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Today's sofas combine high style with down-to-earth comfort

Selecting a new sofa is never a cushy job. With so many choices in styles, fabrics, sizes and colors out there, the process can be intimidating -- especially since a sofa so often works as your major piece of upholstery.

"It sets the mood and direction for the rest of the room," said Maryan Celani, an interior designer at Smith & Schulte Furniture, 3144 Orchard Park Road, West Seneca.

That's why, if you're thinking of buying a sofa in the coming months, it helps to stay on top of the trends -- and by trends we do not necessarily mean the must-have color of the moment. Rather, it's more about lifestyle trends: Wanting to build a room around a large-screen TV, for example -- something you may not have dreamed of doing 10 years ago. Or choosing a new sofa after downsizing to smaller digs.

Suddenly, a sleeper sofa makes sense for times when those grandchildren visit.

Whatever the situation, buying a sofa is an investment in both time and money and, unless you can afford to replace or reupholster it regularly, you are going to be planting your posterior on it for a long time.

These days, "it's all about comfort, and how we use our sofas," said Linda Boldt, manager of Arthur's Home Furnishings, 4288 South Buffalo St., Orchard Park.

"People come in and say, 'I'm not sure what kind of sofa I want, but I'll know it when I sit in it,' " she said.

For one thing, people often want a sofa on which they can stretch out.

"Everyone wants to lie down on their sofas, so we are seeing a trend toward smaller arms on sofas. If you only have 89 inches on the wall, and you have big 15-inch arms on your sofa, there isn't enough inner space to lie down," Boldt said.

Talk also focuses on boomer-friendly sofas. Aging boomers do not want a sofa they can get lost in, Boldt said. They want a sofa from which they can easily get in and out.

That means firmer seating and a back with good support.

Technology in the home also comes into play, which is why modern design -- and traditional styles updated with contemporary twists -- appeal to many people.

Modern fits today's lifestyles, with plasma TVs and other technology entering the home, said John Pusateri, of Advance Furniture, 2525 Elmwood Ave., Kenmore.

Style-wise, Pusateri says there is "a softening of modern edges." Designs are less massive, more streamlined and easy to live with.

"The trend is toward clean-lined, no-clutter rooms," Pusateri said.

One modern configuration that fits into this trend is the sofa with chaise. Unlike the huge, boxy wrap-around styles of the past, the sofa-chaise combo not only looks more streamlined but also offers a clear view for all of that new big-screen TV.

Curves, too, are something to watch for in today's sofas.

Unfussy yet feminine styling is a top design trend noted by the American Home Furnishings Alliance, a trade association based in High Point, N.C.

In terms of upholstered pieces -- not just sofas but also chairs, ottomans and recliners -- curves are in.

"Whether it's the slight curve of a home theater sectional or the exaggerated arch of a modern chair, the rounded profiles coming to stores this spring offer an easy way to add personality and flair to any room," said Jackie Hirschhaut, vice president of the AHFA, in a trends report.

Thinking of slipping into something more comfortable in the sofa department? Here are some other trends to watch for as we move into a new year.

* Less matchy, more blending: While we're still seeing sofas, love seats or chairs covered in the same fabric, flip through any design magazine or catalog and you'll see fewer matching sets.

Instead, a sofa may be paired with a love seat or chair in a different pattern, but the key is that they have some connecting link. They enhance rather than mirror each other.

"People are getting braver," said Maryan Celani.

"If you are doing a solid on the sofa, you can take the accent pillow fabric and upholster your love seat or chair. You're also seeing a solid on the bottom, and a pattern in the seat and back cushions," she said.

* Updated traditional: Traditional styles have entered the 21st century. Today's camel-back sofas may have that traditional tight back but a more contemporary tapered leg, for example.

"It streamlines the look -- with no skirt and the tapered leg showing," Celani said.

Similarly you can take a sofa or chair with traditional lines and do it up in a contemporary fabric.

* Fewer love seats: Rather than the love seat/sofa combo, Boldt said that the trend is now toward coordinating a chair-and-a-half and ottoman with your sofa.

Why? Love seats are not so comfortable for two adults, she said.

"Rarely do two adults sit on a love seat, and you never get two guys in one," she said.

A big chair is well-suited toward Mom and a child, Dad and the dog or either adult with a briefcase.

It's also more flexible. You can move the chair and ottoman to a corner and create a nice reading area, she said. The love seat, on its own, can look lost.

* Neutrals: Some people can't resist bright red leather or vintage floral, but neutrals -- creams, taupes, grays, coffee hues, soft greens and even some mineral shades -- are making a scene.

Especially in modern decor, the emphasis is on clean lines and less clutter, and a neutral palette fits right into this.

* Like an eye-catching fashion accessory, throw pillows add the color and pizzazz.


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