I’ve been reading your blog for about a year and very much enjoying it as I’ve learned a lot about decorating.
So, I read this post about the need to create a design plan. I know the colors I want to use. My favorite designers that you post are Gerald Bland and William McLure. I guess what I love is how timeless their spaces look and the simple neutral color schemes. That seems timeless to me, too.
What I don’t know so much about is furniture.
But, you’ve put the fear of God into me with this post about how so many manufacturers get the styling and proportions wrong.
My husband and I are in the process of purchasing our first real home. Basically, we’re starting from scratch.
I want to know and maybe your other readers, too, is the best sofa style? Of course, not only the best sofa style but one that will hold up. And, not just hold up, but hold up and be one that I’m glad is holding up! Haha, Nothing worse than a mistake that’s holding up. lol
Of course, our budget is not limitless.
However, we would be willing to splurge on something that we’re going to keep for many years to come.
So, I guess what I’m asking is what the best sofa that you recommend is? And, which one did you specify most often? I figure if you were specifying it between 1996-2016, then that means it’ll probably be one you’d specify today.
Sofie Sue Preem
Thank you to “Sofie,” who doesn’t exist. Except maybe she’s really all of us who are overwhelmed by too much choice. Today, I went into Eataly here in Boston. There’s one in NYC that I adore. Anyway, I was walking around the cheese section and met with dozens of different types of cheese. How is one supposed to decide?
Alas, today was beautifully mild, approaching 60 degrees, and I very much enjoyed walking around Newbury Street in the sunshine. I’m getting very excited about the coming of daylight savings time beginning this Sunday. It means that spring is just around the corner, and more daylight hours in the northern hemisphere.
But, let’s get into our topic of the day.
It’s usually the most expensive piece of upholstery in our main living spaces.
Still, there are so many choices and hundreds of manufacturers.
Of course, we want the best sofa for whatever our price-point is.
Well, there is no “best sofa” because there is no “best room.”
And, do we mean best in terms of comfort, styling, size, cushion fill, arm style, etc.?
However, there is one sofa that all of my years in this business I specified more than any other sofa. Anyone who’s been reading this blog for a while knows the answer.
It’s this one or some variation of it. The sofa above is by George Smith.
It goes by different names. It’s usually called an English roll arm sofa or sometimes a Bridgewater sofa.
The British manufacturer, George Smith, started it; They call it a Standard Arm Signature Sofa. Although, they have several variations of their standard arm, as well. But, let’s stick with what we call the English Roll Arm.
Back in the day, I often had my English roll arm sofas custom-made by a trade upholsterer in Stamford, CT.
Or, I ordered them from another manufacturer that’s one of about 35 sources I can’t live without. Those are listed in the back of Laurel’s Rolodex.
Okaaaaay, I’ll give that one out even though it’s killing me to do so. (not really; just being dramatic, for effect)
I’m sure I’ve mentioned them before. I must’ve ordered some 200 pieces from them over a period of 15 years.
They have a place-holder website. However, you will not find a catalog on the internet. Nor will you see them at High Point or any of the other furniture markets. I discovered them at a local shop. Other designers know of them through other colleagues or me.
I don’t believe I have any photos of jobs I did with this sofa, ironically. But, I did find one of their line drawings online. They call it the English Saddle arm sofa. And, it comes in two sizes; the standard 84″ and a 70″ version. Oh, wait. I do have a photo. Hang on, and I’ll go and look for it.
This was from a job back in 2002. The clients already owned the coffee table and everything you see on the bookshelves.
Let’s look at some more English Roll arm sofas, the best sofa, from George Smith.
Traditionally, the English Roll Arm sofa has a turned leg, but it can also have a straight tapered leg with or without casters.
George Smith English Roll arm – best sofa – Signature Sofa Medium StandardArm StraightTop WholeBack- Best sofa
They certainly are elegant. I would love to have one of these in my new apartment. There’s only one problem for me and probably 99.9% of you, too. They are wildly expensive. I’ve seen used ones on 1stDibs for close to $10,000. That’s a USED sofa. Fine, call it “vintage.”
You might recall that we looked at these vintage English roll arm club chairs in this recent post about the best club chairs.
Most of us don’t have that kind of money to spend on a sofa even if it is the best sofa that will last a lifetime.
The closest sofa to the George Smith style that I have found is the Morgan sofa from Jayson Home.
Another view of the Morgan sofa from Jayson Home.
In that same price range is another similar sofa by Williams Sonoma Home, the Bedford Sofa. We’ve seen this sofa many times, but not these two images. Please note that at the bottom of this post will be a widget with many of these sofas available for purchase.
Another wildly expensive but gorgeous example of the English Roll arm is the above beauty manufactured by Jonas Upholstery in NY City. I love the slight scroll back. Yes, they put real horsehair in the filling; yes, it’s sublime, but you can have pretty close to that for a lot less. A LOT less!
For about 1/10th the price, you can get this version from Anthropologie called the Glenlee Sofa. It also comes in zillions of fabric options.
Above is another view of the Glenlee sofa from Anthropologie in a beautiful peacock blue velvet.
Did you know? Of course, you don’t. But, there’s any Anthro that’s a 5-minute walk from my house?
I’m not the only designer who favors this sofa. Designers such as Victoria Hagan and Phoebe, and Jim Howard love the English roll arm sofa.
Above and below are two gorgeous rooms by Mark D Sikes featuring the best sofa!
I adore Mark’s work. You can see more of it here.
Mark D Sikes designed the Santa Barbara Sofa by Henredon.
Finally, I left one of my favorite English Roll Arm sofas from Serena & Lily for last.
That’s because, through the 16th of March 2021, the entire Serena and Lily line is 20% off. Of course, that includes their gorgeous custom upholstery.
Their classic version of this timeless style is called the Miramar sofa. And, they have it in numerous variations and configurations. And, of course, all are available in dozens of fabrics and leathers.
The newest version of the Miramar has this cool fringe on the bottom. That is if you like fringe. For those of you who have chewing pets and who hate fringe, well, that’s okay. You don’t have to get this one.
This version of the Miramar sofa features a super practical Perennials stripe and a bench seat cushion. If you don’t know, a bench cushion means one cushion instead of two or three cushions.
Above is a Miramar sofa with a slipcover. This slipcover is meant to sit about 3 inches above the floor.
The Miramar in a beautiful blue-gray linen with a bench seat.
They also have a sectional version of this classic English Roll Arm Sofa.
Below is a widget with numerous versions of the best sofa.
Or, at least one of the best sofas. I didn’t mention all of them in this post. But, some of them are very reasonable. Please click on any of the images, and it will take you directly to the source where it is sold.
Are there other cool sofas?
Well, of course, there are! You can see some of them here. But, if you want one of the coolest and most classic, you can’t go wrong with an English roll-arm sofa!
For more help in selecting the perfect sofa, go here.
PS: There’s a massive updated mid-week HOT SALES! Please check it out.
what do you think is the best affordable roll arm sofa? I need two
Gorgeous Laurel! Please consider another blog post about MODERN SOFAs. My appartment is with modern windows and for all those readers with modern appartments (Hello Miami, Dubai or new builds who have no history, bad proportions but amazing views from windows lol). Love you Laurel, take care!
I have a gorgeous George Smith style sofa that I bought at an antique store after years of looking. I love the style, shape, fabric, and fact that its cushions are down-filled. It is beautiful and exactly what I wanted for years. BUT. It is very deep, so requires pillows at the back for anyone under 6’3″ to sit on it. And the lovely roll arms are low. Many Americans like to sit sideways, resting their backs against the sofa arm to watch TV or read. This is not possible on this sofa. So someday I will replace it with a sofa that is more practical and comfortable. Think about how you will use the sofa as you decide. Looks aren’t everything.
I have been dreaming about the S&L tight back, bench seat sofa for years! After taking care of elderly parents and all that goes with that, we are finally nearing the home stretch of a remodel. There’s just a teensy problem. The budget my husband has in his head never includes everything on my construction and decor list, and he slashed my budget in half, not knowing how much furniture costs! So, I am snipping away, finding deals on everything possible, with that sofa still in my sights. I confess, part of my wanting the english arm (and I don’t like the paddle shaped one that Sherrill changed to) is because they are timeless, blend with any style and they’re nice to stretch out on once in a while, especially if you have painful health issues and aren’t a recliner fan:) Great Post and Pictures once again Laurel!
Judy, I agree with you 100%! My CR Laine society sofa is a tight back sofa, and I would never buy anything else. My wing chairs and club chairs are a tight back I also plan to reupholster my wing chairs in the near future. They are the most comfortable chairs. It pays to buy good quality!
Susan, As a designer I always encourage a client to consider reupholstering a piece when it is an investment piece. Of course you must have a very trusted upholsterer. Reupholstering, with the cost of the fabric yardage and the labor involved is not inexpensive, but well worth the cost when you love a piece.
It surprises me that so many people steer away from tight back sofas, thinking that loose cushion backs are more comfortable. One sofa that I have had for over 35 years, has a tight back. I found it to be very comfortable all those years ago and still do. Several years ago I decided that I was tired of the fabric on this piece and wanted to do some color changes in the room. That sofa was on it’s third fabric. I spent a year looking at and sitting on so many sofas. Non of them were as comfortable as this tight back one. It now is on it’s forth reupholstering and will probably out live me.
I notice most of the sofas have those tiny wheel feet. i really hate those. Makes it look old and traditional. Since it’s the one most popular I guess most folks do likke them. Do you do homes more contemporary? what style sofas fit there?
Thank you so much for this perfectly timed post. I am currently shopping for a medium gray English Roll Arm sofa but I am lost when it comes to choosing chairs to pair with the sofa. I need a comfy club type chair with arms, used daily to curl up and read. I don’t want a ‘matchy’ or flowery look. Any guidance will be appreciated!
There has been a change in furniture upholstery in recent years, that I’m not sure many people have noticed. I purchased a roll arm sofa (with back cushions, not a tight back) from Lee in 2017. I used a “faux mohair” velvet. When it arrived, I was dismayed that it had a slightly sloppy look, and I was baffled. It sat in the room several weeks before I figured it out. They did not make the welting on the bias, which used to be standard. All of the welting is on the straight grain, which causes a lot of puckering. If you look at the pictures you posted, you will see that the George Smith and vintage sofas are perfect. The others range from “not too bad” to “terrible”. The Williams Sonoma sofa, especially the side view, is a pretty good example of what I’m talking about. Since my fabric was discontinued and it’s in a very casual room, I just live with it. But when I ordered my “forever” living room sofa from EJ Victor, I specified welting on the bias – the way it used to be – and had to provide three extra yards of fabric. It was an expense I wasn’t planning on, but the sofa is perfect. Just a head up for those of you who have perfectionistic tendencies, lol.
Hi Laurel, I look forward to your blog every Sunday and Wednesday. I purchased a CR Laine society sofa 12 years ago. I love it. We downsized to an apartment 3 years ago, and my sofa needed reupholstering. I decided to give it to my son and purchase a new sofa. The store I purchased my cr laine sofa had closed. The owner decided to retire. Could not find a quality store like luxe furniture. I live in a small city in Canada and we just do not have the variety. Decided to purchase from Lazy Boy. What a mistake! Sofa was not comfortable, but my son loved it. We decided to swap. I had my CR Laine sofa recovered. What a dream. Could have saved so much money if I had done this in the first place. It is so worth it to reupholster a good quality piece of furniture.
By the way, at our lake home in Northwestern Wisconsin we have two leather sofas made by Article, also an ottoman. They are well made, easy to clean (we eat dinner on the sofa watching TV) and very comfortable. They are reasonable in price, especially if there is a sale. Really pleased with them and they fit in with our Northwoods Scandinavian mixed of modern and deer icon decor. Wish I could post an emoji. We do have some very cool deer hoof lamps.
I have a sofa very similar to the first one on the list. Not the same manufacturer and I have had it so long I cannot remember who made it. Mine is a slightly darker turquoise and it’s in the living room with a Bessarabian flat weave rug with cerise, turquoise, white and black floral design. A black simple cast iron coffee table with glass top and two Art Deco French leather chairs. I would send you a photo but we are in the Northwoods of Wisconsin escaping Covid and big city disruptions so we are not at our city apartment. I love your blog and have found many interesting articles as well as great sales and vendors. Thank you so much!
I was also delighted and amused, just like the previous poster so well put it, in seeing specified the English roll-arm sofa I had custom made a few years ago! Alas, mine is not George Smith, but it’s made in NC, USA, by a company called Cococohome. I think it’s very good quality and I had no issues with it. I also ordered a big Chesterfield from them. I had a lot of space to fill after we’ve purchased a house and while I had no real plans yet, one thing I knew is that I wanted an English roll-arm sofa and a Chesterfield. I love, love, love English sofas, furniture in general and decor. It all started back in the early 90s when our city had a store that sold English imported furniture and I was intrigued by the beauty, elegance and quality of the furniture sold in there. Thank you Laurel!
Laurel, you can’t imagine my delight/relief/amusement when I realized your #1 draft-pick is the very sofa I had custom-made about 16 years ago here in NYC. Its bones are still good, but the fabric has taken a beating. Would you please consider a post on cost/resources/options for having investment pieces like this one reupholstered? Huge thanks!!
Darling Laurel, amazing blog post as usual! Beautiful sofas. Have you heard about Velleren sofas? They’re not English Roll arm but they look great and neat. I’m wondering if they’re good quality. What kind of chair shape would work with English Roll arm sofa…I’m wondering about modern shapes. Somehow I like modern sofa (William Mclure’s one) or Paloma Contreras had prettiest modern sofa in her portfolio. I’ve always wondered who made it. It is Velleren (not sure). Can a modern sofa look good with english roll arm chair and vise versa.
The English company Lorford’s makes bespoke roll arm sofas. Pretty pricey, but exquisite.
Thanks so much for this post, Laurel. I’ve always loved the English roll arm sofa, so that’s what I had in mind when we (husband and I) went shopping five years ago for a new one for the family room. Well, several hours later we walked out having ordered a boxy track arm sofa from Henredon. It was ridiculously expensive – for us – with high end fabric and down cushions. Fast forward these five years and it’s falling apart. It’s just the two of us, we aren’t heavy people and we don’t have animals that trash it. I noticed the previous poster who stated she had a 60 year old Henredon that’s still sturdy. I also have a 32 year old Ethan Allen that’s about to be reupholstered for the third time. It seems these newer sofas just aren’t made like they used to be as, in the meantime, I bought another EA that was gone in about seven years. What has been your experience with the longevity and durability of the Serena and Lily brand? I know they have simply beautiful things, but are they made for the long haul? Can’t tell you how much I enjoy and have learned from your blog. Thanks again.
The roll-arm is both comfortable AND space-saving… and Michael Thomas is another source to find well-made, comfortable, traditional soft-furnishings.
Twenty five years ago I bought the 81 inch “Gwen” Demi-sofa and chair by Michael Thomas – the demi sofa has 2-seat cushions, loose back (my choice).
They have been ridden hard and put up wet – and held up incredibly well. – lived on, eaten on, cat scratched, dog-slept, been shipped to England and back and have worn like iron.
I’ll have them steam cleaned one more time and then will have to get them re-upholstered (ugh– choices!).
Just sayin’… Michael Thomas is first on my list!
BTW: the cute little wheels, while quite stylish, are a tad hard on any carpeting and cause dents in some wood floors.
I love the sofas pictured except the front legs give me the heebie jeebies! I’m assuming that you could get legs to match the back? I just think of how my honey plops down at the end of the day and pictures those tiny legs snapping right off!
I have had a love/hate relationship with this style sofa for 30 years now. I have had two versions of it. One of them was purchased at Harrod’s when I lived in London briefly, and shipped back to the U.S. It was covered in a fabulous William Morris patterned linen fabric and It was filled with 100% down. It was fabulously comfortable, but anytime anyone sat on it, the cushions had to be plumbed back up when they got up. Short of English country houses the caliber of Chatsworth, this “unkempt” look (together with muddied wellingtons just in from pheasant shooting) does not translate well, at least not in an American house. The William Morris print also was tremendously hard to decorate around. So I gave this sofa away, and after my friend wrestled with the same issues, even paying to slipcover the sofa, she ended up giving it away to the Salvation Army. Being an inveterate Anglophile at the time, I bought another sofa of the same style, this time in a slipcovered white cotton (and spring-down cushions this time) It sat in my family room for years, and was well loved by all. But then I moved to the city and downsized to a condo. I chose this sofa to take with me for the only sofa in the apartment, and this turned out to be a big mistake. As a sofa in a big family room, it was perfect. But in a city condo with any kind of size issue, this style sofa is just too deep! It’s not just the physical space the depth of the sofa takes up. Unless you have a at least one or two other upholstered pieces (namely, lounge chairs) of the same scale, the sofa is just too dominant, and everything else looks proportionately wrong. Also, it’s one thing to have a deep squishy sofa to loll around in in a family room. But for the living room, any smaller woman visitor, especially ones dressed formally in a shorter skirt, tried vainly to perch at the edge and sit upright, as leaning back resulted in her losing composure in more ways than one. It was always a frantic move on my part to insert a cushion behind women visitors in anticipation. I only had one other chair to offer as a seat as that one was also the same style and just as deep, and no others would fit in the room. The only saving grace was that this sofa was not long – it was only 75″ in length, so at least I did not have to deal with space issue for that, although it also gave the sofa a vaguely “square” look, being so deep. (I notice all the photos you display are of longer sofas, which look proportionately better.). The other saving grace (and the only reason I did not get rid of this sofa sooner) is that the arms are so low that my 6’3″ tall husband could like across this sofa and take a snooze, as his head would rest on one of the arms, and his feet could be propped up on the other. He just loved this sofa BECAUSE it was so deep and he could take naps on it. (Never mind that I hated him sleeping on the living room couch!) He also liked that it was a tight-back with no back cushions to have to fuss with or plump up. (I liked that too.) But after trying to decorate around this sofa for years, I finally got tired of being a slave to it, and got rid of it for a more size-appropriate model. It has been ten years since I got rid of it, and my husband still mourns it’s loss, and I still drool at the photos of it that you show regularly on your blog. But unless I got back to English country house living, I’m afraid I will have to settle for other styles.
You’ve had visions of english roll arm sofas dancing in my head for years, and I finally ordered a one from Interior Define in January 2020. It arrived just in time for the pandemic and transition to working from home. I practically live on the thing. In about 6 months I move into my first home and I have to find more seating, I’m thinking about doing a pair of human scale club chairs (possibly the Minna from Pottery Barn). My sofa is an icy light blue/gray velvet, and I’m absurdly nervous to pick the chair upholstery. I quite like the patterned fabrics in your posts, but I’m not seeing those in the wild. Would you say those are generally custom? Maybe I can buy something in simple white now and reupholster in a patterned fabric in a few years, but if there is a source that comes to mind around $1k or less per chair, it will save me from many late nights of agony 😉
Hi Laurel, thank you for all the beautiful sofas. I have a 25 year old Century roll arm couch that I love. Unfortunately the other couch doesn’t match and so I am in need of two new couches. I’m wondering what the cushions on the more affordable cushions are made of. Many retailers don’t list that information on their website. How do you suggest getting that information? I wouldn’t want to order online and get something that wasn’t comfortable and my husband is very picky. Maybe you could do a post on what to look for in a good couch?
I have an english arm sofa from Ethan Allen. It is very comfortable and I am so pleased with my fabric choice, there were so many to choose from. I do not have a large LR but it gets used everyday. What I also liked about this sofa is there were two choices for seating depth, as well as several lengths to choose from. The style is called Oxford, aptly named yes ??
I agree that the Bridgewater/English roll-arm sofa is my favorite! The only issue I have with many of them is that the arms are too low.
I searched for a tightback version with higher arms, but no luck. The closest I came was an Ethan Allen sofa, but it was not very comfortable. I finally bought the Brooke Sofa by Rowe that you show in the widget. It’s a loose-back sofa but SO comfortable. So much that I ordered 2 chairs too! The local retailer here on Long Island offered it totally custom and cheaper than One Kings Lane.
I think it was Nina Campbell who said “Husbands come and go, but the upholsterer stays on.” True enough.
Hope you are enjoying your new home. I notice you have often had Rowe sofas on the sales page. You have mentioned Robin Bruce sofas in the blog but neither Rowe nor Robin Bruce are in the Rolodex. In your experience does Rowe make a quality sofa? Thanks so much.
*Lee Industries! Lee Jofa is gorgeous fabric that my favorite Mark D Sikes who I learn from your blog uses on his chair and pillows. So gorgeous!
If money wasn’t an object and you have all trade accounts around the world no need to worry about shipping or kids education or anything else besides of wants (ideal world)…what sofa brand in what best gorgeous fabric would you choose for yourself, Laurel? Georgh Smith, Jonas, Fortuny, Roggers& Goffington (who else luxurious I mean luxe luxe fabulous please correct me I have no idea how to say luxe in english language lol). Rose Uniacke? Or would it be Lee Jofa in Perennials/ Bull denim fabric? Pardon my bad english mistakes I’m learning it! Honestly I’d splurge on sofa. I find it reasonable and I love to dream! One day…I love your blog.
On the topic of well-constructed sofas, I have a mid-century Henredon sofa that I absolutely love. Its design is unique and interesting while still being somewhat timeless. Unfortunately, the upholstery is thrashed at this point, and it’s gotten a bit saggy (who can blame it really! It’s 60 years old and has had no work done!) I would love to consider getting it refurbished but don’t know how to choose a firm that will work to the standards of the original construction and materials. Any advice on how to bring this beauty back to life?