Recently, we checked out a nice-looking sofa on sale at Restoration Hardware.  It came in two depths: 37″ deep Classic and the 43″ Luxe. Try sitting on the Luxe and you’ll find you’re listing way back at an awkward angle because the back pillows are too far away to support your back. It’s part of a trend the past several years to make sofas deeper so that they appear more luxurious, as in the photo above. (Hence, Restoration Hardware naming it’s sofa Luxe.)

For us, it’s bad design in the name of the illusion of affluence and style. Here’s our thinking:

Restoration Hardware
Restoration Hardware

The average distance between the bend in your knee to the back of a human torso is roughly 18 to 20 inches, which is what you want the depth of the sitting area of a sofa to be. Any deeper than that moves the backrest too far back to support a normal human back. If you sit all the way back on one of these deep sofas, you often find your legs sticking straight out in a rather awkward and unflattering position (that has something of the same feeling as sitting on a doctor’s examining table). The Luxe sofa’s specs show that the inside seat depth without the back cushion is 35 inches. Even if the back cushion were 10 inches deep (which is doubtful), that would make a 25 inch span, WAY too deep for comfortable sitting.

To avoid this, many people find themselves sitting on the edge of the sofa.

Restoration Hardware
Restoration Hardware

Why have a chic upholstered sofa if you have to sit on the edge of it?

Top image via You Have Been Here Sometime

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24 replies on “Annals of Bad Design: Extra Deep ‘Luxe’ Sofas

  1. The “luxe” sofa may possibly be good for an extra bed in a guest room.

  2. Sally, I agree completely. I would add, however, that it depends how and where you plan to use the sofa. In our TV room, I wanted low, deep seating that would accommodate my tendency towards half laying, half lounging, i.e., utter slothfulness! With neither Restoration’s Luxe nor Classic being in my budget, I improvised with two twin mattresses placed in an L-shape in one corner of the room. My husband built platforms with legs, we slipcovered everything in white duck for a clean unified look. Along the back (against the walls) are foam wedges (also slipcovered) and in front of that plenty of 18″ down pillows, enough that if anybody should want to sit “properly” they can put extra pillows behind them. But most of the time, you will see us nested into place, curled up, feet up and very cozy. That said, that’s in our TV room. The RH sofa is surely being sold as a sofa for reception rooms and I agree, even at nearly 6′ tall, I don’t like to visit somebody and find I have to sit perched on the edge with my (bad) back unsupported.

    Also, not to be pedantic (ok, maybe a little but in support of your facts!) – your analysis says it is for the Luxe but in fact, the numbers you used in your breakdown were for the Classic, which is the 35″ deep one. For the Luxe (43″) you’d need 23-25″ of pillow behind you to sit upright and supported! It’s a bed! Oh, and BTW, my own improvised solution of twin mattresses as deep sectional happily provided us with overflow accommodations when we have more overnight guests than the guest rooms can handle. 🙂 I call that improvising with happy results. 🙂

    Love your posts, as always.
    –RC, Catbird Farm

  3. Also wanted to rally in support of deep sofas for those of us folk who use couches for more than just sitting upright. i love to snuggle up with my back into the corner of the sofa or lean against the arm w my head and lie down….but i want to be able to do that with other(s) on the couch; the only way that is possible is with a deeper sofa. otherwise it’s just a tangle of limbs that don’t fit, and almost having to fight with each other for space for legs and feet on the couch. with a nice deep sofa, everyone fits, and there’s even room for sitters if it’s a long enough sofa. i’ve had narrower sofas, but there just isnt enough room for any more than one person to lie in comfortably. i measured ours and it’s 29″ inches for the depth of the seat cushions to the upholstered back of the sofa, 25″ to the back pillows that come with the couch, and 21″ with the decorative pillows that we added. Deep enough for us snugglers, and still some accommodations for the sitters.

  4. Yeah, of course, the use entirely determines whether these sofas work or not. And I should have clarified that. If it’s for lounging, tv watching, napping then FINE. But for sitting and having a glass of wine and meeting new people, naaah. Extra pillows can be a way to make these deep sofa’s accomplish both purposes, but they have to be the right pillows i.e. the right size and firmness to do that job.

    I LOVE the conversations the Annals of Bad Design ignites.

  5. How nice to have some one that totally gets with the thinking, and even LOOKS at the specs (which blinded me a bit). But you got the gist.

    I really like your formular for your improvised one. It sounds great. I’ve been meaning to post an Ikea sofa I hacked. Seeing that the cushions were way out of proportion, I just bought the frame and had my own pillows made, to give it modern lines and still work as a sofa bed…

  6. The reason I was looking for an extra deep couch is so that me and my husband can comfortably spoon and hold our toddler. Not to appear ‘luxe’.

  7. Makes great sense. I will put that in the hopper. There are ALWAYS other rationale besides the ones I critique, and I appreciate hearing them.

  8. Purchasing a deep sofa was, for me, a terrible mistake. It’s actually a set, with love seat and arm chair, all too deep for 5″5′ me. It works great for my 6 foot friends. I’ve developed back problems as a result of trying to use it, and now have to figure a way to resell it to some taller, longer-legged folk.

  9. I wish I had seen your post a few weeks ago. At 6’3″ tall, I thought a deeper sofa would be perfect for my longer legs. I went with Crate & Barrel’s Axis-II sofa with a 25″ seat depth. But after sitting on it a few times, I realized it’s way too deep and it puts tremendous pressure on my lower back if I try to sit upright. I actually dread sitting on my new couch.

    I guess most people curl up their legs on these deeper sofa (and I’ve noticed my short friends always curling up their legs on sofas of all sizes… now I understand why). I’ve never been much of a curler myself, and I’m having a tough time getting used to it. The solution might be finding the right throw pillow to support my lower back.

  10. Really sorry you didn’t see the post…Most people see these big sofas everywhere and think they must be great. Only a few people I know really like them. Now that you have it, a solution would be to support the back cushion with another cushion, or use good size throw cushions. Small ones don’t do much… Good luck!

  11. Any SOLUTIONS for the too-deep sofa problem? (Other than selling or getting rid of it?) I love the look of our deep rosy coral sofa, really a standout piece below our wall-full of paintings, but it’s uncomfortably deep, as we all agree. Anyone know of a corral-type pillow that would work for the back when we don’t have people over? This bad-design issue for the look of luxe is the same as the too-high mattresses that are a pain to climb over. Or mile-high heels on the clothes front. Designers can be so irritating, into their own chic fantasy. Ok, nuf. Solutions please. And thanks!

  12. Oh, thanks for Sally’s helpful idea of using another back cushion or good-size throw cushions as she put it. Now the trick will be to find the right one(s). Great discussion here!

  13. Yes, the key is to find the right one, but it’s doable. And will make all the difference SAVING your sofa.

  14. I find most chairs and sofas today to be too deep(front edge of seat to back cushion) for proper sitting. So instead of letting my legs just dangle out in front of me, I just slip off my shoes(and sometimes socks) and sit cross-legged, or “Indian style” to use an old term. My feet love the fresh air and my brain gets edification from reading something new I haven’t read before.

    I do this at bookstores that have huge overstuffed reading chairs and at the library too, and for the most part no one bothers me and I can read this way for hours!

  15. I’m a deep couch lover. I don’t think I’ve ever sat on a couch with my feet on the floor.Except when in Mom’s formal livingroom. My husband that is 6’4 like laying side by side watching a good movie on Sundays…so it really is a matter of how you use the piece. As an Interior designer you always have to consider the use of furniture before deciding if it’s bad design or just poor choice for the situation.

  16. As always it’s “whatever works” that does the trick. The simple solution for making those deep couches work for a wider variety of folks is to provide the right kind of additional pillows that allows them to position them so the back is less deep. Easy, though curiously, I know of few people who actually do it.

  17. Dear Sally,

    I went straight to your site for information on couches. I am in need of a new couch and I find myself not even knowing where to start. I don’t live in this country for most of the year, so I’m out of touch. In this conversation about deep couches, I fail so see what the solution is for a cozy couch that’s not too deep, not too stiff, not too big and not too small (says Goldilocks). What frame did you find? And do you contact an upholsterer to make pillows? Are down pillows still a good thing? Thanks for your much appreciated sense of design.

  18. Hi Peggy. Wow, that’s A LOT of questions. I’ve got pictures of the sofa I hacked so will do a post about it and try to answer some. In my wanderings, I keep an eye out for sofa designs, just for the heck of it. Much of what works has to do with both sensibility and life-style. But perhaps I’ll start posting some that I’ve sat in in showrooms (my method for finding a great 5-foot bathtub). Stay tuned!

  19. I think the seat depth is being used to compensate for the bizarre unwillingness to make a properly tall seat back.

    Use a typical chesterfield sofa as an example. The back is barely 15″ tall. I guess the designers attempt to justify it by thinking that the arm rests shouldn’t be too high (but in actuality it would be quite nice to be blissfully cupped by a nice extra tall chesterfield).

    Anyway, with the 15″ back height that is typical in most sofas, you can’t lean your head back. The only way to rest your head is to slump way down (horrible for posture!).

    So the sofas have to be really deep to allow this slumping.

    If designers would pull their heads out of their arses and make a proper 24″+ back then we wouldn’t be in this situation.

  20. “…the bizarre unwillingness to make a properly tall seat back.” is ANOTHER thing I’ve meant to question. Thank you. And your descriptions are spot on ” the sofas have to be really deep to allow this slumping.”

  21. I have become ill and no longer like my bed or my bedroom. My living room is especially large compared with the bedroom, I like it, and I currently spend my time there, including sleeping. My couch is 28 inches seat depth. I want a new couch now with at least a 28 inch seat depth. I can’t find any on the internet. Can you make any suggestions as to where to get these deeper sofas (not Restoration Hardware)? Thanks.

  22. Just to clarify, my couch’s “inside” seat depth is 28 inches. I want at least that depth now.

  23. How often do I have people over to “sit” and talk? Hardly. How often do I like to spoon the dog while my husband spoons me while watching something funny on the television? All the time! Deep sofas have a place and that place is my house. 🙂

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