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Interior Design in Holiday Homes — Sofas

This is the first in a catalogue of thoughts on how to interior design a holiday home. This particular one relates to an aspect of comfort as a direct competitor to style in the selection process! However just to ensure the article has clarity on what “interior design” is, the following definition will help:

the design and coordination of the decorative elements of the interior of a house, apartment, office, or other structural space, including color schemes, fittings, furnishings, and sometimes architectural features.

Design vs Functionality

Have you visited a show home on a new estate, or skimmed interior design magazines and been wowed by the look, the colour, the feel, and the ambience of the home? The space, the clarity, the blends of colours, fabrics, materials, paints and wallpapers all working together to draw you in?

The term “interior design” has been elevated to one where the process requires a talented mix of skills to produce the desired result. This involves the capacity to envision the finished article which many digital tools can assist with these days. It also requires a deep understanding of the space, the furniture, the fixtures and their purpose and use. This is where many interior designers can become unstuck, and may create a beautiful visual space but has many dysfunctional issues which can lead to problems. Interior design needs to address the science of ergonomics too. Although a term usually associated with the workplace, in a broader sense it is an applied science concerned with designing and arranging things people use so that the people and things interact most efficiently and safely.

Holiday homes need careful thought!

This may seem obvious, however, it is worth noting that holiday homes attract a wide variety of guests: ranging in age from 1 to 100, from a size 6 to a size 60, from the healthy to the unhealthy, from the super athlete to the physically challenged. No one person is the same, but there are averages and these are well researched and used in the manufacture of furniture and fittings and any number of accessories. Stepping outside these bounds may result in a beautiful but unusable space!

As an interior designer, how would you address the purchase of a sofa in a holiday home? Would it be based on colour, size and shape and blend with the other elements? Would it be this year’s current flavour of styling or last year’s or be a perennial favourite? I have added some thoughts below to consider and why.

Choosing a sofa for a holiday home!

  1. As mentioned above people come in all shapes and sizes and this needs to be addressed.
  2. No two people sit exactly the same way and will have preferences
  3. Holiday homes are exactly that: “homes for a holiday”, places to relax and take the weight off your feet and chill, enjoy, de-stress and get away from it all. Generally speaking, this means sitting or lying down.
  4. Guests are not always as careful as the actual homeowners and therefore materials and structural elements need consideration, especially as a sofa can be a sizeable investment and does not want to be replaced after a few years of use.

All these are fairly obvious, but dig a bit deeper. There are thousands and thousands of sofa designs all begging for your business and not all are great quality, comfy, long-lasting or ergonomically designed. Not all are suitable for a holiday home.

Holiday rentals (or as our US cousins call it Vacation Rentals) are a business that needs to address the needs of the general public, so in the simplest terms, the sofa is the correct size and shape, is hard-wearing and designed to help guests enjoy their stay IN COMFORT! Add in a sofa that doubles as a bed and the problems multiply! As an example of the rental challenges, the following is a genuine complaint about a holiday home its design and furniture.

“Booked a gorgeous modern home for the weekend, visiting with some old friends. We’re all 50’s, professionals who served together. Upon arriving, it looked to be staged for a sale – not for a comfortable stay.

Everything was white. Bedding, carpet, rugs, towels, wash cloths, etc., except for the furniture. A couch that is clearly for looks because it’s hard as a rock, and some wicker chairs with no cushions. I was afraid to sit anywhere comfy because it was bright white. The front sitting room had nicer furniture, but definitely more for looks than comfort.”


Look at the science

According to research, the average Brit spends 44 days, 0r 1060 hours), or 20 hours and 24 minutes relaxing on the couch per week sitting on the sofa each year. One in four (24%) Brits admit to experiencing back pain at least once a day. It is important to understand the best way to enjoy relaxation time, without damaging the back, neck or shoulders. Holiday home sofas are no different! The graph below shows the age groups (DALYS = disability-adjusted life year) affected most.

To avoid complaints and poor reviews (the death of any holiday home business) sofas need addressing in terms of functionality first! Compare the above numbers to the demographics of Airbnb guests:

  • 80% of guests are between the ages of 25 and 64 and we can see the need to ensure the best seating ergonomics are used as can be witnessed by the complaint below from a certain age demographic, who are also most likely to return to their favourite homes.

“We have had a series of retired and older guests in the last several weeks and suddenly we are getting lots of suggestions about the furniture. The sofa is too hard to get out of. There aren’t enough “recliner type chairs.”  Sofa doesn’t fit enough people. They don’t like the leather.” 

Airbnb community

Sofa anthropometrics & ergonomics

Anthropometrics is “the scientific study of the measurements and proportions of the human body” This is the first step in designing or choosing a living room sofa suitable for a family or guests who may use it.

Anthropometrics uses a percentile range with most furniture being designed to suit everyone from the 5th percentile to the 95th percentile. If you want to read further this is the recognised “Ergonomics and Design reference Guide” with a range that accommodates approximately 90% of the population.”

Sofa MeasurementDimension (Centimetres)Dimension (Inches)
Seat Height40-4515-17
Seat Depth60-7023-28
Armrest Height57-7022-27
Back Height75-8829-34
  • The height of the sofa seating should be such that one’s hips are not below the knees when in a seated position. Also, the knees should be at an angle of 90 degrees.
  • The height of the backrest from the ground should range from 34 to 38 inches so that the user can maintain a correct posture while sitting.
  • The neck comfortably rests on it at this height, so it supports the head as well. If you really don’t want a sofa that allows people to rest their heads comfortably, then it means you will need to start thinking about cushions (that’s another interior design article coming). However ensure that the head should sit in line with the spine as much as possible, even if leaning back and that the headrest or top of the sofa area does not protrude forward.
  • The sofa should have armrests at the height of the elbow.

“It is all well having an aesthetically pleasing product, but if there is no real user value, then the product doesn’t function according to the users’ anthropometrics. Good ergonomic furniture dimensionally fits the majority of the population it is intended for.”

The Furniture Industry Research Association warns

Buying elegant and unusable sofas for your own home is fine, but as part of an income-generating business where reviews and repeat guests are important means, interior designers need to address seating formats as a priority and not just sofas, chairs too! As an example, the sofa below looks elegant and minimalist and may well serve for occasional seating in the right environment, but in a holiday home for families of all ages, the design leaves a lot to be desired, even with cushions!

Interior design

It’s not just the shape

A well-designed sofa provides good support to the body and maximises comfort and comes in various designs but requires internal inspection of its filling and fabrics too!

The filling

Most synthetic fillings are composed of foam. As long as it’s not too hard or too soft (think longevity), it’s low maintenance and supportive – just make sure it doesn’t lose volume over time. If you want a more casual, softer sofa, choose feather (however feather anything in a holiday home will face the occasional guest with allergies) or fibre fillings, but expect to pay more and you’ll need to plump it up often. Increasingly, foam mattresses come with a fibre wrap to give you the best of both worlds by being supportive with a soft and relaxed top layer.  Guests need to be able to comfortably and easily get up from the sofa. Sofas that are too soft will cause strain when the guests need to rise, which can exacerbate back problems. Everyone’s body size and strength are different, so there really is no “ideal fill” for everyone. Read reviews of products before ordering or advising.

What kind of fabric?

You should choose a durable fabric such as cotton, linen, microfiber, leather or wool for your sofa as it will be used frequently. To get a pattern that will stand up to stains, choose a fabric that has been treated to resist stains rather than one that is printed. Keep in mind that fabrics fade in the sun. Get a swatch so you can make sure it goes with the décor of your room and looks just as good in natural daylight as it did under synthetic light.  

What about the springs?

As with mattresses, different types of springs give a mattress a different feel, something that most people don’t realize. Feel the springs through the upholstery to ensure they are strong and close together because if they are flimsy or there aren’t many of them, the sofa will sag over time. Webbing or mesh sofas may not be as comfortable as those with springs.

Sofa summary

DON’T assume that because it looks cool and the colour schemes work and the sofa has elegance written all over it, it will be suitable for a holiday home. It’s very unlikely to be true. If possible, actually try a sofa for your clients, imagine watching an entire box set of Game of Thrones and see how comfy you feel and check the state of the sofa when you get up. Or read reviews on qualified websites.

According to Which Magazine “Style is one of the most important considerations to make when choosing a new sofa”. Almost half (49%) of the 2,900 Which members in their sofa satisfaction survey said that sofa style was important when buying a new sofa. However, durability and comfort with consideration of the wide diversity of guests and their use of a sofa need addressing as THE priority in an interior design context. Next, be sure to invest in great interior design photography.

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