Sensational Sofas

For some all it takes is alluring upholstery, shapely arms and cozy cushions all piled together to create the perfect sofa. But before choosing the right one you’ve got to know what it will be used for—is it the anchor of an entertainer’s living room or a spot for the kids to plop down in after school? Do you prefer to sink in after a long day at work or embrace the support of a straight back? Sunrise Home owner Annie Bowman says most of her clients keep their couches for eight to ten years. “Usually the couch is the center of any lovely well-appointed room and is often the major investment piece.”

1. The Wakeley Sofa (opposite) by Thomas O’Brien, $4,569 at Sunrise Home (San Rafael). 415.456.3939,

2. Reid sectional sofa in Saffron by Jeffrey Bernett and Design Within Reach, $5,500 at Design Within Reach (Mill Valley). 415.384.0480,

3. Italian Art Deco Three Seat Sofa by William Switzer, $4,595 at William Switzer & Associates (SF). 415.621.0575,

4. The Anna Sofa by the J Banks Collection, $5,762.50 at Ireko (Santa Rosa). 707.579.3700,

5. Le Jules Verne Settee by Andre Arbus Collection, $8,595 at William Switzer & Associates (SF). 415.621.0575,

6. Mahler sofa by Ebanista, price available upon request at Ebanista (SF). 415.487.9200,

Wear and tear

Although the type of upholstery you choose will most likely affect the price you pay for a sofa, it’s important to also keep the fabric’s durability in mind. According to the Association for Contract Textiles, a trade organization made up primarily of the companies that supply fabric to the interior design community, the standard test for wear in the textile industry is the Wyzenbeek test. In this test, samples of a fabric are stretched on a machine that mechanically rubs an abradant (such as wire mesh) back and forth against the sample. Each time this happens it’s called a double rub. The number of double rubs endured before the fabric shows noticeable wear determines the fabric’s abrasion rating. A fabric that withstands 15,000 double rubs without any of its threads being broken is appropriate for “general contract upholstery.” Material that survives 30,000 double rubs is considered heavy-duty upholstery—which just might be the way to go in a household with toddlers or teenagers.

Fabric choices make a cost difference

Many factors contribute to the cost of a sofa. Annie Bowman, owner of the 30,000-square-foot San Rafael home furnishings store Sunrise Home, says a sofa’s fabric selection can often be the greatest differential, as an average couch requires close to 20 yards of fabric. “If customers select a fabric ranging in the $50 per yard region, that translates to $1,000, but if they select a $200-per-yard fabric the cost of the fabric alone ends up being $4,000, which represents a four-times-higher cost.” Bowman also points out that fabric price frequently has nothing to do with wearability. “Some people get confused thinking the more expensive fabrics will last longer or wear better. This is definitely not the case. Some average fabrics such as denim at $22-per-yard will wear far longer than a $125-per-yard dupioni silk.”