Look at your room as a whole
When planning colours, patterns and fabrics for a room, we naturally gravitate towards things that match. But rooms where everything matches too closely often feel one-dimensional and a bit flat. It’s important to have at least one contrasting shade or print that balances the room and brings it to life.
Before you commit to upholstery, consider where in the room you want to make the strongest statement. For example, if there’s a bold wallpaper you want to use, or you’re displaying lots of artworks (as in the white-and-grey home featuring our Madeleine and Olivia chairs, pictured), you might want to keep all your upholstery the same to avoid having too much going on.
Alternatively, if you prefer a smaller dose of pattern, picking out an accent on a sofa or armchair is a good way to add visual interest. It works best when a colour theme links prints and plains, such as in this living room furnished with our Olivia and George sofas and Madeleine occasional chair. The sage-green floral linen on one sofa (our Emma design) chimes really well with the deeper green Isla velvet, and together, they provide enough colour, pattern and texture to lift an otherwise neutral space.
Decide how much colour and pattern you’re prepared to commit to
Choosing upholstery is an important decision, because practically speaking, you’re unlikely to want to change it for a long time.
However, singling out one large piece of furniture to cover in a contrasting colour or pattern needn’t be overpowering. It takes confidence, but can actually result in a simple and liveable colour scheme. For instance, our Teal velvet Lottie sofa gives this white living room one of its two strong themes (the other being the branch-like wall lights and the matching stems in the vase). The Matilda armchair in grey adds a lighter touch – if both sofa and armchair were blue, it would look too heavy – but the teal cushions bring the whole seating arrangement together.
Consider the other textiles in the room
Generally speaking, the stronger the contrast between your sofa and armchairs, the subtler accessories like cushions, throws and rugs need to be. You don’t want everything talking loudly at the same time.
If you’re the kind of person who likes to change things like cushions and throws regularly to freshen up your room, it can be easier to go with plain upholstery throughout. This gives you more freedom to reinvent your colour scheme by adding new accents.
Curtains are another important element. If your sofa and armchair contrast, select one aspect of their design as a focus for the windows – note how the oatmeal-coloured curtains in the living room shown tone with the Emma linen print on one sofa. It looks light and fresh, but if they co-ordinated with the green velvet, the effect would be much cosier. This can be helpful to think about when swapping curtains for the winter or summer.
Another option for adding a contrast to your room is with a footstool. Like armchairs and occasional chairs, they’re an easy way to introduce pattern or colour without making it a big, dominant presence. Take the mustard Arthur footstool in the living room pictured – it lifts an otherwise neutral scheme with a bold accent (note how it echoes the golden tone of the artwork on the mantelpiece, too).
You could also cover a footstool in the same fabric as cushions to create a theme that unites all your seating.
Remember that matching doesn’t have to mean exactly the same
Subtle contrasts are just as effective as dramatic ones. In the off-white living room pictured, the cream Long Island sofa and grey Olivia armchair are an almost exact match in terms of colour, but there are slight variations in texture, which creates more interest than identical fabrics. You could easily change the cushions and throws here without disrupting the room’s calm feel.
A note on the seasons
Another reason you might want to create contrasts with upholstery is to do with the seasons. If you combine, say, a linen sofa with a wool-covered armchair, this mix of textures provides year-round comfort. Lighter upholstery textiles can work just as well on their own, though, and don’t have to feel summery. Just layer cosier cushions and throws on top as the temperature drops.