I hope what I’m about to say doesn’t come off snobby or controversial (but if you’re on this blog, I hope you understand it’s purely out of love and also to be helpful): Step away from the matching sofa and armchair sets. Yes, it’s so very easy to walk into a store and pluck a pre-determined pairing straight from the sales floor. Easy is great! I get it. I ADORE things to be easy. But easy doesn’t always = interesting in the design world.
That said, marrying a sofa with an accent chair or two doesn’t have to be hard. In fact, with a few simple rules, it can be nearly as easy as that matching combo. Pinky promise. Let’s get into all the things you need to know and then we’ll do some shopping together!
Sofa & Armchair Combos: The Rules to Follow
I pulled these from a post Emily wrote in 2018 on sofa and armchair power couples, without the “affordable” angle like today. I still very much agree with them all (though I’ll go ahead and disagree with part of #2 below and say that I love a velvet sofa paired with a velvet chair of another color. So bold and maximalist).
- Scale: This one is pretty obvious, but your chair shouldn’t be petite if you have a massive and grand sofa. They should both complement each other in scale and be relatively the same size and proportion.
- Fabrics: Although this rule can sometimes be broken, typically you will want the pairing to have two complementary fabrics. Steer clear of having a leather couch paired with a set of leather chairs, or a velvet couch paired with two velvet chairs. The same goes with patterns – if you have a patterned chair then get a solid sofa. As mentioned this rule can be broken, but is a bit harder to pull off so play it safe by sticking to the rule.
- Seat Height: This is a big one that a lot of people forget when they start purchasing. The seat height of your sofa and chairs should be within 4″ of each other, if not less. That means if the seat height of your chair is 17″, the seat height of your sofa should be as close as possible to that (ideally no shorter than 14″ and no taller than 20″). This will prevent you and your guests from being at awkward differing heights when you are all seated together. When in doubt, pick a taller sofa and lower armchairs.
- Legs: This rule applies to other furniture pairings as well, but if your sofa is quite heavy and boxy then consider having a chair that has a longer leg profile to help balance out the visual weight. Or visa versa, if your chair is really heavy then look for a sofa that has a little bit of a leg to it so that neither feels too heavy or too light.
- Style: This is an add-on from Arlyn in 2023 because I think it needed to be said. You can have a lot of fun mixing and matching styles, but there should be something that unites the pairing visually. You can combine mid-century and Hollywood Regency, Art & Crafts, and neo-classical. Have a ball, but consider the silhouette and material mix when you do. If you have a curved sofa, try looking for an armchair with a more sinuous shape if the style and era don’t relate. Have walnut legs on an old Chesterfield? A modern chair with a walnut frame will bring things together stylistically.
What’s an EHD post without some visual examples, right? I’ll walk you through a few now that we have guidelines in place to show you things in practice.
In the above living room, the vintage sofa is a hefty, blocky baby, while the blue velvet armchairs (in a nice color contrast to the white bouclé) are lighter with peg legs and no arms. And since those are a bit more traditional, the vintage leather sling chair—with a wood tone similar to those of the other seating—bridges the gap and keeps things funky.
There is so much flexibility with armchair style when your sofa is clean-lined like the one above. Almost anything could work here (though I’d avoid something overly glam or Victorian, for instance). The low-slung embroidered chair pops against the white walls and the denim-y fabric of the sectional still feels earthy and casual. I also like how the sloping arm counterbalances the straight lines of the larger piece.
This is a great example of so many of our rules together in one photo: a linen slipcover contrasts beautifully with the warm nutmeg leather of the chairs. An open wood frame is airy and interesting as an answer to the simple, blocky sofa silhouette. And while my eye is only estimating it, a lower seat on all pieces will keep this conversation area comfortable and effortless without anyone towering over anyone else.
Gee, I wonder what this room is doing here? Kidding, it’s my living room, of course, and admittedly, I didn’t consider any rules when putting it together. I just bought what I liked and went with it (which is also always an option…there is no power couples police that’ll come and take your things and put a lock on your door).
But looking at it with unbiased eyes, the wood and cane chairs add warmth to the cobalt velvet of the sectional and because it has such a deep seat, I opted for two chairs rather than one since they were a bit more petite. Otherwise, the sofa would have overpowered the accent seating in scale.
And now, for all of our favorite part: the shopping. I put together 14 power couples that check most if not all of the rules boxes, including seat height (I checked them all for you). However, before proceeding, I just want to bring some attention to the word “affordable” here. This word is absolutely, without a doubt, completely suggestive. What is affordable to me might be completely out of the question for someone else, and vice versa. But as someone who has worked in the furniture business for the last three years, I know how much prices have become inflated. It’s, well…really bad.
To give you a quick example without fully diving into it, a sofa my previous company sold for $1,500 when I started in 2020 is now roughly $2,400. For the same piece of furniture. They didn’t start sprinkling gold coins inside the cushions. The frame is not suddenly made of platinum. Same sofa. Shipping costs for manufacturers have skyrocketed, materials cost upwards of 40% more (from the wood to the foam to the fabric), and the craftsmen who build the pieces are charging more for their time. These costs are passed down to the consumer.
To think that a standard sofa at IKEA will run you close to $1,000 (and sometimes more) should tell you everything you need to know about the state of furniture prices today. Buying thrifted and secondhand is a fantastic way to sidestep a lot of this, not to mention is far better for all of us. Be sure to look around for similar pieces and beyond on sites like Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, Chairish, and your local shops.
All that said, I had to pick some fair and realistic parameters for today’s shopping picks while still trying to keep a semblance of quality in mind. Sure, you can get a $300 sofa from Amazon, but well…you’re gonna get a $300 sofa from Amazon.
Our sofa budget here is $2,000 while our armchair threshold is $700.
Why It Works: The blocky, straight-forward shape is super versatile, but I picked a cushion-heavy spindle-y armchair to add some visual interest.
Why It Works: I love the look of this sofa from Interior Define (it comes in a massive number of color options, FYI). The single bench cushion is sleek and pairs well with the equally sleek (yet light due to the metal frame) chair.
Disclaimer – We know that Interior Define had a lot of issues in the last couple of years but they have been acquired by Havenly (the company that owns The Inside) and they’re now handling all operations.
Why It Works: Interesting + interesting = very interesting. Curved shapes echo each other here while the bouclé is a great counterpoint to the rust faux suede (which is a performance fabric so it can take a beating).
Why It Works: Man I’m really into this look. Eclectic, “grand-Millenial” chic. It wasn’t easy to find a chair that paired well enough with this Chesterfield without feeling overly heavy-handed or too mismatched, until I came across this fun print from Anthropologie (it’s on sale!). The subtle wingback picks up on the more classic vibe while the pattern play keeps things interesting and fresh.
Why It Works: This is a large and in-charge sofa, so really, I’d get two of these chairs from Target to go with it, otherwise a single one may be a bit dwarfed. While the seat comes in a few more subdued fabrics and colors, I picked the evergreen velvet because the cream upholstery was screaming for some drama.
Why It Works: Two small-scale pieces perfect for a compact apartment or room. A leather option south of $2,000 is not an easy feat, so this one barely squeaks by. The trend-forward print on the chair adds some playfulness to the seriousness of the sofa at just the right proportion.
Why It Works: Channel tufting, while very trendy right now, is actually rather classic (first finding popularity in the 1920s), which I think pairs so nicely with the traditional slope arm and skirted slipcover of the swivel armchair here.
Why It Works: I own this same sofa but in the sectional version (and in cobalt blue velvet) and also very similar chairs (which I decided to marry with a different sofa below). The Maxwell Sofa is low, with a seat height of 16″, so the 15″ seat height of Leroy here keeps everything roughly on the same level.
Why It Works: Here is a version of the armchair I own (which is just a reproduction of a Pierre Jeanneret chair you see everywhere now). Since the frame is complex and eye-catching, mixing it with a simple armless sofa keeps it as the star of the space.
Why It Works: A canvas sling chair and a camel-colored buttery leather sofa will always be a match made in living room furniture pair heaven. They have a very campy, safari vibe that just works. These happen to comply in terms of seat height and scale, as well.
Why It Works: Sabai is a newcomer on the scene. Black-founded, sustainable, and ethically built, they’re definitely one to check out on your furniture hunt. Since this sectional nearly crosses the line of our budget, I opted for a very affordable slipper-like chair from World Market. As the sofa is a bit serious, the shape and casual print of the chair adds in a bit of fun.
Why It Works: If you haven’t noticed, the barrel swivel chair is *the* chair of the moment. This shape is absolutely everywhere right now but for good reason. It works so well with a multitude of sofa styles, including a contemporary choice like this one from West Elm. The exposed legs offset the bottom-heavy armchair.
Why It Works: A little glitz for the glam lovahs here. A straightforward yet plush sofa in a fabulous lavender velvet gains some structure from the barrel (ha, again) swivel chair. Bouclé and velvet keep things fancy schmancy, if that’s your look of choice.
Why It Works: And finally a wonderfully priced pairing (together they’re less than $1,300!) that’s a little prim and proper classic via the sofa, and a little…rock and roll? Not really, but these great Penn chairs nullify the visual blockiness of the sofa’s skirt as well as making sure nothing gets too stuffy or serious.
And there you have it! Another set of power couples under your design belts. I hope this was helpful and you feel armed and ready to bring together a sofa and a chair in holy living room matrimony.
As always, please leave any suggestions in the comments for other Power Couples that would be useful to you. We’ve done a lot over the past several years, but happy to bring more into the world.
See you next time, friends.
Opening Image Credits: Photo by Sara Ligorria-Tramp | From: A Quick Update: The Changes Ive Made to My LA Living Room