Archive for June 2006 | Monthly archive page


Comments Off on Philadelphia Inquirer – Home & Design Section June 2006


Your dream Sofa

Down cushions or standard foam? Exposed legs or a skirt? Some manufacturers let you customize, affordably, almost from scratch.

By: Eils Lotozo, Inquirer Staff Writer

Few things in a home take up more space, get more use, or make a bigger style statement than a sofa. Too often, though, finding the right one can be a frustrating quest, requiring marathon treks through countless furniture showrooms, where the sofas are never quite what you had in mind. If it’s got the right arms, it’s got the wrong cushions. If the size is correct, the legs aren’t. This one is too soft. That one too deep. But what if you could skip the search and conceive the sofa of your dreams? What if you could get a near-custom piece at retail prices? You can, thanks to the increasingly flexible offerings of some manufacturers. Lee Industries is emphasizing consumer choice. The company’s custom-upholstered sofas, available through the Chestnut Hill home-furnishings shop Host, start at about $1,800 for pieces that feature eight-way hand-tied springs (a mark of quality in the furniture industry that’s getting harder and harder to find). “With Lee, there are so many different versions of each style,” says Host’s owner, Doug Reinke, who offers a selection of 500 fabrics. Most sofas, for example, are available in both full and apartment size. “That’s been really popular,” Reinke says. “In some older homes, you have smaller rooms, and the oversize furniture just doesn’t fit.” Cushions and back configurations also can be changed according to taste. One deep-enough-to-nap-on Lee frame that Reinke shows clad in kiwi linen in his store and on his Web site ( can shift from a strictly traditional English roll-arm look, with a tight back and turned legs on brass casters, to a square-back version with tapered modern legs and three-over-three cushions. “You can even buy it upholstered and get an extra slipcover to use in the summer,” says Reinke, adding that Lee has been delivering pieces in six to eight weeks. You’ll see only a few examples of the Lee Industries pieces at tiny Host, where Reinke keeps a small selection of sofas and chairs on display. With them, and with the aid of a thick company catalog full of photographs, he helps customers compare various arm and cushion styles, test out seat depths, and compare the feel of a spring/down cushion to that of a standard cushion.

Host advises shoppers to measure their rooms and bring in floor plans. Or even photos. That’s because scale is key to buying the right sofa, Little says. You don’t want to put a behemoth in a small room, or a diminutive piece in a mammoth space. Making the right cushion choices also is important. People with back problems may prefer the firmness of a standard polyester-foam cushion. Others might love the feeling of sinking into down. Or you could combine a firm seat with a down back. Other things to consider: The ideal seat depth for you might not be the best for the rest of your family, so bring everyone along, if you can, when selecting a sofa. Practical matters can also steer style decisions. Exposed wood legs, for example, can give a sofa an airy, less substantial feel than a skirt, but a skirt can hide boxes, games, or that dining-table leaf. A sleek modern sofa with a tight back and seat might look great, but families with young children, or those who entertain frequently, might do better with a sofa with loose back and seat cushions that can be flipped to hide stains. Those with durability issues might also want to opt for tough upholstery fabrics such as the Sunbrella line, which has come a long way from its boat-cushion origins and is now available in everything from bold damasks to batik-look prints to weaves as soft as chenille. And what about color and pattern on a sofa? Is this the place to make the big statement, or to play it safe? “A lot of people are afraid of the shelf life of a sofa,” Reinke says. “They worry whether they’re going to like it eight years from now. They have a fear of commitment.” His advice: “If you’re in transition, or you think you will be moving in five years, don’t get too specific with your sofa fabric. I tell people to pick a nice neutral and punch things up with your throw pillows.”