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Lifestyle can help you choose a sofa

I'm a big fan of saving money where I can. I'm still gloating weeks later over a gorgeous Tommy Bahama wrap skirt I discovered for a few dollars at a thrift store in South Tampa.

But there's one area where I don't believe in scrimping: my sofa.

I'm lucky enough to own a beautiful, cream-colored, high-end hand-me-down given to me a few years ago. It's a piece I'll never part with and probably reupholster over and over until I'm a very old lady. The focal point of my living room, it's the first thing you notice when you walk into my home — and most likely the first place you'll plop down. I like to read books and take naps on it as well as use it as a sort of magic carpet for entertaining guests. It's a wonderful sofa for sipping iced tea.

So recently, when a friend asked for help picking out a new couch, I was at my usual loss as to what advice to offer. The question comes up again and again with readers, who understand the importance of buying a quality sofa but are less sure about choosing one that best fits their decor and lifestyle.

This time I turned to Tampa Bay interior decorator and design whiz Jay Tenuta, owner of La Bella Interiors in Odessa. Tenuta says if you're in the market for a new sofa and you're buying without the help of a decorator (probably not a good idea if you're style-impaired) you need to know "every inch" of your room size as well as your new sofa's intended purpose. Are you going to use it for "entertaining, lounging or family time with the kids and pets"? Tenuta says. Here's a list of questions you need to ask yourself before you whip out that Visa and purchase something big enough to dominate your decor for the next decade.

Does your sofa measure up? Consider that tape measure your best friend before you head out on a shopping expedition. "What's the maximum the room can handle?" Tenuta asks. And always keep in mind his cardinal rule: "Allow a minimum of 16 inches between the (sofa) cushion and the cocktail table or ottoman for easy passage."

Are you a party girl at heart? If a sofa is going to be used primarily for entertaining, it's important to think about whether the shape is guest friendly and conducive to socializing, Tenuta says. His No. 1 choice for the consummate party host or hostess? "A wonderful, armless, low-slung Italian sofa with a curvilinear shape to maximize the flow of conversation."

Are you a closet lounge lizard? If you enjoy languishing on your sofa for hours armed with your TV remote or a good novel, take note of a few basics: "Length is important and so is the cushion thickness for maximum comfort and support," Tenuta advises. "The right arm height will give you maximum comfort for the perfect Sunday morning coffee and newspaper time."

Is your sofa a frolic zone? If your poor sofa is going to have to endure years of roughhousing by kids and dogs, then "fabric durability should be up and center," Tenuta says.

Are you an emotional sofa shopper? It's easy to get sidetracked by color and cuteness rather than what's really important. "People tend to go by look and color and make their purchase without thinking about durability and frame construction," Tenuta says. "Choose a frame that is both glued and secured with screws for long-term enjoyment. Fabric gets the toughest use of all. It needs to be washable, look good and be soft to the touch."

Elizabeth Bettendorf can be reached at

Lifestyle can help you choose a sofa 09/04/08 [Last modified: Thursday, September 4, 2008 4:31am]
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