Form and Function – How I Select Furniture for My Clients

Green velvet sofa

Often I am asked, “But how can I commit to that sofa if I can’t sit on it before I buy it?”. This is a very reasonable question, especially considering what an investment furniture is. But, the reality is, even if you were to walk into a high-end furniture store, it is unlikely they will have the exact sofa you want on the floor for you to test out. This is because most furniture that designers/designer stores carry is highly customizable. Many lines often offer 5 different cushion constructions, in addition to the ability to tweak nearly every measurement of the piece (seat depth, seat to floor height, back height, overall length, etc), if necessary. So, when it comes to purchasing custom furniture, it is critical that you are working with someone who understands not only what will aesthetically work with your space, but also understands how furniture construction translates to what you define as comfortable.

Many of you likely know that I am a Physical Therapist by education, but you may not know that I also have an Assistive Technology Professional (ATP) license. The ATP license, among other things, enables me to fit people for highly customized wheelchairs. My last two years working as a therapist, I practiced exclusively under my ATP license and fit patients for custom wheelchairs. It required detailed evaluation of the individual patient’s postural alignment (or mal-alignment) in sitting, determining whether it was something I needed to correct or accommodate with the wheelchair, and then taking measurements of the patient and translating those to a custom-built chair. Math was not my favorite subject in school, far from it, but I learned to appreciate it doing that job. Below are the measurements I would have to take of a patient during the evaluation.

Sitting human diagram

In addition to those measurements, time was spent talking to the patient about what postures were most/least comfortable to them, and discussing what they loved/hated about their current chair (if they had one). Then, I would take what I learned about my patient and build a chair around their individual needs. Custom wheelchairs are literally bent and welded to the specs that the ATP sends in. We determine seat depth, seat height, back angle, foot rest angle, cushion type and size (of which there are countless options)… I could go on and on.

Wheelchair design angles illustration

When I made the transition to interior design, without even thinking about it, I would interview the client about what they considered to be a comfortable chair/sofa, and ask them to show me their favorite/least favorite pieces (as they related to comfort) that they owned. I would take that information and use it to edit our furniture options. Once I had eliminated pieces that I knew didn’t fit their “comfort profile,” I would begin editing based on aesthetics. If we needed both primary and ancillary pieces, I would make sure the primary pieces (pieces the client would be using most often) met their comfort standards, and then maybe bring in some pieces that weren’t as comfort driven, to use for their ancillary furniture (pieces that were not expected to be sat in for long time periods/frequently). I absolutely still do this, but have now realized the importance of explaining my process for furniture selection to clients. By educating clients on my process, they know that I am not carelessly choosing a sofa based on color or style, but that far more thought and consideration goes into the recommendation. When I present a completed design plan to a client, it truly represents what I feel is best, in terms of comfort and style, for that specific client. When a project is completed, it is of equal importance to me that a client thinks their room is both beautiful and functionally meets their needs.