Inside: Are you sitting comfortably?

Your sofa can be the focal point of your home - or the monster in the living room. It's a purchase that can swallow up great chunks of your decorating budget, so if you don't love it, don't buy it. How do you choose? James Sherwood puts six sofa owners on the couch. Photos: Mykel Nicoloau

Oliver Bennett, journalist, Matthew Hilton sofa, pounds 1,400 in a sale

"My sofa, designed by Matthew Hilton, is a modernist take on the old Knoll sofas. Hilton calls it the Coward. The basic shape, with winged arms, is the same. But instead of decorative tassels, the arms are held by pieces of rope. Before I had an office, I would sit in the Coward, surrounded by my laptop, telephone, and television. In that respect, my sofa operated as a womb-like, technological pod from which I was on-line to my professional, social and entertainment worlds. I certainly didn't want one of those floppy great Fulhamy sofas you disappear into. So I had to save up a bit for something quite unique and modern. The Coward may be a little austere without cushions but I like the contrast of zingy colours: royal blue sofa fabric against red walls."

Louisa Saunders, deputy editor of Real Life (daughter Elsa pictured), Habitat sofa, pounds 599

"I'd always longed for an elegant, pale sofa, but somehow ended up with big, lumpy ones. When we moved house, we finally got a separate, grown- up sitting room and decided to go for it. I chose a three-seater from Habitat for pounds 599. Having just moved, we were stony broke, but I thought this was a bargain. If you have a three-year-old like Elsa and still rashly choose a pale sofa, then you have to be quite cool about it: it's already got chocolatey finger marks on it, but the covers are removable, so what the hell, and Elsa takes off her shoes if she wants a good bounce, bless her. It's big and squashy, but it's not one of those great fat lumps that dwarfs a room. The arms are quite low, streamlined and elegant but you can still stretch out on it."

Martin Waller, managing director, Andrew Martin interiors, Andrew Martin sofa, pounds 3,395

"It is my belief that if you want to sit, you use a chair. If you want to lounge, you choose the sofa. I tend to like simplicity in large pieces of furniture and let the smaller artefacts in the room do the decorative work. My sofa is a three seater in an extremely spare calico fabric. The third cushion in a three-seater is an anathema to me. It's sole purpose is to get in the way. So every three-seater sofa produced at Andrew Martin has two seat cushions. I have piled antique leather and silk cushions on my sofa for maximum decadence. This particular sofa is pounds 1,395 plus the fabric covering (pounds 2,000). You must buy the best sofa you can afford. A good sofa should last for ever."

Andrew Martin Interiors 0171 581 9163

Linda Taylor, author (pictured with daughter Sky), antique sofa, pounds 500

"I have a strange compulsion to buy sofas and have about five in the house at present. I decided I needed a bigger sofa than the ones I already had. So I went to the Criterion auction rooms on Essex Road, heavily pregnant at the time, and staked my sofa out. I was bidding against a cast member of EastEnders and several members of the trade. I finally outbid everyone else at pounds 500. I think it is a Fifties Knoll sofa and have had several people saying they remember the shape from childhood. The fabric is sumptuous faded gold brocade with lush golden twine tassels supporting the arms. It is a vast piece of furniture and big enough to use as a spare bed. A friend later told me that, if I bought it new, my sofa would be priced at around pounds 3,500."

Philippa Lepley, bridal designer, George Smith sofa, pounds 3,000

"I am passionate about George Smith sofas. I have two and bought them both from his New Kings Road shop. Both are feathered, no expense spared and fabulous. I think it is essential for a sofa cushion to be stuffed with feathers and the back is also feathered. The fabric is antique floral, slightly distressed in dusty pinks and cream. What I like about George Smith is that his sofas are pretty without being frilly or chintzy. For example, there are wooden feet to his sofa so there isn't a nasty frilly curtain around the hem. I love tassels and fringes on the cushions; some of which I made myself and others are Victorian petit point."

Nathan Donaldson, trainee solicitor, Highly Sprung sofa, pounds 900

"I constantly have friends staying over at my house, so a sofa bed was essential. A lot of sofa beds are extremely unattractive and functional. They either make a good sofa or a good bed; never both. Choosing a sofa is quite an ordeal, I'll tell you. I went down to Highly Sprung on Tottenham Court Road with my flatmate. It took four hours to agree on the shape, fabric and colour. We even rang friends on the mobile for advice. We spent about pounds 900 on a really big marshmallow of a sofa, stuffed with duck down. The shape looked a bit Art Deco to me. It is a three seater, but seats four comfortably. People gravitate towards the sofa. We eat, sleep and socialise around it. I originally wanted a white sofa but had a panic attack and settled for navy. I think I made the right decision."

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