Amanda Hanley by Design |  Interiors, kitchens, furniture and fabric | Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire
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The Inside Story The Inside Story The Inside Story The Inside Story The Inside Story

The Inside Story

Interior designer Amanda Hanley reveals expert tips and tricks for your home-decor projects. This month: her insider guide to sofas and upholstery

Are you sitting comfortably? This is how all good stories should begin, and it's no different in your home. A great sofa combines comfort, style and quality, and as it's often the largest piece of furniture in a room, one you'll want to spend plenty of time enjoying, it's worth getting right. Here's how..

There's a dazzling array of beautiful fabrics and tempting shapes out there, but before you start browsing and ordering swatches, consider first the space available; the 'flow' in your house; and how a new piece will sit with your existing flooring and against other pieces in the room.
More and more clients are going for a bespoke solution, with furniture tailor-made for the space available in a style they love. It's not just made to measure: it's built to last, and in terms of comfort, the difference is considerable. Let's face it, in this country, you'll be spending far more time on your sofa than on your garden chairs.

Reviving a pre-loved sofa or chair can be a good idea in some cases. If you have some furniture with sentimental value, perhaps inherited or from your own childhood, then, yes, it can become the heart of the room and is well worth saving. However, if it's more than 15 years old, and it's not an antique or heirloom you can't bear to part with, buy new, as it would need to be stripped down to the frame, the work involved is often just not cost effective.

You might think colour and fabric are the key points to focus on, but the style and shape you go for are fundamental, and largely dictated by where the finished piece will go. Fireside snoozing spot, You want comfy and traditional. Wood-framed chair settees and bench styles can look great in a foyer or hallway; if you want something for your bedroom, love seats and ottomans work well. If your kitchen's big enough, try a low-slung leather or Chesterfield-style sofa. High-backed shapes with clean lines are wonderful for breakfast nooks.

Once you've chosen the shape and style of your sofa, size is the next vital element. Use a paper template to test the position in the room and give you a better feel for how the finished item will fit with other furniture. Getting the size wrong can be disastrous: too big, and it'll overpower everything, or worse, not leave enough room to walk around; too small, and it won't be the feature you want it to be. And remember, you'll still need somewhere to put your coffee down!

Be realistic: the sofa is the most high-traffic piece of furniture in most homes, so the fabric should be hard-wearing and technical matters such as the 'rub factor' need to be taken into account. Again, insider expertise can be vital here: knowledge of what's behind a manufacturer's claims, or how different fabrics respond over time, can only be gained with years of experience.

Hardwood frames are the most durable and will help your sofa to keep its shape and character; pick light or dark wood details that will co-ordinate with your other furniture. Favourite choices for bespoke items are beech and ash, ideal for hand-jointed, solidly built furniture. My team of craftsman hand-builds every chair and sofa: artisan furniture like this will last for generations.

It's tempting to buy into the latest looks, but always think longevity and practicality. In cottage-style or high-ceilinged Georgian rooms, the 'cool country' look is a great way to introduce chic modern furniture that stays looking fresh for many years. If you want to play it safe, seek out fabrics with neutral tones running through them, beiges, taupes and greys are best.

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