We Live Like Squatters | We don’t Even Have Anywhere To Sit!

Dear Laurel,

I think I’m going to either lose my mind, or divorce my husband, or maybe both! Except that I kinda like my husband; just one problem. Every time we set out to buy furniture, I am met with the most oppressive opposition!

As a result, we have very little real furniture. We practically live like squatters! I’m so embarrassed, but this is our living room. I think that mummified lump on the mattress is my teen-aged son.


And it’s not like we can’t afford to buy some nice pieces; we have the means, but I don’t know how to convince my husband that the sofas and chairs will be comfortable. The ironic thing is that we have this disgusting old leather couch from when my husband was a bachelor. It’s UGLY and phenomenally uncomfortable.

I really want to work with an interior designer because I want a professionally decorated room and I don’t think that you can get that with a store. I have friends who’ve done that and am not impressed.

My husband is driving me nuts because he says that he absolutely HAS to sit in the upholstered furniture, because otherwise he can’t be sure that the furniture will be to his liking. Of course, interior designers don’t have showrooms. I know that some designers shop with their clients in showrooms, but I’ve talked to three in our area whose work I like and none of them shop in showrooms. They all either have a custom workroom or buy directly from the manufacturer.

So, how do they do it? Or is my husband the only crazy, neurotic control freak out there!?!

Thank you,

Goldie Cox


Dear Goldie,

First of all, what a gorgeous living room! It has incredible potential!

Please rest easy, because your husband is not the only neurotic freak out there! Nosireeee, I’ve been through dozens of them. ;] Now mind you, they are all very nice, well-meaning people otherwise.

And I totally get their concern that the furniture will be comfortable and to their liking. After-all, they are spending thousands of dollars and the custom furniture is not returnable.

Several years ago, I walked into a furniture store that carried a brand I wanted to sell to see if we could work out a deal. [we couldn’t and I found a better place] While I was waiting for the manager, I sat in about a dozen different pieces to see how they “sat.” All different cushions. firm, soft, down, synthetic, natural. And ya know what? The firm felt soft and the soft was firm and the spring down felt like synthetic. But over-all, they were ALL fine.

That’s when it hit me.

I realized several things:

  • the store carried many manufacturers and might not even have the frame the customers are interested in.
  • the seat/back cushions could have a different fill
  • a different fabric can affect the feel a piece
  • a chair or sofa sitting on the showroom floor might not be in the best condition
Conclusion: Going to a store to shop for furniture is no guarantee that you’re going to like it when you get your new piece

And it’s bloody confusing! And you’re most likely going to have a busy, pushy salesperson breathing down your back pressuring you to make a decision.

This is why I feel it’s vitally important to work with an experienced professional. People come in different sizes, but that doesn’t mean that smaller people want smaller furniture. I had a client who had to have a 25″ deep seat cushion because he loved to lounge around. I jokingly call that a bed.

Why Are Some Sofas Comfortable And Some Feel Like A Giant Corpuscle Has Swallowed You Up?


Sofas can be uncomfortable for the following reasons.
  • The construction is poor
  • The materials are also poor
  • The seat cushion is too hard or too soft
  • The seat deck that’s directly under the cushion is soft and mushy
  • The seat is too shallow or too deep
  • The pitch is too exaggerated or not enough. [although some styles of sofas are straight and they are fine.]




This is what a high-end sofa looks like layer by layer.

Hickory White

Here is what I’ve ascertained over the years makes for a comfortable sofa or club chair.
  • kiln-dried hardwood frames that are corner blocked with double doweled joints

designpatriot-blogspot-cisco_framesCisco Brothers

Frames and frame parts waiting to be assembled

Cisco Brothers also specializes in all natural “green” furniture.
I have never specified it but I here that it’s very nice.



Sherrill Furniture

corner blocks


  • Eight-way hand-tied springs are wonderful, [see above] but a good sinuous springs [see below] are not necessarily inferior and for styles with a short rail a necessity. There is some debate about this, but I have worked with a fine upholsterer who made his furniture like this and I could not tell the difference.

phloemstudio-denniston-process-14Phloem Studio

  • Speaking of the deck or decking as we call it. This is the part underneath the seat cushions. The deck must be firm. Mushy decking is going to create a too soft unsupportive feel.
  • Seat cushion. Oh man. 99% of the time I do spring down. It is both soft and supportive. Cushions that are too hard will give your spine a jolt when you sit down and too soft can make it difficult to get up [along with the mushy decking] If you don’t know what a spring down cushion is; it’s an inner core of springs wrapped with a foam and then a channeled down and feather layer for supreme comfort. It’s both supportive and soft.
  • Back heights are generally between 32-36″ with some exceptions
  • Seat heights are usually between 18-20″
  • Seat depth 22-24″
  • The seat depth plus seat height added together should be about 40-44″

For instance, this cool Edwardian English chair made by George Smith has a seat height of 14.5″ and a seat depth of 28″. The back is also very low at only 30″. I’ve sat in chairs like this and they are fun!

George Smith Jules Chair in Lulu DK Bloomsbury from £2,050 (www.georgesmith.co.uk - 01423 563160)George Smith

  • The over-all depth is usually from 34-40″ but some of that over-all depth has to do with how thick the seat back is and what is the pitch of the back?
  • Is there an ideal pitch? Well… not really, but a smaller chair with a slightly exaggerated pitch will be more comfortable than if it doesn’t have the pitch, generally.

There’s another issue.

Furniture today is bigger than it was 50 or more years ago. Why, I don’t know. I’d love to see more of a trend towards that look.

billy-baldwin-paley-chairBilly Baldwin Paley Chair

billy-baldwinvia: Mark D. Sikes


Rendering by the late Mark Hampton of Billy Baldwin’s Living Room

Goldie, Good luck with all of that. If you want to learn more about sofas please see the post about the number one sure thing which you can see here. There’s also this post about ten of my favorite sofas. All are supremely comfortable and classic.



15 Responses

  1. Hi Laurel. My dog is allergic to feathers and down. Since this is her apartment (she kindly lets me live here as long as I continue paying the mortgage and purchasing Costco lamb for her), I’m interested in down-free cushion alternatives you might recommend. Thanks.

  2. I checked out Lee Industries website and noticed they have several options for different kinds of back and seat cushion options available depending on desired softness. Which one of the back and seat cushion configurations do you use most for clients to get that perfect soft but not too soft feel?

    1. If you get on the company websites, they usually have a place where you can put in your zip code and it will tell you the closest store that sells them.

  3. This is so true about showroom things not being like a new item, because things get wear in a showroom. My daughter bought a wedding dress. (The salesperson uttered words like “silk” and “Spain”.) She said it felt like wearing a spiderweb. When the dress arrived it was polyester, made in China, but designed by a designer in Spain. We went around and around and got nowhere. We did learn that a bridal dress that has been in a trunk show, tried on by hundreds of ladies, stretched, folded, refolded, and so on is going to feel much less stiff than a new dress. The same surely is true of upholstered furniture.

    Thanks for reminding me of this Laurel. Now I will be less scared to order from One Kings Lane. But the ad is not on your page anymore. I’d love to get you a little comm!

    1. Hi Eileen,

      Not “my” Eileen who commented earlier. I don’t know if you saw it as part of a google adwords campaign. I think I might have lost one of my widgets when I was experiencing tech difficulties a few weeks ago. I do have two One King’s Lane ads up which will take you to the site. One is unmarked.(the white room) But I also just added another one. You can get some good deals on OKL, but I’ve gotten a couple of crappy things. One was a tea kettle and they told me to throw it out. The glasses were pretty but crap. On the other hand, they were dirt cheap. Now, they will also accept returns. I appreciate your clicking on the links if you can manage it!

  4. I too love love that chair. It certainly is good to know what to look for when purchasing furniture because when you are paying out good money you want it to last. They really don’t make furniture like they used to.

  5. Laurel, this is very informative. I wonder if you can give me some advice about upholstery. Is there a type of upholstery that can withstand cat scratches better than others? It makes no sense for me to invest in an expensive piece of furniture if she’s just going to destroy it. 🙁

    1. Hi Janet,

      Thank you. I just lost my beloved Peaches in early December and miss him so much, so you please give your sweet fur baby an extra hug and nuzzle for me.

      Good question! I’m not going to tell you to get a scratching post because if your kitty is anything like Peaches, he’ll ignore it and go straight for the furniture!

      I’m afraid that I don’t know anything that’s absolutely bullet proof. Cats do love texture, so a smooth velvet is better than a chenille, for instance. Some have had success with ultra suede. [however, it does attract their hair]

      If you take a look at my portfolio, the room with the small English roll arm sofa and pretty built in bookcases and a painting leaning on a chair is ultra suede. So, it doesn’t have to be as yucky as it sounds.

      Also, some have had good success with leather, but make sure that it’s aniline PROTECTED leather, or you’ll have a big bloody mess on your hands!

  6. That George Smith clubchair is gorrrrrgeous!!! Okay, another informative and very well researched post – thanks, Laurel! Finding the right sofa can be totally overwhelming. xoxo

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Hi, I’m Laurel, and Laurel Home is the website and blog for Laurel Bern Interiors.
I’ve been creating new-traditional interiors since 1988. The blog is where I share all.

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