It is not hard to become a slave to the tape measure. I see it quite often – the careful measuring of tables and sofa arms and worrying if chairs are the right seat height compared to other pieces of upholstery in the room. I think that – for all sorts of reasons – it is better not to worry too much about any of this, as it forces one into a dreadful corner. Find things that you like, rather than what fits.
While I was on a speed-awareness course recently, we were taught that you have to look at the entire scene ahead rather than focusing only on the car in front (and then mowing down a cyclist). It is similar with a room – do not get too fixated on one thing, but look at it as a whole. It is how all the pieces work together that counts.
Take a look at what you already own and start there. Avoid going to a sofa showroom – no matter how high-end it is – and buying a three-piece suite. I have seen so many rooms with a classic Howard-shape sofa, a couple of matching club chairs and an ottoman floating somewhere far out of foot’s reach. Rooms can suffer terribly when everything is on the same level. You will also find that different people want to sit at different heights, so it is jolly handy to have some more upright chairs that can be pulled up when one’s more senior friends and relatives visit.
In my sitting room, I have a Howard-style sofa and one that is more upright with a wooden frame. There is a slipper chair by the fireplace, a mismatched pair of open-armed chairs, and a stool waiting to be upholstered. These were mostly inherited, or were bought from antique shops such as in Tetbury and , or . is also great – he will have an ottoman, sofa and side chair that work together without matching. I have mentioned before that the designer Peter Dunham told me he likes to avoid the ‘pudding-ness’ of upholstery, and the phrase is still something I bear in mind. Rush-seated chairs can break up that heavy, plump look he refers to. None of my furniture was bought to go together, but it has been upholstered in complementary fabrics.
This month’s column is not specifically about tables, but they matter enormously when considering upholstered furniture. A sofa is not comfortable without a table – where are you going to put your drink? It does not matter if the table in question is lower or higher than the arm of the chair, just that it is of a scale and style that fits with the room.
Keep the arrangement loose and have fun putting together a mix of new pieces and old friends. Break up softness with vertical lines and hard surfaces (lamps and tables are ideal for this) to create a balanced whole rather than a meeting room of seats.