Dear Gail: We’ve had neutral colored upholstery for years, and even though we know it’s the norm, we’re not sure if we should go with a neutral again or branch out to a color. Can you give us any suggestions so that we have some direction before we head out shopping? — Debbie
Dear Debbie: Any upholstery is an investment and commitment for at least five to 10-plus years. It’s one of the top three furniture purchases you will make, so it’s important to choose your color wisely. Because it’s the largest piece of furniture in the room, it has a big impact on your color choices for the rest of the room.
So where do you begin in choosing the right sofa color? If you’re starting from scratch, your sofa should be chosen first as it will be the largest piece of furniture. Do you want it to be an attention-getter or hang out in the background?
I have a client who has reupholstered her sectional four times, and each time it has been an amazing purple. It’s also a unique shape and of course a well-built frame, making it worthwhile to reupholster. But there’s no getting past that it’s the focal point, which is just what she likes.
Let’s talk a little about the word “neutral.” It’s assumed that when we say a color is neutral, it’s in the color family of brown, beige, gray, taupe and cream. But what does neutral mean to you?
I have a friend whose neutral is red. It’s the basis of her color scheme, so her red sectional blends into her decor versus being the showcase piece.
Brown, beige, gray, taupe and cream are colors, but in the industry, they’re considered neutrals whereas the colors on the color wheel are thought of as true colors. But I never like to assume as I’ve worked with clients where they thought of blue as their neutral.
Color is very personal, whether considering a neutral or something bolder. Neutrals, of course, are the most popular and easy to decorate around, especially if you like to change your style. It’s all about what you’re most comfortable with and how often you like to change colors in your room.
If a red sofa scares you, consider doing a neutral sofa and colorful chairs. Look at a neutral that is different than what you’ve had, as long as it will still work with the other items in your room.
But if you’re really ready for a change and looking for that showcase piece and pop of color, go for it. A colorful sofa can be integrated into your room by adding accessories or prints in the same color as the sofa, to spread the color around the room.
A sofa is a large expanse of fabric, but by repeating pops of the same color as an accent, it can balance your room. You really don’t want it to look like the elephant in the room.
Now, if you would really like color but are too hesitant, you can two-tone the piece. This can be done by using a different color on the frame of the sofa than the seat and back cushions. You can get a small pop of color by doing a colorful contrasting welt.
Once you decide if your sofa will be a color or neutral, you will need to decide if it will be dark or light. With your color palette, it’s important to think how it will look on your flooring.
I hate to say this, but many people do not take their flooring into consideration when selecting fabrics. No matter what you have — whether carpet, tile, wood or stained concrete — it has color with undertones in it. Your floor color has a big effect on choosing the right sofa color. Will there be contrast or will it blend in?
If you have dark floors and go with a dark fabric, be careful that it doesn’t make the room feel too heavy. I always strive for some contrast so that furnishings don’t disappear into the room, whether with the fabric selection or using an area rug underneath the upholstery grouping.
Something I encourage you to do is to find a sheet, blanket or piece of fabric in a color direction you’re leaning or wondering how it would look and drape it over your current piece before you start out shopping. That will give you an idea of how the color will look and how you feel about it. If you’re going in a new direction, give yourself a couple days before deciding.
The reason I want you to go through this process before walking into any furniture store is so that you’re not overtaken with the excitement of buying something new and end up coming home with an impulse purchase. We’ve all done it with clothes, accessories, bedding and towels, but it’s not something you want to do with furniture.
One final note: Make sure you bring home any fabric swatch to see how it reacts to the light and other colors in your home before making your purchase. And please don’t let others talk you out of an orange sofa if that’s what you really want. It’s important that you love what you see each time you walk into the room.
Gail Mayhugh, owner of GMJ Interiors, is a professional interior designer and author of a book on the subject. Questions may be sent by email to GMJinteriors@gmail.com.