Learn about sizes, arm setups, seat types and more to get the right sectional for your space
By Becky Dietrich / Courtesy of Houzz.com
Even though sectionals are a family-friendly alternative to the traditional sofa and love seat, they’re one of the more polarizing elements in room design. People either love them or hate them. Add to that the available configurations and myriad options (which can be confusing at best, and mind-boggling at worst), and you have a full-blown case of design angst.
Let’s take some of the mystery out of sectionals, and help you avoid a costly mistake.
First, let’s get comfortable with sectional terminology. “Right arm facing” (RAF) means that when you are facing the piece or section, the arm is on your right. “Left arm facing” (LAF) means that the arm is on your left. Getting the proper-facing arm is critical, because you will be joining two or more pieces, and the placement of the arm will determine if your new sectional works in your room.
The sectional shown here is composed of a left-arm-facing love seat and a right-arm-facing chaise.
A sectional is usually made up of two or more pieces. Generally speaking, the fewer pieces you use to create your sectional, the more reasonable the price will be.
This sectional appears to be made of a left-arm-facing sofa (three seat cushions), a square corner and a right-arm-facing love seat.
If you built that same sectional, still using the LAF sofa but using a RAF corner sofa rather than the RAF love seat and the one seat corner, you would have used two pieces, not three, and would have saved some major bucks. The corner sofa has a back that forms the corner and saves your having to purchase an additional corner piece.
Check out American manufacturer Miles Talbot’s spec sheet on sectionals, where you will find a line drawing describing each of the most common sectional components.
Once you understand the available options, you are ready to decide if a sectional will work for you. For starters, do not assume that you must have a large room for a sectional to work. A sectional like this, made up of a LAF love seat and a RAF chaise, is an excellent solution for a very small room like this one.
Imagine if this room had been furnished with a sofa and two chairs, or a sofa and love seat. It would have looked cluttered and crowded. Even though this loft is small — maybe especially because it’s small — a sectional is the perfect solution.
If your space allows for only a one-seat armless portion in the middle, seriously think twice about using a sectional at all. Consider who will be sitting on the armless portion, and how he or she will cope with the yawning chasm to the (in this case) right. Although a sectional is a great solution space-wise, the lack of an arm nearby can make people squirm. A potential solution is to use a love seat and a short chaise.
When you are considering a sectional, there is much more to think about than just how it will fit the space, and comfort is of primary importance.
A sofa or love seat married to a chaise is a solution I often specify when the room will be used mainly for watching TV. If you use a conventional sectional in this situation, no one will want to sit on the portion that’s perpendicular to the TV, and craning necks will just make people cranky. That’s where the chaise is so handy. Just be prepared for a joust over who gets to use it.
If your TV sits across a corner of your room, a sectional can be just right. In this case the rounded corner provides lots of seating, and everybody can comfortably view the screen.
But rounded — or “wedge” — corners have a significant downside. They take up a lot of room. Measure very carefully before deciding on this kind of configuration. If you go to your store with the maximum length each side of your sectional can take up, you are already several steps ahead. And trust me (this comes from decades of experience): Never just eyeball it.
If your room requires an L-shaped sectional rather than a rounded one, beware the limitations of the one-cushion square corner. It will be the very last seat people want. Unless they like to sit on their legs (ouch!), their only other option will be to tangle their legs with the people sitting on either side of them. Not fun.
So if a square-corner sectional is all that will fit in your space, consider if a sofa and love seat are a better option. That unused corner seat could instead hold an end table and a lamp, without taking up any more room than a sectional. And you’ll have a lot more long-term flexibility.
If you have space for a three-sided sectional like this one, yippee! But don’t forget that people have to be able to easily get into the room. Your kids will happily jump over and plop down, but adults may not want to make quite that kind of acrobatic entrance. There is nothing wrong with walking down the side of the sofa to enter the room; just make sure you are happy with that, and that you do not tend to have claustrophobia.
Finding the style of sectional that you like is the easy part. Quality manufacturers offer lots and lots of custom options. Stickley and Miles Talbot are just two that will allow you to select (among other things) the depth of the sectional, arm style, back style and cushion content.
If you special order, you’ll have to wait eight or so weeks for your sectional to arrive. But you will be able to specify the exact look, feel and size that you want.
At this point in our discussion, you may be hyperventilating, and your eyes might be crossing. That is perfectly OK — it’s the response that sectionals often evoke. This can be overcome with careful planning. Don’t even consider sectional shopping without a meticulously drawn floor plan. The good news is that the right sectional will bring comfort, style and function to your room that few other furnishings can provide.