Design Guide: How to Style a Sectional Sofa

One of the design consultations I had recently got me thinking about the do’s and don’t of styling a sofa.  Not just any sofa, a sectional sofa.

I think a lot of people are attracted to sectional sofas because they offer abundant seating and because they seem to provide a bit more comfort than a traditional sofa.

After a while I think people can become disenchanted with their sectional sofa because they recognize that a sectional can limit the traffic flow within a room and sometimes a sectional feels overpowering in a space versus relaxed.

In my years of designing rooms, I’ve recognized that it’s not always the size, scale or placement of a sectional that causes the disenchantment, but instead its the fact that the sectional and the space around it are not styled or accessorized in the best way.

The size of the coffee table, the placement of the pillows and even the rug under the sofa can have a profound impact of whether a sectional works or doesn’t in a room.

Here are a few do’s and don’t to guide you when styling a sectional…

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HOW NOT TO STYLE A SECTIONAL SOFA:

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A sectional or traditional sofa, for that matter, will look messy and uninviting if there are too many pillows on it.  Six to seven pillows are ideal for a large sectional.

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Create a comfortable arrangement between the sofa and the coffee table and end tables.  The coffee table size should fit within the boundary of the sofa edges.  In the photo above, one side of the trunk extends beyond the arm of the sofa and blocks the traffic lane.

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Make sure to place the coffee table or ottoman so that it is within a comfortable arms reach from the sofa.  Coffee tables should be place 16″-18″ from the sofa.

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A rug that is too small will make a sectional feel off scale to the size of the room.  Choose a rug that fits under the front legs of the sofa and extends at least 3 feet beyond the coffee table.

THE BEST WAY TO STYLE A SECTIONAL SOFA:

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 Crate and Barrel

Choose a coffee where the size feels balanced and proportionate to the size of the sectional.

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Lillian August for the 2012 Hampton Designer Showhouse via Blulabel Bungalow
A large, oversized coffee table is a great option to pair with a large sectional.  The weight of each will feel balanced against each other and within the room.

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For a more eclectic look, opt for a multiple ottomans as a coffee table instead of a traditional coffee table.  Ottomans provide extra seating and can be moved around easily within the room.

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The back of a sectional sofa can appear flat and uninviting.   A long console table behind the sofa will fill that space and create a functional spot for lamps and accessories.

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The perfect pillow placement on a sectional is left, right and center with space in between for someone to easily sit.

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A sectional with a chaise provides the perfect perch for a decorative throw–it’s a simple and easy way to add a pop of texture and color into the space.

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The right size rug will fit under the front chair legs and anchor the entire seating area surrounding the sectional.

A sectional sofa may not be for everyone but if styled right, it can be a winner in any home.

Shelly

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Comments

    • Hi,
      It’s really had to say exactly what size rug you need based on the your sofa size. I would recommend you take painters tape and tape off a size the works for the room. Ideally you want to the front legs of the sofa to sit on the rug and you want the rug to be at least as large as the sofa. I start by taping off a 7′ x 9′ area to see how that looks. Most likely it will be an 8′ x 10′ that works for your space or you could look at an 8′ square. When shopping for rugs, check out RugsUSA.com. They have a great selection at good prices and you can search by size.
      I hope this helps.
      Shelly

  1. This is a great article and has some very helpful suggestions. We recently purchased a chocolate brown leather sectional for our living room and can’t seem to decide on the right type of coffee table. We want something modern yet kid friendly since we plan on having kids soon. I’m confused between ottomans and traditional coffee tables! Also can’t decide on the color scheme for the decor either. Any advise would be really appreciated!

    • Hi Alina,
      When it comes to coffee tables you really need to think through how you will be using the piece. A hard surface, traditional coffee table provides the most function since the top is solid and you can easily set items on the table. A ottoman will add softness to a room and can also be additional seating if needed but it does have limits on what you can put on it. In many cases you need a tray to sit on an ottoman if you want to put items on it. I’d recommend a round, hard surface coffee table. It will give you function and it doesn’t have sharp corners will be will be good with kids. Also, since most living and family rooms are square or rectangular and so is the furniture (sofa, side tables, rugs etc) a round coffee table brings in another shape will adds visual softness and contrast. I hope these tips help.
      Shelly

  2. We just purchased a leather sectional. It has two detachable oversized recliners with console that can also be detached. Then the other piece is corner section of couch. Was wondering if there was a right or wrong to arrange. I puttin in my den. It has one long wall that faces two door looking out the other walls are half the length I think of two I arranged already. Would love your advice or ideas

  3. Such great information.. Might you be able to share what size that area rug is?Thank you. Yvette

    • Hi Yvette,
      Which photo are you referring to? A general rule of thumb to keep in mind regarding rug sizing is that ideally you want the front legs of furniture to sit on the rug. And in large rooms, don’t be afraid to go with a super sized rug to cover most of the floor space. Just leave about 12″ of exposed flooring around the rug.

  4. I plan on making a simple mid-century modern coffee table in front of my smallish sectional, and this really helps with trying to figure out how big to make it. I’m glad i found this post, thank you for all the tips!

  5. Very nice and helpful. Can you help me on choosing a pillow colors that will go with my rug and also give that autumn feel

  6. This is a wonderful post and so timely, as I have just purchased a sectional for my home. I bought pillows for it yesterday and while I love them, I’m having trouble with color and everything in between. I feel like I have a plan until I reach the store lol.

    • Hi Tiffany,
      So glad you found my blog post on sectional sofas useful.
      Happy decorating.
      Shelly

    • Hi Shelly,
      This is all great information!! I hope you can help me. My sectional, in my living room, is 9’x11’6″ plus a chaise. (So the sectional is “U” shaped, including the chaise.) I have a coffee table that fits perfectly it the center, no other furniture. My floorpan is very open so the sectional does not have any walls to butt up to. The room adjoins an open foyer, bar area, and the breakfast/kitchen area. I don’t know what size rug to put underneath the sectional to anchor the room?
      I can photos if it helps.
      Thanks!!
      Laurie

  7. I never had a sectional but with my new house, I think it would be a perfect style. I’m having trouble figuring out how large it should be and which side the chaise should be. Also, we need comfortable seating for a min. of 6 comfortably. I know this is vague but any help would be welcomed.
    I can send a photo if it helps

    • Hi Jaime,
      I’ve been at an event for the last week and am just getting to emails. Email me a photo of your space and I’d be happy to give you some recommendations.
      Shelly

  8. HI Shelly, I really liked your post. We just moved to a new place and are redecorating our home. Our living room is very long (an open floor design) with kitchen and dining area in continuity. We just got a new sectional and have placed it along the wall since we are planning to wall mount our TV on the fireplace (which is diagonal to the living room). This way our living room looks longer and there is much open space between sectional and the dining table. However, this way anyone sitting on the sectional can see kitchen and dining area (both in the straight line of the view). Another option is to keep the sectional floating in the middle of the room so that one side of the sectional has its back against the dining table and the kitchen and then we can keep TV against the wall (where we have sectional right now). But this might make our living room congested. I m very confused. Any thoughts? I can share image/s of the space, if you would like. Any suggestions would be really appreciated.

    • Hi Anika,
      Send me a couple of pictures and I’ll be happy to give you some recommendations.
      Shelly

  9. I’m so excited I came across your post as I just purchased a sectional & will be using your ideas as my guide to styling

  10. Great post, Shelly. For sure will share this with our fans as they will find it quite useful. Kudos and cheers for a fabulous weekend. #loveofrugs

  11. I have a small apt and my living room has short walls and doors, and windows. Im wanting to get a paticular section thats pretty large. The two walls it would have to be on are both only 12′. The sectional I want will have the cuddler on one end (maybe the other too) and it measures 135″ on one side (w/cuddler) and the other side I am still thinking about how to order it. One option is to order just the sofa on other wall which is 100″ or if i get 2nd cuddler it would be 135″ as well. One wall ends where it goes to a hallway, and the 2nd wall is 12′ to the front entry door. Across from front door is a closet so that is what makes things difficult. It is only 11-12′ from that closet wall to the wall where the sofa is that goes down a hall. I have pics if u can offer an opinion

  12. Hi there … I am having a real hard time find the right size and colour for my sectional. Can I email you a picture of the space to make a recommendation for the colours I can select??

  13. I have a longer living room and its just a very awkward set up. Could I email you pictures and you can let me know what you think.

  14. I have a long and narrow room. Fireplace on one end where I plan to put the TV above. And the entry hall directly across from the fireplace. I hate the look of over crowding but need extra seats for company. Tips?

    • Hi Cassandra,
      Would it be possible for you to email me a photo or a drawing of your room? I’d love to address your design question in my Design Chat series her on the blog and would love to share a image of the space. I have lots of tips I can share with you.
      You can email me at: shelly.confettistyle@gmail.com

      Shelly

  15. I have a leather sectional that is 12′ on one side and 8′ on the other. It is perfect dimension for our room, but I am struggling with the accessories. Placing the pillows as suggested looks off balance and no coffee table is nearly as long as the long side of the sofa. Any tips?

    • Hi Casandra,
      Great question. I am going to use your question in my Design Chat series here on the blog and will post ideas and suggestions. I am planning the post to go live on Oct. 12th so stay tuned.

      Shelly

  16. We have a Large sectional sofa. It has been in the same position for 11 years. I like to rearrange things, this is the first time I have not rearranged!! So I divided it… Much to my husband disapproval . I have one complete couch four seats with arms, and tyhgre other part is three seats with a corner. I have them facing each other. I love how it looks! Makes our large living room look cozy, and don’t feel the need to shout to have a conversation. If I could I would attach a picture…. But not sure how on this new device!
    What are your thoughts? Thank you in advance.
    Sheila

    • Hi Sheila,
      Sorry for the delay in getting back to you. I think the layout you described sounds great. I love the idea of seating facing each other because it makes a space feel cozier and more intimate.
      Is there a fireplace in the room that the two pieces are positioned near?
      I’ll address your question in more detail and photos next on the blog so stay tuned?

      Shelly

    • Hi Sheila,
      Just wanted to let you know that your question is being answered in my Design Chat blog post today. I hope the input and tips help.
      Have a great day.
      Shelly

  17. We have a long sectional couch that is floating away from the wall in our living room. Behind it is a 2-story wall of windows. Would you place a console table behind the sofa or up against the window wall? Does the console need to be the entire length of the sectional? It’s pretty long, so would you do multiple console tables? I was thinking of putting stools underneath it for extra seating and people would still be facing the TV/fireplace, just sitting behind the couch. It’s about 5′ between the back of the sectional and the wall of windows, and it’s wasted space right now – any other ideas on how we could style it and make it more usable?

    • Hi Ann,
      I am going to answer you question in a blog post on Monday so check back on the blog. I’ll have lots of suggestions for you.
      Have a great 4th.
      Shelly

  18. Thank you so much! We have a leather sectional and it’s been a challenge to me. I’ve wanted the room to feel more feminine because the leather and the rug my husband chose make it a very masculine room. Your advice has put me on the right path. Thank you!

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