for dining chairs, but have the same issue.

    1. I bought my couch from Club Furniture which is a small company in North Carolina. Everything is made in the USA and you get to pick from 100+ fabric swatches. You can pick from Tier 1, 2 and 3 fabrics. We chose a Tier 3 crypton fabric. It has been awesome! We don’t have any kids but we eat on the couch and everything just wipes up. We love it! Also, it’s made to order so you can down wrap your cushions if you like, etc.

  3. Outstanding!

  4. While style and price are obviously key considerations, I’m more interested in construction and durability at this point in my life. I’ll take a slightly less stylish sofa that is better made and will last longer almost every time. Many of the attractive ones pictured in this post are not going to last for long.

    1. I totally agree! I also want to know if it is comfortable – I am not talking big and bulky, but just comfortable to sit on. And, my husband and I (and my teen kids) find comfort in different styles so it is hard to blend the them all.

  5. Hi Em!
    My partner and I JUST went through this treacherous experience of buying a sofa. I, like you am a designer, stylist, art director, and was having an incredible amount of trouble finding something mid-range, comfortable but attractive, not boring (AND a sectional). We ended up ordering one of the new Jason Wu designed pieces from Interior Define. We are still waiting for our furniture baby to arrive but it did hit all the marks for us while endlessly shopping. It might be a sofa worth adding to your list :). Thanks as always for the amazing original content!

    1. We included one of his new pieces in the mid-range round up. It’s so chic. Hope you end up loving it!

  6. This is a wonderful roundup and I love seeing all your picks! I think if a sofa not comfortable, pet proof and durable, it’s just not going to work for my home. I would hate to have a sofa where I have to plump the pillows, tuck the seat cushions back into place or worry about stains and pet hair. Leather and a bench seat are requirements for me.

    1. velvet is actually a great pick for kid and pet proof. because the threads that make up the fabric are cut at the top (i.e. not looped like say, a tweed or linen) it doesn’t snag. I also find that stains don’t sink in as quickly and you can run to grab something to wipe up spills before it ruins your sofa/life.

  7. I like the more sculptural sofas, but I have to be able to fully stretch out on it too. I’ve moved a lot in my life, so the big-box, big heavy sofa is just too much trouble to lug around. My living room is small, and something like that would just overpower the space.
    I don’t have a real sofa per se; I have a futon. Did I reupholster it? Yep, I went and bought a new cover and zipped it on. Done! It has a memory foam mattress and is very comfortable. Its footprint is relatively small. I like how high the back is: I’m tall and can lean back without my head touching the wall. That’s what we have for now.
    I also have a second “sofa” that’s more like a wooden bench with cushions (it looks kinda Ethan Allen/early American-ish). Again, I can remove the cushion covers and wash or change them whenever I like. When we first moved into this apt my husband wanted to give our bench/sofa away. After all, we’d only paid $20 for it at the Goodwill. However, when I pushed it under our front windows in the LR, it fit PERFECTLY. The back of it runs right under the windowsill. You can lie on the couch and look up at the sky. It’s great. It stayed.

  8. There is a wonderful company Benchmade that makes fantastic made to measure sofas. Great style,great customer service and made of real wood on the West Coast. They deserve a look.

    1. OH very nice tip. Thank you.

  9. Can someone explain how the number 1 sofa under Non-Basics (the 1st Dibs one) is even supposed to work? Maybe it’s because I’m old now, but it looks horribly uncomfortable to sit on and like it would take me about 45 minutes to get myself up off the floor.

  10. I must be missing something. How does a buyer trust the comfort level of a sofa bought online? That seems crazy to me. Do most of those purchases have happy endings?

  11. Thanks for this great round-up, Emily! Tangentially by relatedly, re upholstery options for a sofa in a formal living room in a house with young kids for any of these beautiful sofas, what are your thoughts on Crypton v. Sunbrella? I know you previously had Crypton on your dining chairs and you indicated that it was a lot of work to keep them clean. Would LOVE to hear your thoughts on which you would choose and why. There is a little but not a lot of information online comparing both and I can’t tell which is the better choice. Many thanks!!

  12. The sofas are extraordinary and I live the designs. Could a price of each one added to the photos?

  13. We just had our hand-me-down, three-piece sectional reupholstered. It came to us via my folks and it’s more than 30 years old but solid (wood) bones. I bought nearly 39 yards of fabric at a warehouse outlet place for $3/yd. It needed webbing and new foam and was totally worth getting reupholstered (less than $1800).

    1. WOW 39 yards of fabric is SO MUCH. This is fascinating.

      1. It has a nap, which means it’s directional just as much as if I bought a fabric with a plaid or stripe. I wanted to make sure there was enough because I knew I wouldn’t be able to go back and get more!

  14. All of these sofas are so beautiful!

    Mariya | https://www.brunetteondemand.com/

  15. For anyone not near a West Elm, the Carlo series (#3 in the under-$1500 board) is remarkably, notably, almost weirdly comfortable. It’s not really my aesthetic so I just sort of plopped into the Carlo chair at our local store and…holy moly, it’s so good, and it goes on sale a lot! Can’t speak to longevity, but I often love the look of WE merchandise but then find it less (indeed, not at all) comfortable when I actually sit on it–that is NOT the case with the Carlo chair. The tilt of the seat’s really good, it’s cushy but supportive–anyway, way more comfortable than it looks, and it’s a fair bet that extends to the sofas as well.

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