If you are planning a new sofa or chair in the January sales, make sure you consider these few things first.
Read time: 5 minutes
Christmas is a time when our sofas and chairs get some seriously intensive usage with visits from so many and various bottoms – from grans to grand-kids; hours slouched in front of the TV; wine spillages and mince pie crumbs. For this reason it is also a time of year when it becomes super obvious if your seating options aren’t up to the job – friends and relatives beached on too-low chairs or balanced precariously around the room. If this sounds familiar, perhaps now you might be considering braving the January sales for an upgrade, and gosh, there are some very sexy chairs out there at the moment. I know Made and Loaf and others keep enticing me that I need a mustard yellow velvet Munchkin chair to complete my space. I’m sold.
However, when you Google “choosing the perfect chair’’, you can find a million sites about the style, size, fabric, colour, longevity, but nothing about how the right fit for you is super important too. Sure, we all instinctively know what feels comfy to each of us – rejecting chairs that are too soft or too hard and so on. It is a joy when you find ‘The One’ that is juuuust right, but are there some specific things we should actually be looking for rather than this game of trial and error?
You hear people talking about seating ergonomics when it comes to office chairs all the time because we spend such a lot of our time sitting down at sedentary office jobs. Businesses are concerned with workforce productivity and they know that a well-fitting chair that provides support in all the right places can also help with everything from better blood flow to digestion. But ergonomics often conjures images of soulless offices or weird contraptions that contort you into the optimum position – hardly something for your living room…
Yet a good chair that fits you well isn’t just for work; it is also for play, and perhaps we should be paying as much attention to ergonomics in the home as we do at work. In this age of boxsets, Netflix and gaming, having a place to sit for a solid day to watch the new series of Stranger Things or Downton Abbey is becoming increasingly important (just me?). Goodness knows I put in some effort sitting on my arse over Christmas watching Christmas TV and binging on Quality Streets. As we get older too, the toll of years of fighting gravity makes the lure of the sitting down even more appealing, and we may find ourselves parked for similarly long periods of time as an office job.
Nor does a well-fitting chair mean the end of style. I’m not suggesting we all change our living rooms into visions of ergonomic perfection. Where’s the fun in that? Lounges are for lounging right? And some chairs are beautiful bits of sculpture that just make us happy to look at and draw a room together rather than sit on for hours. But a decent sofa or armchair costs an arm and a leg so surely it makes sense to try and get something that is going to suit you for as long as possible.
It’s also about encouraging manufacturers to provide more customisation options on things like leg and back rest height and seat width. How many times have you tried a chair and thought that would be perfect if it just had a head rest or the seat wasn’t so low? Many places already provide masses of personalisation options in colours and fabrics – but attention seems to be firmly weighted towards aesthetics over function at the moment. I would love to see that change so there were more designs where these alterations could be an affordable option.
So, with this in mind, here are a couple of handy pointers to consider as you set of to the shops to hunt for your beautiful new chair. It’s out there – you just have to find it!
Choose wisely and arm rests are not just there to make you look stately, they can actually help you get up. To get the most out of them you should be able to rest your arms on them at right angles without looking like you are shrugging your shoulders constantly. Too low and what’s the point. Slightly splayed chair legs like this one from Ikea can be handy when pushing down as you get up and give you even more stability.
Also consider the length of your arm rests, so if you shuffle forwards on your butt to the edge of the seat you can still use them to push yourself up. For example, lumps like these on the gorgeous Elysse by Swoon Editions may look pretty, but they’re not much help to get you back to your feet if you have any leg weakness.
Think carefully about the seat height of your chair. You should be able to have your butt against the back of the seat and your feet flat on the floor creating a lovely right angle at the knee. The seat should give your thighs support pretty much all the way to the back of your knee (if you can get two fingers between the edge of the chair and the back of your knee you’re about right). Choose a chair that is too low and while you may sink into blissful comfort on the way down, you may struggle to get back up. Choose one that is too high and you may actually be cutting off the blood circulation in your thighs, risk sliding off and worst of all – losing your dinner off your lap.
As well as being incredibly useful for tired legs, foot stools can be a great little design feature in a room so think about getting one that works with your new chair or sofa.
A really good leg rest should take the weight of your whole lower leg, from seat edge to your heel. Tilted slightly down puts least pressure on joints and ligaments. I love this one by Vladimir Kagan but the price is pretty astronomical.
Luckily you can get a more modest version from Ikea or Argos. Argos‘ one even comes with a handy magazine pouch. Lovely stuff.
Think about the weight and manoeuvrability of a foot rest too. Do you have to bend or fight to drag it to where you need it? Will you just trip over it? Can it change height too for different legs or circumstances?
There are an increasing number of beautiful armchairs and sofas out there with leg rests built in which is great if you don’t have much space, but which don’t look like La-Z-Boys, like these ones by West Elm.
As a rough guide the back rest should be at least the height from your seated butt to the top of your ears to give stability and support for your neck. A Chesterfield may look beautiful, but take a moment to consider your poor back and neck.
When you sit right back in your chair, there should also be support at your lower back that matches your natural curves. A slightly angled back rest leaning back a little is most comfortable for most people, but too much and you’ll be asleep; too upright and you’ll not want to sit for long at all. Armchairs are much easier than sofas to find with high backs, but there are a few sofas about, such as Hannah from John Lewis that you can customise with your choice of fabrics and leg finish to fit your room.
Wing-backs I personally just love for taking a snooze, but they do affect vision and hearing, especially in a social setting.
Solid backs to chairs at a good height also have an added bonus of giving a handy extra hold for people getting around and about the house.
People often don’t consider width of chairs, but too narrow and you’ll be squishing all sorts of important stuff. Too wide and you’ll not be getting the most from your chair’s helpful supportiveness and any arm rests will be rendered pretty useless. If you can get your hand between you and the arm rest on either side of you, you should be good. Love seats big enough for a cosy twosome are pretty hot right now and are really fun, but if this is going to be your only seat, don’t let the cuddles sway you.
Don’t forget to think about other users of your chairs and living space too. No one size is going to fit all, so having a range of different types of seating available in your home too not only gives you options depending on your mood or as your circumstances may change, it also makes it more friendly for people you would like to visit. My point is, you may love a beanbag sofa, but does your gran…
Thanks for reading! I would love to hear your thoughts on this guide. Or test out your current chairs and see how they do! Please feel free to comment below or share if you think someone else might find this blog useful. And Happy New Year!