What to Know Before Buying a Sofa

Sofas! Everybody needs ’em. Usually, you don’t buy them frequently, every 5-10 years or so. Sometimes, more years go by if you’re lucky. Unless, you’re me, of course. I buy a sofa at least once a month, sometimes I buy more like 4 in a month! Because I’m an interior designer, I am always hunting for sofas for my clients. I’m constantly keeping an eye out for new places to buy sofas and I’ve found quite a few great stores. So today, I’m going to show you my secret stash of sofas, as well as tips on what to check before you buy, just in case you’re in the market! People are constantly telling me they need to sit on a sofa before they buy it. But, really, you don’t! You just need to know what you like in a sofa and what to look for to get that comfort. And I’m about to dish, ya’ll!

Even if you read this now and buy a new sofa in a couple years, you can always search the blog for this post as a refresher course! Or better yet, head to the contact page and reach out to me for design services. Yep, I’m open for any consultation work you might need and am happy to discuss my fee structure. But first, some tips on buying a sofa!

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Sofa Sizing

If you’re in an apartment, one of the biggest mistakes people make is buying a sofa that’s way too small! When you have a small apartment, you really don’t want all your furniture to be mini too. It just makes it non-functional. Trust me. I design model apartments in large, luxury multi-family housing buildings monthly. You want a nice big sofa or even a sofa with a chaise that can help create a nice comfy zone. If your space is larger, add a lounge chair or two.

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Measure your space and get the biggest sofa you can, while still leaving at least 24″ on either side for accent tables. Yes, you need them on both sides; no, you shouldn’t shove your sofa up to the wall or, even worse, into a corner. Pull it out, let it breathe a little!

The average size for sofas is 84″ long by about 34″ deep and 32″ high. Anything less than 72″ long is really a loveseat, so don’t get mislead by it’s label! I’d say, 6 times out of 10, 84″ is a good fit for your space, but the other 4 times, go bigger! 96″ is still a very standard length. Anything under 100″ is an average sofa length. If you go over 100, it’s usually because you have an awesomely giant space to fill! Or you’re a professional athlete.

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Lead Time

The second thing about buying a sofa you need to know, is that it takes a good long time for a sofa to arrive. Even if you go to the store and look at sofas (unless you’re willing to buy the floor model which is only sometimes possible!) you’re likely to wait eight weeks on average for your sofa to arrive in your home. That’s right, eight weeks, not days, not minutes, not hours, weeks. And that’s on average. Sometimes it can take up to 16 weeks. So if you are getting an apartment, ask to measure for a sofa when or before you sign the lease, don’t wait until you’re in the space unless you have back-up places to sit! Of course, there are definitely some quick-ship options out there, but you often have to compromise on the design to go with one of them. So, when you can, plan ahead!

Components and Styles

There are so many sofa styles out there, how do you possibly choose the right one for your space amongst so many choices?! Well first narrow down your style. Are you traditional? Love a mid-century leg? Want something more subtle and transitional? The kinda gal that likes to make a bold statement? Answering that will help narrow it down from the huge number of styles out there. Then once you have that, what’s the purpose of your sofa? Do you want something lounge and comfortable for curling up your feet to watch TV? Or is this a sofa in a more formal living room, mainly used for sitting upright and chatting with friends.

Tufting

Tufting is something that looks so amazing and adds so much character to your sofa. A tufted, tight back sofa is never going to have the type of loungey feel an unattached cushion does though. Tufting inherantly creates tightness and a firmer feel. If you love a tufted look, but want a more plush feel, consider a tufted cushion rather than a tufted back since this will have more give.

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Sofa Back (Cushions)

Unattached cushions are one of the first areas that a sofa tends to fail as it reaches the end of its life span. The unattached cushions have no support from the internal framework of a sofa and take a huge beating. A tightback sofa, while firmer, tends to have a longer lifespan since the cushions and foam are attached to the frame of the sofa itself. Tight back sofa are also an awesome option for those of us who have pets who like to curl up on the back of the sofa. A loose cushion is damaged by this and will eventually begin to dip down in your pet’s favorite sleeping spot. A tight back sofa remains a lot less effected by this misuse. A semi-attached cushion will toe the middle line between the two, so that’s a good option if you don’t like the look or firmness of a tight back sofa.

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Seat Cushions and Depth

Seat depth is the measurement of a sofa from the edge of the seat to where the seat meets the back of the sofa. The average seat depth of a sofa is about 22″. If you prefer a deep sofa for lounging on and cuddling up next to someone, consider a sofa with a deeper seat. For more upright sofas, you can go with a narrower seat depth. Remember to look at the seat depth, not the overall depth of a sofa as things like slanted backs and rolled backs can be misleading on overall depth.

Seat cushions also fail on a sofa, the softer the cushion, the more likely it is to sooner fail! One of the popular looks right now is a loose bench seat cushion which is a long unattached seat cushion that stretches the entire length of the sofa. Within a few months of purchasing a sofa in this style, you’re going to see the seat cushion start to dip in the center since the foam can not support this kind of length. If you still love this look, consider a tight seat cushion, which while firmer, is supported by the internal sofa frame and will hold up far longer over time.

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Whichever option you choose and important thing to note is maintenance of cushions. You should be flipping any loose cushions weekly to maintain their shape. Yes, that is frequent, do it anyway! This prevents your cushions from wearing unevenly and prevents the favorite seat in the house from looking worn out far before any of the rest of the cushions. If it’s possible to flip your left and right or middle cushions amongst themselves, please do so. Cushions tend to start out at their firmest and get more cushy overtime. Which means if your sofa is feeling just a tad too firm at the start, it’s probably supposed to. Over time cushions will tend to dip in the center. This is normal as the foam breaks down. Rotating and flipping your cushions extends their lifespan.

Arms

Please don’t buy an American Roll Arm sofa. They are those sofas with the HUGE rounded arms with flat fronts that take up a ton of space. They are just not stylistically or practically functional. Turn away! Luckily, there are so many arm options out there and you definitely have tons of room to play. Before going with your preferred arm style, think about your space. Do you have lots of extra room and the circulation needed to go with a bolder thicker arm? Is space a consideration and number of seats a priority? Consider a thinner arm.

Chesterfield style sofas are some of my absolute favorite pieces of furniture out there (the red leather one above is a chesterfield!). They are stunningly gorgeous in leather and in velvets and add so much instant character and interest to a piece. They also have HUGE rolled and tufted arms that take up a ton of space. I would not recommend them in any room where space is a consideration. But if you have the room, they’re gorgeous!

There are lots of options out there with nice skinny arms that are as luxurious looking as a chesterfield and a bit more practical in tighter spaces. Take the English Roll Arm (below) for example, this low, tight arm style is still a traditional look, but allows for plenty of room on the sofa for sitting and room beside the sofa for a side table.

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Sit Test

The third thing about buying a sofa you need to know is how it’s going to feel. People think they need to sit on a sofa before they buy it. You don’t. You just need to know what things to look for and at to get the comfort level you’re looking for. Remember what you learned above about tufting and seat depth. Those are important considerations. Now let’s talk cushion fills. A foam, memory foam, or dacron wrapped foam are going to be your most firm sofa cushion options. A down fill will be your softest most cushy, sink back and watch a movie option. It’s also high maintenance, as to provide the cushy feel, it has minimal support within it and thus needs frequently floofing to maintain its shape. A great inbetweener is the down wrapped cushion, which has a nice give that lets you sink into the sofa while still maintaining the support of a foam cushion that springs back into place when you stand up.

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Fabrics and Finishes

Oh fabrics – a million options – or do you want leather? Leather is going to be a cool material to the touch, it tends to be a bit firmer and often is applied to tufted options. Leather is cozy in many ways, but also can be cold in winter months. Consider the summer too, as sweaty thighs on leather cushions are not ideal in un-air-conditioned spaces. Leather is also a bit slippery, so if you’re looking for a curl your feet up on the sofa setting, make sure your sofa is quite deep as the slidey leather may make it feel less so.

Fabrics vary in so many ways. Color is a whole post in and of itself, so I’m not going to get into that here. I will touch on types, content, and durability instead. Doublerubs are how fabric durability is measured. A fabric with a higher doublerub is more durable. Fabrics are usually measured by the thousand doublerubs and the definition is quite literal. Testing is done to measure doublerubs by literally having a machine rub over the fabric over and over, when the fabric begins to wear and fray, that’s when the doublerub content is measured. Generally for residential, you want a fabric that is at least 30,000 doublerubs. 50,000 is considered a good threshold for commercial settings. Anything lower is usually fine only for pillows or infrequently used settings. Or for those wealthy enough to be okay re-upholstering their furnishings on a frequent basis!

Another thing to consider is fabric content. Polyester, Acrylic, and Wool fabrics tend to be the easiest to clean. Cotton and linen are possible to clean, but tend to be more difficult. Fabrics that are single solid colors are the most likely to show any dirt, so your first choice should always be to find a fabric that is woven from a variety of different colors. Dark fabrics will obviously hide more than light fabrics. Solid fabrics will still always show more than a multi-colored fabric though. By multi-colored, I don’t mean bold patterned either, just simply a fabric that has a variety of colors in it. From a distance, it will probably still look like a solid tone, but up close you can see the variety of tones within the weave.

If you have pets or children or wear jeans with stubby pocket metal pieces, consider the snag factor. Fabrics like velvets and, their more expensive cousin, mohairs will not snag as the fabric sticks up from the back and out, fabrics that are woven, like linens, will get snagged more easily. If your cats like to scratch, look for non-woven or very tightly fabrics. My cats don’t touch the velvet chairs in my house, but are very fond of scratching the teal woven linen fabric on a wingback chair.

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Where to Buy a Sofa

My favorite sofa resources are places that are affordable, great looking, and work in nearly every home. First, there’s Article. I love this online store for it’s endlessly stylish options and amazing pricepoint. I have a special place in my heart for the Leather Alcott sofa which toes the line between mid-century and traditional so perfectly. It comes in three leather colors. I love the Oxblood below, but the Black leather looks equally fantastic. It’s what Chris Loves Julia has in their front reading room as well. I’ve used their pieces in a number of living rooms with lots of success!

Another favorite source of mine is Joybird which specializes in so many mid-century gems, but also throws in a delightful sprinkle of other styles. The vertical channeling on their Chelsea sofa makes my heart sing! And those brass ferrules at the bottom of the leg? Yes please. It comes in a whole slew of fabric options (as do most of Joybird’s selections) so you can really make this sofa fit into your home and style. This is a high quality manufacturer that I’ve even installed in commercial settings.

A lesser know, but equally awesome place to find a sofa is Interior Define. I love them for their customizing abilities. They let you switch up the lengths by the inch on some sofas and nearly every sofa comes in several size options! Perfect for those tighter spaces that just need an exact fit. I adore their Rose by the Everygirl sofa which has the most perfect English vibe (and English roll arms!). I just want to host high tea looking at this piece! I love that Interior Define has such a range of styles too, you can get a very modern look on their site or go more traditional like this sofa. I installed one of their sofas in a freelance project in Oakland for a lovely young family and it’s still holding up well a few years down the line.

The well known West Elm is a favorite place of mine to check out as well. They have good quality for their price point and their range of styles is far better than so many of their competitors and sister companies. They can nail the mid-century look, go contemporary, or hit a slightly more transitional look. Since their stores are scattered all across the USA this is a good pick for those who insist on sitting on their sofas before buying. The Gold Hive has this Rochester Sleeper Sofa in her den and I am seriously considering it for Berrybrier. I love a sleeper sofa for creating a space to squeeze in guests when you don’t have an extra bedroom. The fact that this has a tight back is a huge sell for me since, particularly on a sleeper, this should extend the longevity of the piece. Plus the fact that it has a wooden plinth base means that nothing can get stuck under the sofa and my cat Auggie can’t hide beneath it and then attack my legs!

CB2 is another bigger box store that has lots of affordable options for sofa. They tend to be the more modern, young store compared with their sister, Crate and Barrel and often have some really fun options. Take a look at their new Curvo sofa, a true stunner that would make an amazing statement in any space. I love the blush color, but it also comes in grey. A sofa with this much style works best in a living room where the circulation goes around the sofa so you can check it out from all sides. Shoved against a wall, doesn’t do this sofa any justice.

Wayfair is another great source to find that special sofa. You tend to get what you pay for on this site, so although you can go really cheap, know what you’re paying for. They tend to have mostly what-you-see-is-what-you-get furniture items. Young House Love just launched their furniture line on the site though and since they’re one of my favorite blogs, I immediately kept a close eye on many of their pieces. Their Pivot Sofa makes me giddy for it’s clean, transitional lines and I can’t help but laugh a the name which is a reference to a Friends episode that I can’t help but quote every time I’m moving a piece of furniture around a corner.

Finally, some of the best places to check out are your local stores! Fenton MacLaren in Berkeley sells Rowe which is an awesome CA based upholstery line as well as a number of Amish made furniture lines that allow a lot of customizability. Highly recommend them if you’re looking for pieces in the Bay Area. In Portland, companies like City Home carry lines like Jonathan Louis Furniture which has really well priced upholstery goods as well as vintage furniture. Kuhnhausen’s (also in Portland) carries a local Oregon upholstery manufacturer name Biltwell as well as Rowe Furniture.

So, are you ready to pick out a sofa now that you have these tools? Are you confident enough to buy online now that you know what you’re looking at or do you still think you need to sit on the sofa to try it out first? What’s your favorite piece from the sofas I pulled above? Do you think I should splurge on the West Elm Rochester Sleeper Sofa? Imagine it in a dark green velvet…

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Livin’ It Up In the Living Room

Happy Holidays everyone! Hope you all had a lovely end of December and are looking forward to Thursday’s New Year’s Eve! I had an absolutely lovely Christmas this year. I spent Christmas Eve with my mother’s side and Christmas Day with my father’s side of the family. I truly couldn’t have enjoyed the holidays more than I did. Everything went pretty much perfectly! Hope everyone else was as pleased as I am! And if not, just drown yourself in eggnog and cookies to destress! That’s what the holiday’s are for anyways right? In celebration of the upcoming New Year, I thought I’d share some pictures of the living areas! Today I’m focusing on the befores and the challenges of the living-dining area; I’ll share the kitchen soon I promise!

 

We have a home with an open floor plan so the living room, dining room, and kitchen are all integrated into one L-shaped space. The kitchen is tucked into the shorter part of the L which designates it’s zone as more independent than other open floor plans might. I really like that when I’m in the kitchen there aren’t a ton of people circulating through the space. There are definite challenges to an open floor plan, but the longer I live here, the more I really enjoy it. Yes, when I have a party everyone is everywhere and I can’t hide a single mess (unless it fits into my closet!), but this means if I’m cooking or coordinating with stuff in the oven, I’m not completely isolated from my friends! In fact, today so many more people tend to gather in kitchens. The kitchen is the parlor of today. Everyone hangs out in the kitchen. They’re the new multi-purpose room! If your kitchen is more closed off from the living and dining spaces you can make a complete mess and no one will notice, but you also tend to not be able to socialize while you cook. There are positives and negatives to both for sure.

 

In our house the whole living/dining/kitchen space is a nice white color that is pretty perfect. It’s definitely not a cool white, but it’s not a yellow-y cream either. Our landlords should probably be professional paint color pickers. They always pick the cream of the crop (so pun-y!)! I walked into our house for the first time and didn’t want to paint a single room, which is pretty crazy considering how much I LOVE to paint. Seriously not kidding either. I love painting. I put on some good music and rock out. I get my clothing pretty covered in paint, but I am an expert at painting without using a drop cloth or anything. It’s a handy talent I put to use by basically forcing good friends to let me paint their interiors for them in exchange for tea and pizza. It’s a pretty good trade if you ask me! But anyways, the main areas of our home are white! Now, let’s get to more details, shall we?

 

First, you enter our home through the front door. Look at that gorgeous door! I love that I can see who’s outside without opening the whole thing. It’s such a hunk of a door too. That’s the kind of door all the lady doors inside want to have door babies with. They’re all standing in the hall gossiping about our hottie front door like, “Hey, come in here often?” But the front door isn’t so open to a relationship with all these interior doors. They’re just a bit hard to lock down, you know? I mean literally, though, very few of our interior doors have locks… Maybe I should apologize for subjecting you all to my brain just there. My brain thinks the doors are hitting on each other. It makes total sense in my head, I swear!

 

Wow, I am distracted. Who cares about the scandalous and secret lives of the doors when there are windows?! Next to the front door is a little window. Why? I have no idea, but it does let in a little more light! I’d love to stick a little table for keys, mail, shoes, and purses underneath that window. Right now all that gets dumped on the island. Which means it’s hard to find somewhere to prep food and eat. Minor tasks! Because all of our furniture is ridiculously large, it would need to be the perfect size table, probably custom. Luckily, for Christmas, I got a nice chop saw! So maybe I’ll work on this in the new year. It would be a fun little project and I can already imagine what it would look like… #dreamer

 

Front Door | Land of Laurel

 

Next to the front door is the living area. We’ve squeezed an oversize couch, lounge chair, and love seat into the space. It’s crazy town, but it’s the furniture the three of us had! Most of it isn’t mine, but the large black loveseat does belong to me. It’s a hand-me-down from my Aunt Chrisy who used to keep it in her downstairs television room. Unfortunately the couch is a faux leather that is starting to disintegrate for some reason! Maybe the direct sunlight from these south facing windows is too much for it? Regardless, the loveseat needs some help.

 

This corner of the room is also in desperate need of some art! I have a ton of things I want to frame and last time I was at IKEA I picked up a few of their Ribba frames on sale. So hopefully I’ll get on this soon! Other than that, this area is pretty dang bland looking. It needs some flair, some fun, some cute throw pillows! Right now the pillows are just a chaotic mess of what we three already had and it makes me want to karate chop something. Like a pillow.

 

You can see Malary also has a favorite perch in this room too! She is there in the window literally every. single. time. I get home. It’s pretty adorable. I think it’s perfect for sunbathing during the day. This room gets a crazy amount of light! It’s so wonderful. During the morning the whole space glows and in the afternoon the light just pours in through the windows. It makes you want to curl up in the sun and take a nap. Or go outside and explore. It’s so lovely. Because we have a tall fence , the windows are very private too. You can’t see into the living room from the street or our neighbors’ houses. So, when the boys are gone,  I can dance around in my underwear as much as I want. Which is always. #priorities

 

Living Room Before | Land of Laurel

 

This particular pillow was a gift from one of the manufacturers I use frequently at work — HBF– after I interfaced with them about their new website design. It’s really cute, but the colors do not work for me and my home. Dreaming about how I can switch it up somehow. I wonder if using fabric dye would work…? The light gray color has to dye more quickly than the orange, right? Literally any other color would work. I think this would be the perfect winter project! It’s a contract fabric though, so it might dye weird. Still, worth a try, don’t you think?

 

HBF Pillow | Land of Laurel

 

On the sofa we have three black and white pillows that belong to my roommate. They are kind of old. I’m thinking about donating them back to his room. The black leatherette ones that came with the loveseat are always slipping down on it, so I think I may stick them here on the sofa and try to pair them with some other new ones with more pops of color. Green or rust would work well in the space! I also am totally obsessed with the fuzzy sheep skin ones at IKEA. The last pillow on the sofa is one I bought when I was traveling in Turkey in 2013. I actually bought it for and gifted it to my Oma and then inherited it when she passed away. I have a similar blue and white one somewhere, but it needs a fill. Also, I’m not sure it would work in the space… I may donate it to my parent’s newly renovated family room.

 

Here you can also see the dining area tucked ducked in the back of the room behind the loveseat. It barely fits. It’s kind of an awkward squeeze, but honestly, we almost never use the table! We all eat at the island. I use it to type at occasionally and for dinners when I have people over, but it’s definitely not used each day.

 

Living Room Pillows | Land of Laurel

 

The fact that all our furniture is oversized and we still managed to squeeze it into the room without it looking too ridiculous is a amazing feat. Where is Ripley’s Believe It or Not? They need to put this in their next book. Because I am astounded! We have two bookcases, one oversized sofa, one oversized loveseat, one oversized lounge chair, two 30″ square side tables, a 30″x 48″ coffee table, a full dining room table, and six dining room chairs. I mean, the arms of the living room furniture are all overlapping, but still! Isn’t that crazy?!

 

It definitely seems a tad stuffed in here, but it’s not too bad. There is plenty of room when we have lots of people over! On Christmas Eve my sister, Uncle Scott, and five out of six cousins on my mother’s side came over! It was easy to have us all in the living room around the coffee table. We played some board games, because we’re hella cool like that. And yes, I am from NorCal! And yes, I reserve the right to say hella!

 

Living Spaces | Land of Laurel

 

Our dining area functions as an extension of my library as well… Sorry boys! One of the bookcases is mine and is stuffed to the brim with my books. There is a huge assortment of genres, but I did reserve the top shelf for all of our cookbooks. The other bookcase is filled with my plants, but I actually don’t know which of the boys owns it. It was mostly empty when I moved in. The bookshelves could both use a little extra styling, but they’re not bad. The one on the left in the picture below needs to be tweaked a bit, but the one beneath the TV has color-blocked books which actually looks pretty nice. I want to switch the places of the bookcases, but I’d have to move the TV first. Not that that’s an issue. I really, really, really want to move that TV. It’s the first thing you see when you walk into the house and I hate that!! Who wants to walk into someone’s house and see a huge black box first thing? NO ONE. The TV really should go on the wall opposite. It makes zero sense to have it hovering over the dining room table. I am trying to a) convince the boys of this, b) summon the stamina to move the TV myself, and c) artfully patch and paint the holes it leaves behind. So much for something simple, right? Plus hanging TVs can be dreadfully annoying!

 

The Dining Area Before | Land of Laurel

 

Just to the right of the dining room table, next to our full-height, kitchen pantry cabinet, I have a stool with a plant on it. I may have a plant problem, but shut up, who cares? I love them! This stool is very special to me though. For most of my life, it sat in my Oma’s kitchen just to the left of the double swing door that led into her dining room. I used to sit on this chair while she cooked dinner. Or perch on it to help her bake. I remember her sitting on the stool while teaching me how to beat spätzle batter. It’s a memory of her, this little stool. It’s not particularly nice looking or valuable. In fact, it’s kind of broken. I don’t care at all. I love this stool. It reminds me of my Oma and her kitchen and all the warmth and love she provided in my life.

 

On top of the stool I have a plant in a basket planter from IKEA. This spider plant is one happy girl. It loves having this much room. It’s growing like CrAzY! This plant is also something from my Oma’s house. It used to sit in a much smaller pot hanging in her kitchen window, above her sink. I became obsessed with spider plants when I was little because of this plant. I just love the idea that the regenerate themselves and make a bunch of other little spider plants. I love baby spider plants! They’re adorable. You can see this guy has a whole bunch of them, ready to be plucked off and planted!

 

Kitchen Chair | Land of Laurel

 

 

That’s the living spaces! Function has beat out form and style here, but hopefully with a few tweaks, we’ll get the space looking a bit better. And then with a few more furniture changes and TV moves this space will look pretty dang great! With bones like these, this house can’t really look bad anyways. It’s magical what some architectural details can do, right?

 

What do I have planned for this space? See below. 🙂

 

Living Room To Do List:

  • Get rid of all our furniture and buy all new adorable furnishings. Hahhaha, yeah, right! A girl can dream though…
  • Make/find a small mail/keys table for next to the front door.
  • Cover the black loveseat to hide disintegrating faux leather.
  • Get a handle on all the throws and blankets lying around.
  • Frame and hang art.
  • Dye HBF pillow a fun color? I did find some green fabric dye in my art supplies the other day…
  • Buy new, fun pillows!
  • Return black and white pillows to their owner’s bedroom.
  • Move TV to opposite wall. Will need to coordinate with the boys on this one… I’ll need another set of hands at least!
  • Switch places of bookshelves.
  • Style bookshelves.
  • Do something with the glass coffee and side tables so they look like they belong in here and less like outdoor furniture. I have something cool I picked up on the side of the road for this!

 

So much to do, but I love a good list! What’s your living room like? Pristine and styled? In need of major work? Ready for a few tweaks, but really pretty good? Let me know if you have any ideas for my space!