Seven Steps to Designing a Custom Sofa

by Alden Miller | August 11, 2015 | Design Lab, Noe Valley - An Urban Edwardian
Custom Sofa Designed by Alden Miller

Custom Sofa Designed by Alden Miller

Recently I have been working on a family room in Tiburon that’s awash with lovely neutral tones (when working with neutrals, it is especially important to have the fabric glow against the area rug or you run the risk of the whole room looking dead). After exhausting retail options, my client and I decided to explore the option of a custom sofa to act as the centerpoint for the room. I realized many homeowners haven’t experienced the process before, and an understanding of the steps would be helpful.

Creating custom furniture is not a simple task, but I’ve found the investment in designing custom sofas always pays off. There are many factors to consider when dreaming up the “perfect sofa.” Along with complimenting the space and the client’s aesthetic, I have to take into account the proportion of the furniture for the room and if it fits the client. The sofa should be upholstered in a fabric that is not only interesting, but also wears well. Here are the seven steps of what to expect when working with me to design a custom sofa.





Concept Image for Sofa

Concept Image for Sofa

Step 1 – Test It Out

I like to bring my clients to a couple retail stores to give them a chance to sample different options. Not only can I get a sense of what they are aesthetically attracted to, but I can also look for how deep they like their sofa seat and their preference on the softness of the sofa back and cushions. I ask questions about how they plan to use their sofa (for example, conversational sitting or climbing in with a blanket and a good book). I find out about allergies and environmental concerns, and I look to see if they prefer loose back or tight back sofas.

But don’t expect to find all these details in a single piece. In some cases, the ‘look’ my client likes is completely opposite to what is most comfortable on the market. This is a perfect scenario for designing a custom sofa – I can give the client the details they want without sacrificing comfort.

Step 2: Basic Outline

After determining the sofa specifications, I draw a basic hard outline including frame dimensions. This gives us a starting point to determine pricing and make further adjustments.


Step 3: Determine Details

Once the client approves the basic outline and fabrication cost, I go back in and add the details that make the design come to life, including concept images and a hand sketch that details the true sofa design.


Step 4: Building Begins

The initial fabrication process begins with the construction of the sofa frame and spring work, then the sofa structure gets partially upholstered in muslin. Check out Design Sponge‘s post all about upholstering your own chair.

Step 5: First Feel

When the basic shape is in place, I then bring the client in to do a sit test, where we confirm the firmness of the cushions, the seat depth, the height of the seat in relationship to the arm, and adjust as needed. This ensures that sofa feels absolutely fabulous and exactly what the client envisioned once it’s complete.

Step 6: Upholster It

Once the client has approved the sofa’s structure, it’s time to meet with the upholsterer and discuss seeming and other detail questions that have come up. I find that during this step I often get inspiration for added details and really tighten up the design.


Lucarini Upholstery SF does a wonderful and detailed job!


Step 7: Done!

A “perfect sofa” is complete and delivered to the client.

Finished product!

Finished product!