By Marni Jameson
A few weeks ago, I was only two mouse clicks away from ordering my family room sectional. Or so I thought. I had even confidently promised to tell you all about it in my next installment. Which didn’t happen.
But I was so close. I had found a company that made high-quality sectionals to order. I had mapped out a scaled drawing of the three-piece combo. I selected the style from among the 95 options the furniture company, Lee Industries, offers. I had dutifully ordered 10 fabric swatches to feel them and see them in my light. I waffled and worried, then, finally, dialed in a transitional-style ensemble, with slightly rounded arms, walnut wood feet, and a loose-pillow back, all covered in a wheat and ivory woven tweed. Phew!
Hard part over, I thought.
Before ordering, I ran the design details by my husband. Until this point, DC had been only tangentially interested in the sectional specifics so long as he had a place to perch to watch his Pirates play. His main concerns revolved around when and how much.
When was key because our youngest, after hearing us say we were going to “eventually” replace our blue family room sofas with a sectional, had claimed them, and was about to whisk them away to furnish her first post-college-dorm place this fall. (When you blend two fully loaded houses into one, as DC and I did a few years ago, you become the family furniture store.)
This was now a borderline emergency.
Hence the hustle. My brain became a boggle of how long, how wide, how high, right arm or left arm facing, chaise or no chaise, curved or square cornered, what color, what fabric, what fill. Once I got all that pulled together, I asked for a quote from an authorized Lee dealer.
When I got the price, I fanned myself while inhaling smelling salts, and got the defib paddles for DC. The shock drove him to open his laptop to search for cheaper sectionals. This never ends well.
Then came the kiss of death. “We need to shop some more,” he said.
“Shop some more! I did shop,” I said. “And I picked this.”
“Let me look.”
Negotiations broke down. The column did not get written.
“Here’s what I tell husbands when they flip out over the cost of a sectional,” said my designer friend Ken Olsen, who has the misfortune of having an office next to mine, and so often has to endure my frequent design breakdowns. He pulls out a pen and paper, which designers always do when they’re talking.
“When they say, ‘How can a sofa cost so much?’ I tell them this,” he said. “You are not buying a sofa. You are buying a chair.” (He draws the corner section of a three-piece sectional). “You are buying a love seat.” (He draws the short leg of a two-sided sectional.) “And you’re buying a sofa.” (He sketches the long end.)
Plus, buying sectionals is like buying a car. You’re lured in by the base price, then you learn about the options. If you want nicer fabric, better seats, and trim details, which you do, it’s extra.
“Is it worth it?” I asked Ken.
“I tell my clients to spend their money on the places where they put their bodies the most,” he said, “like your mattress and the sofa you sit on daily.”
Then he and Bondi Coley, spokeswoman for Lee Industries, offered the following finer points of sectional selection:
- Fit: Design the sectional based on traffic flow and focal point. If the focal point is a television, be sure every seat can see it, said Olsen.
- Fashion: When picking any upholstered piece, style is the first focus, said Coley. Do you want arms straight or curved, a tight back or loose-back cushions, legs visible or skirted? “Though we see orders for a lot of both modern and traditional styles, currently, straight arms and visible legs are pulling ahead of rolled arms and skirts,” she said.
- Frame: Test the sturdiness of a frame by picking up one leg of a sofa. If the other three legs stay on the ground, that’s a problem. “A hard-wood frame, which you want, won’t bend,” said Olsen. Eight-way hand-tied springs are also the gold standard.
- Fabric: Levels of fabric affect price. When comparing swatches, don’t just look at color. Assess durability. Look at the content and feel the fabric to make sure it has what designers call “a nice hand.” Hold the fabric up to the light. You shouldn’t see through it. Fine linen is lovely, but you don’t want it on a sofa you use often. Inquire about “rubs,” a durability rating. A machine tests the fabric for wear by literally rubbing it back and forth thousands of times. Fabric that holds up to more than 15,000 rubs is heavy duty.
- Fill: All-foam cushions are the most basic. They have a harder sit and will break down faster than other fills, said Olsen. Seat cushions with innerspring coils wrapped in foam will last longer. For a sofa you want to collapse onto every day, innerspring seat cushions wrapped in foam then in feather down or down alternative may be your personal cloud. Like choosing a mattress, the best way to know what you like is to try it.
- Features: Depending on your lifestyle, you can order sectionals that recline (nice for theater rooms), or roll out to make sleepers. You can also opt for a sectional with slipcovers, which you can remove and wash or change with the season, said Coley.
After DC and I became educated on the options, we tweaked our order to adjust the price. It should arrive in time for football season.
Syndicated columnist Marni Jameson is the author of three home and lifestyle books, including Downsizing the Family Home – What to Save, What to Let Go (Sterling Publishing). You may reach her at www.marnijameson.com.