Sofa Secrets: How to Choose the Right Sofa Back

Discover the best back height, cushion style and fill for your needs

The Stated Home, original photo on Houzz

Understanding the various details of a sofa will help you pick a style that’s both comfortable and well-suited to your design. Whether it’s finding the correct sofa back height for your needs, the style of cushion to blend with your decor or the right cushion fill for lumbar support, we’ve got you covered. Here’s the lowdown on selecting the right sofa back.

Find the Right Sofa for Your Sitting Room

How Will You Use Your Sofa?

The inside back height, which is the height from the top of the seat cushion to the top of the back, can have a big impact on how comfortable a sofa feels to you. Therefore, it’s important to consider what you’ll be using your sofa for before you select it.

A sofa with a taller back (where the inside back height is 18 inches or more) provides a spot to rest your head when you’re sitting. This is beneficial if you’re the kind of person who likes to lounge back while watching TV or reading.


Rachel Reider Interiors, original photo on Houzz

If you prefer to lie down on your sofa and rest your head against the arm, then you don’t need to worry as much about back height. You can just focus on what style looks best in the room.

Back height is also less important for sofas that will live in more formal settings, where lounging and comfort is less of a concern.


The Stated Home, original photo on Houzz

Overall back height, which is the distance from the floor to the top of the back cushions, can be important when considering how the sofa will look in the room. For example, if you have windows or other architectural details to work around, a sofa with a tall overall back height may not be ideal.


Koch Architects, Inc. Joanne Koch, original photo on Houzz

In a room with a wall of windows, a sofa with a taller back might block the view. A streamlined sofa with a lower back height is the best choice here.

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What Type of Cushion is Right for You?

The next thing to consider is the kind of back cushion for your sofa. There are three different types: tight back, cushion back and loose back. Each has its pros and cons.


Traditional Living Room, original photo on Houzz

Tight Back Cushions 

With a tight back cushion, the back cushion is completely integrated into the sofa back. It generally provides a firmer feel, no plumping or fluffing of the back cushions is needed, and it always looks neat. This is the most supportive style. (Adding lumbar pillows, as seen here, can provide even more support.)

There are various options with a tight back sofa, such as tufting or ribbing. Thanks to their clean, tailored lines, tight back sofas lend themselves to a more formal look.

Cushion Back Cushions

The next style, cushion back, is probably the most common type of sofa back. Cushions are cut to fit the sofa perfectly, creating a softer spot to lean against.


Niche Interiors, original photo on Houzz

Design-wise, cushion back sofas are versatile. They can look either casual or formal depending on the style of the sofa and the look of the room. This space features a more casual version of a cushion back sofa.

This cushion back sofa, on the other hand, looks more formal thanks to its contrasting welt and exposed legs.


Boscolo Interior Design, original photo on Houzz

Loose Back Cushions

The third style of back cushion is loose or scatter back. In this style, the back of the sofa is covered in many large throw pillows. They cover the back of the sofa completely but aren’t cut to fit perfectly in place. This style has a definite casual vibe.

A loose back sofa does provide a comfy spot to nestle into, but it's also the least supportive back cushion style.


Terracotta Design Build, original photo on Houzz

What Type of Cushion Fill Is Right for You?

The style of back cushion isn’t the only decision you have to make. You also need to consider what you want the cushions to be filled with. You can go with down, fiber or a combination of both.

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Down-Filled Cushions

The softest cushion fill is 100 percent down. Down-filled back cushions allow you to sink back into them. As a result, they aren’t all that supportive. The other downside (pun intended) is that they require frequent fluffing since they show any indentation left by a user.

Fiber-Filled Cushions

Fiber-filled back cushions are still soft, but they’re more supportive than those filled completely with down. They also require less fluffing (but should still be rotated so they wear evenly). They’re also a great alternative for people allergic to down.

Combination-Filled Cushions

Want the best of both worlds? Some manufacturers offer a combination of fiber and down. This option is more supportive than 100 percent down and softer than all fiber. Just know that the cushions will still require frequent fluffing.


Categories: Architecture and Interiors

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