A Guide to The English Roll Arm Sofa. My next Sofa!

This sofa is recommended by more interior designers than any other.  It’s also what many designers use in their own home (or so it was said somewhere on the Internet.)  The English Roll Arm sofa. Here’s why I’ve also chosen it as my next living room sofa.

 

The first sofa I ever liked was an English Roll Arm sofa.  I didn’t know it was called that and I didn’t buy it but it was the first one I remember liking.

I didn’t buy it as my first sofa because I thought it was too country for me. That was before I realized I really like country. It was also before I realized that the English Roll Arm sofa is more casual classic than it is country. But I probably saw it upholstered in a floral chintz and immediately deemed it Kountry. With a K.  Which is worse than regular country.

I’m now 20 years into my sofa buying years and ready to purchase the 3rd sofa of my lifetime. If you’re keeping track, your third sofa purchase usually takes place around the same time as your first blood pressure monitor purchase.

Handy.

I assumed when I decided on getting an English Roll Arm sofa my decision had been made.  I just had to order one and make sure they sprayed on some of that Scotchgard-like stuff so the fabric wouldn’t stain if I happened to accidentally dissect a chicken on it.

I was so very, very wrong.

English roll arm sofas like the one above (from the home of former J Crew President, Jenna Lyons) all look the same at first glance but all have subtle differences.  Like noses.

Which is not to say that certain English roll arm sofas have noses, I mean of course that noses are essentially the same but different. 

 

If you look at 10 English roll arm sofas they’ll all be a bit different.

The English Roll Arm Sofa

 

    • The English roll arm sofa became popular in the 1800’s.  – O.K. If it’s been around that long chances are I won’t get bored with it.
    • It’s characterized by a slightly sloped, tight back, low curved arms and a curved bottom frame to echo the curve of the arms.  The seat cushion is a “T” cushion which makes the sofa feel and look a bit smaller than it actually is.
    • Modern versions of the English roll arm sofa might have loose cushions on the back and straighter arms and sides.
    • The style was made popular by furniture designer George Smith and the company still makes it.  They call it the Standard Arm Signature Sofa.  It starts at around $14,000.

Right.

So I won’t be going original then. I go directly into bad body odour smell when my cat throws up on my $1,000 sofa let alone a $14,000 one. My nerves couldn’t take it.

I will have to pick one that comes as close to the original as I can find.

Again, this is a look at an original George Smith sofa with a tight back, down cushions, curved arms and curved sides.

The Standard

 

I should mention this style is also used for chairs – fit for a Queen. If you’re going for an English look, this is the couch you want.

When looking for something outrageously overpriced and stunningly beautiful head to Restoration Hardware.

Their version of the English roll arm sofa is chunkier than the original in the arms and also has a loose cushion back.  It’s not what I want.

Excellent.  I dodged a bullet made of money that I don’t have there.


So I headed to the opposite end of the retail furniture scale –  Ikea.

Their version looks like a regular couch that they put pleated arm sleeves on.  The back is loose cushions, the sides and arms are straight.  No.  This is not my couch.


Enter a couch designed by a former television colleague of mine – interior designer Jane Lockhart.

If it weren’t for the loose cushions on the back, this would be my couch.  The arms and sides are right plus I like the turned legs.


The Rose Sofa, a collaboration between The Everygirl and Interior Define is pretty perfect.

 

Design wise it’s as close to the original as I could ever want.  But it’s in America so I can’t sit on it.  The proportions are exactly what I need and there are a fair amount of colours to choose from.  What I don’t like is you can’t seem to choose what type of foam/filling you want. I definitely want foam cushions surrounded by down.  There is no room for negotiation on this point.


 

Hello Pottery Barn! What do you have to offer?

A pretty good looking couch with a tightback,  caster legs that I love, a fair amount of curve to the arm but no curve on the bottom. Plus it looks a bit stiff. Does it look a bit stiff to you?


 

O.K. the offering from Cococo Home (short for Comfortable Couch Company) actually has the word comfortable in its name. That has to mean something.

But Cococo Home is an American company. They will ship to Canada but I’m the kind of brave that will eat corn fungus or rip up a floor on a whim. I’m not the kind of brave that will order a couch without ever having seen it in real life or at on it.  That’s just crazy talk. I think.  Is it?  I used to think putting cilantro on anything was crazy talk too but now I love it.

At this point I’m getting confused, a bit tired and very definitely have elevated blood pressure. I know. I checked.


This brings me to what looks to be very authentic representation of George Smith’s English roll arm sofa.  It’s made by Roger & Chris and what makes it so remarkable is the amount of options you have. The sofa has 10 different lengths, 9 different leg options, 6 different nail head options and 1073 fabrics or leathers to pick from.

Also it’s only 40″ deep. Most of these roll arm sofas are between 41′ and 43″ deep. Lee Industries makes a beautiful English roll arm but it’s 42″ deep.  That’s actually this sofa’s thing – being a sofa that’s so huge and deep you can tuck your legs up under yourself and still have enough room at the front of the sofa for chicken dissection.

After my International search I may, MAY have found what I’m looking for at a Canadian furniture manufacturer that’s in Toronto, just 45 minutes from house.

Strap on that blood pressure cuff.  Now I have to pick a colour.

 

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69 Comments

  1. TucsonPatty says:

    Holy Moly, do you ever have the patience and the fortitude and the spread sheet memory. That is why I have a second hand couch that was conveniently for sale just a block away when I needed it. Cannot pay attention to that many facts. It took me about 15 years to figure out a new car. It will be gorgeous, I’m positive!

  2. Gayle M says:

    Count yourself lucky. You dodged a second bullet when you zipped past Pottery Barnes sofa. I got two slip covered love seats, I change them with the seasons. Three years old and they needed new cushions. It’s just hubby and me, so I’m not pleased. Saved up two Joann’s craft store coupons and got two pieces 2 yard of 5 inch high density foam, 60% off–cuz there was nooooooo way I was going to pay the $75/yard for them to fix the cushions. Still not happy–now the back cushions are drooping. AAAAND, their delivery and customer service sucks. Waited 6 wks beyond delivery date only to have them arrive with huge tears in them., so 6 weeks later they were supposed to arrive. Ordered them originally 1st week in September, and they finally got my order completely delivered in time for Easter in March (The side tables came without the glass inserts. They said they would get us the glass. Two weeks later another glass-less table arrived…) So, count your blessings you found a great sofa elsewhere.

    • Karen says:

      Yikes!! ~ karen

      • Sandra Stevenson says:

        I was very interested in your recent sofa search post, Karen. Just wondering with respect to your Roger and Chris choice if there is a specific store that sells the sofa in Toronto that you were referring to. I was confused when you mentioned a Canadian furniture manufacturer as it seems Roger and Chris are making furniture in North Carolina?? I like the design and profile of the sofa, but like you, would like to feel the sit comfort. Can you offer any more info?

        • Karen says:

          Hi Sandra. No, Roger and Chris was my favourite that I found in premade sofas, but there is a company in Toronto (Silva) that will custom make sofas, but not for the public. You have to use an interior decorator/designer to access them. ~ karen!

  3. That Roger + Chris sofa is yummylicious in that gray/blue/green on it in the picture.

  4. Mary Edmondson says:

    Karen – your Roger & Chris choice is the best of the lot by a long shot. But now your fans have to know your choice of fabric and color. Or is it to be a surprise and you will make us wait till the final reveal? You really need to have a contest to make us all guess, & then reward the winner with a prize of your choosing. Put me down for a sturdy cotton twill in a taupe shade, which can be accessorized with throw pillows of other colors and textures of your choice.

    • Karen says:

      I’m not holding out on you, lol. I have no idea what colour I’d choose at this point! That decisions outta take a year or so, lol. ~ karen!

  5. Tina says:

    I like the Roger&Chris and the Cococo but the Pottery Barn’s sofa had useless arms. They aren’t high enough to rest your forearms on and there’s no gradient so you can’t lounge in the corner of the sofa. Just my opinion.

    • Jan in Waterdown says:

      You’re absolutely right, Tina, about the arms… the proportions are all wrong. And the back pillows are just rectangular, not properly fitted and contoured to the top of the arms. The Ikea version looks much better. I know that because my niece bought the loveseat in grey and it looks pretty darned good for the price!

  6. Georgia girl says:

    OMG it is perrfect!

  7. JulieD says:

    That’s my favorite kind of sofa, and it’s on the docket to be purchased in about 2 years. Tight back, and one seat cushion for me, in some iteration of blue-green. I had planned on Lee Industries, but thanks for the heads up on Roger & Chris. I’ll look into them too! I’m really looking forward to seeing how your living room progresses.

  8. Lynda says:

    Good choice on the sofa. Now please choose a teal velvet, because I was too chicken to on my recent purchase.

  9. lisaMC says:

    Here goes…..find a three cushion. You have enough company/family and entertain enough that a two cushion, no matter how pretty, becomes an issue. I have vowed to never get a two cushion sofa again. It took forever to find my huge two cushion rolled arm down cushioned sofa and I loved it with a borderline unhealthy love –until we had the need for more than two people to sit on it. NO ONE wants to sit in the crack. Except my one weirdo relative who likes how it feels (which is an entirely different story for an entirely different post response) and believes in eating every crumbly thing served exclusively on the sofa, without a plate and sitting in the crack. Luckily, I have a dog who then snuffles her way into the crack between the cushions to snack without actually disobeying and getting ON the sofa. What a smart disgusting creature.
    But as usual, I digress.
    So, you will probably ignore me as it seems you are in love, and sister, I’ve been there. But don’t say you weren’t warned when YOU are the one swallowed by the crack. Sofa cushion crack.

  10. leisa says:

    I have two pale blue roll arms by Robin Bruce. I opted for the cushion back for comfort and mine have a removeable slip cover. I love them, super comfy. I think they go with everything including contemporary pieces.

  11. Cheryl Young says:

    We lived without a couch for 20 years, not finding just the right one. I have a chair fixation and constantly had multiple chairs for people to sit on but no couch.
    One random Sunday last summer, I was browsing a Facebook sell group and suggested to my husband that we check out this couch for sale on our way to the beach.
    Turned out it was ‘not’ on the way to the beach, was a (new) couch in charcoal grey, modern style with solid back cushions with buttons, and was stupidly cheap. Oh and it was sitting in a barn!
    Needless to say, we paid the man his $250, strapped the couch to the roof racks and slowly drove home. Best $250 I have ever spent! It’s the perfect size, colour and comfort level. Just took 20+yrs to land in our living room!

  12. Joan says:

    Best feature of your new sofa? Its Canadian!

  13. Susan says:

    I do like the Roger & Chris sofa the best but after going to their website it shows they are an American made sofa. Where is their store in Toronto? Or do they also have a factory in Canada?

  14. Gail D. says:

    I just bought a sofa on the internet without trying it OR even asking for a fabric sample. The last part is really crazy. My price range and commitment level was such that I really did not want to spend more necessary for a brick and mortar store.

    The sofa was exactly what I had hoped for except for the color, but the sofa and I now have an understanding: he agrees to be the color I want during the evening and shut up about his blueness during the day.

  15. Gail D. says:

    Oh!! That is Roger from Sell This House!

  16. Mary W says:

    This post shows exactly why your home is filled with things you love. I like how you take us into your decision making process – enlightening.

  17. Carla Covert says:

    You are the most intelligent, practical and helpful person I think I’ve ever met (not). I read your column most everyday and follow you on Instagram. I am from East Liverpool Ohio US. On top of the personality characteristics I listed above, you are HILARIOUS to boot! I think we would have a grand time hanging out so if you ever find yourself in Ohio, consider yourself invited to a free B & B. By the way, I don’t have a B & B but would pretend just for you! Thank you for sharing your adventures for I too am one that would rip up a floor on a whim (even without $ to repair what I find)! Lol 😂 Thanks again!

    • Karen says:

      That’s my worry, lol. That I’ll rip it up and then need $$$$ in repairs or even worse $$$$$$$$ to redo the entire floor! Don’t get my bed ready just yet but I’ll let you know. I like french toast for breakfast. FYI. ~ karen!

    • Cathy Reeves says:

      I’m not that far away in Cbus, so I’m inviting myself over.
      Hell, Karen could tour the whole damned US of A by couch surfing
      with her fans!

  18. Elizabeth says:

    Chicken dissection aside, how do you stop your cats from scratching the corners of your couches? Ours are always “enhanced” with claw marks. Not a good design feature.

    • Karen says:

      I don’t do anything. My cats have always been more of the “I’m going going to tear into this antique flooring” type. ~ karen!

  19. Marilyn Meagher says:

    Grea choice ! I’m drooling over the blush colour. Ok maybe more pink than blush but whatever. It’s so beautiful.

  20. Jane S says:

    Did you notice that the Queen’s green chairs are clearly slipcovered! OMG. My mother slipcovered everything.

  21. Jo Hill says:

    I read just about everything you write but I have to say this is the first time I have to say you have to count me out on the English roll arm sofa. I’ve sat in them, you lean back too far back and no place for my arms. I even went out and searched and bought an Eames chair because of your article. I wanted one for so long, your blog solidified my desire and that I should have one. So it is okay if you should desire to have a chicken dissection on your new sofa . . . just love your sense of humor.

    • Karen says:

      Which is why I wouldn’t buy a sofa from the Internet! I’ll insist on sitting AND laying on whatever sofa I’m considering buying. 🙂 ~ karen!

      • Cathy Reeves says:

        Absolutely, positively couches must be test driven! In fact I lie on mine more than I sit on it. So it has to pass the tv watching position!
        Oh, and bras have to be test driven too. Just sayin’

  22. Tony says:

    You hit the nose on the head with the post (to continue the nose metaphor).

    I have been considering such a sofa for years because my dogs lie on the back cushions, knocking them over or smushing them. I’ve sworn my next sofa will have flat back. But I am wary of two cushion seats. Think a single bench seat might be more modern, but maybe that does look a little odd with such a traditional couch.

    • Karen says:

      I think it would be fine with a traditional sofa. My last sofa (the red velvet one) had a single down cushion on the bottom and it was a very traditional camel back. I wouldn’t rule it out. The only issue with a single cushion is that if you spill or get a stain or tear on the cushion you only have one to flip over! ~ karen

  23. Marcia Milanoski says:

    Buying a new sofa is excruciating! I’ve had 3 in the last year and a half! (3rd one was a keeper) first and WORST was Restoration Hardware…the finished piece was a completely different color than the sample piece which I had to pay $20 for..(seriously, $20 for a fabric sample when you’re spending thousands?) 😳 they ended up refunding me and took it back..2nd sofa was Bernhardt…had one before and loved it, but this time the fabric was just WEIRD…it looked shiny in places like when you iron black pants and they get a weird shine on them..and the shine wouldn’t rub out. ( I suspected the spray on fabric protection they sold me on but they denied it) The sample fabric looked amazing…like mohair, and felt that way too but the finished product was a disaster. They refunded me also…thank God my third choice is a winner…and cost about $2000 less than RH.
    So, moral of the story is the fabric choice is super important once you’ve picked your frame so good luck…with over 1000 to choose from it won’t be easy!

    • KatieC says:

      Marcia, you must be some amazing sorceress, to get TWO places to actually refund you for a custom sofa. I’m in awe!!

    • Karen says:

      I have 3 pairs of Restoration Hardware linen pajamas. EVERY single pair that are all the same size fit completely differently. No consistency whatsoever. I got them on super-sale, but these are $300 pajamas! Even the finishes on them are shoddy. Not impressed with their quality. ~ karen!

      • Marcia Milanoski says:

        Ha! It wasn’t without plenty of stress!
        Trust me, they didn’t want to do it..they sent people out and eventually came to the conclusion that it was defective both times.
        RH eventually admitted they were having quality problems with their fabric supplier.
        Their colors are VERY limited

  24. Kipper says:

    I agree on the roll arm sofa, however am a cheapskate. Ikea Ektorp sofa here. The first one lasted 10years, was 125 from a consignment store, it lasted well with two big dogs and packs of children. Current one was bought from Ikea online, with extra slipcover and looks great after two years.

    • whitequeen96 says:

      OMG, I just bought the Ektorp sofa and loveseat a few months ago. I love them, but IKEAS HAS THE WORST CUSTOMER SERVICE! If you have to call them, the wait time is often over 2 hours, literally! And because they didn’t do what they said, I’ve had to call back several times. I’ve spent 8 hours on the phone, they agree they owe me a $631 credit, but they never send it! I finally emailed corporate H.Q. Grrrrr! Any suggestions?

  25. Melissa D says:

    A single bench cushion is So much more comfy. No cracks to swallow up the unwary— people or crumbs! And much easier to sleep on, if anyone does sleep there.

  26. canadamsel says:

    Perfect choice. I have 2 roll-arm couches (one hides a bed) bought at an artsy furniture store on Yonge Street in Toronto in the mid-80s. They were off-white, with big cabbage roses. After living for too long with partner-mandated neutrals, these were feminine and elegant. I loved them. I had them recovered 10 years ago, but no longer happy with my fabric choice. I plan to have them done again, once I’ve finished my home renovations. They’re great couches.

  27. KatieC says:

    Wait! So, are you saying you found a *different* sofa than any of these pictured here? It sounded like the Roger & Chris was the winner–and it is darn gorgeous!–but you threw me when you said it was manufactured in Canada. WhatEVER, I love this style of sofa. Kind of cute and sophisticated all in one. (Though not cutesy!) But comfort-wise, that tight back concerns me. How do you sink into it while reading? Or dissecting things? Just something to consider.

  28. Heather says:

    I lived in England throughout the ’90’s and while there I purchased a sofa and chair from a home decorating magazine, because all the furniture in the shops around me was either antique and shockingly expensive or new and hideous. The sofa and chair looked gorgeous and comfy in the magazine and they were gorgeous and comfy in real life. There were no on-line reviews in those days, so I guess I was lucky. If you really like one that shippable, perhaps reviews will steer you straight. Good luck! It’s a lovely look!

  29. Margaret K says:

    Hi Karen!
    I love your posts, they always crack me up! I live in Long Island, NY and have a little flock of chickens and a big garden (not nearly as large as yours) but I love all your chicken/garden stories! Your articles help me to be brave and tackle all sorts of projects! I too am shopping for a sofa and find this article very helpful! Hopefully soon I will take the leap! Thanks again for always making me laugh and learn at the same time!
    Margaret

  30. Christine says:

    I just spent two days with my son helping him pick out a sofa. I told him that he’ll know the right one when he sits in it. To me comfort is as important if not more as style. If not comfortable then what’s the use. We finally found the right one at Slumberland – which, by the way, was where I found mine some years ago after days of sitting on sofas in many different stores. I sat on it and said this is it!
    Which is just what my son said – now this is the one!

  31. Amy in StL says:

    Check out Baker furniture. Their sofas are good quality, I’ve had mind for 6 years and have had many friends plop on the sofa. (Why is it that people can’t sit, but prefer to retract their legs and just fall into place?) The cushions are still in great shape and generally it’s affordable.

  32. Oh my gosh, thank you so much for including us in your roundup! We love the English roll arm style and build a ton of them. They’re a great fit for quite a few styles of home and can be tucked into tight spaces without feeling “dinky.” We just posted a video about the profile and why it’s proven so popular here: http://www.rogerandchris.com/questions/258/what-is-an-english-roll-arm-sofa/

    As to the comment above regarding three cushions versus two – which is a topic we talk about a lot – another option would be a bench cushion. More on that here: http://www.rogerandchris.com/questions/261/whats-better-a-bench-or-multiple-cushions/

    • Karen says:

      Seriously, the most COMPLETE online couch site and information I’ve ever seen! Thanks Chris. 🙂 ~ karen!

      • That WAS a great English rolled arm sofa talk Chris! I’ve had my sofa for 18 years it’s a really comfy camel back sofa, but the arms are HUGE, and your points about arm size and space were very helpful! Thanks!

        Thank you too Karen, I love how my camel back sofa looks, because I like the curve, and your informative post has me thinking maybe my next sofa should be an English rolled arm! I am thinking blue velvet! 🙂

        Right now I am focused finally doing my kitchen! 🙂

        • Karen says:

          I know a designer, who used to also be the editor in chief of a large decorating magazine who has had her English Roll arm sofa for over 20 years. It’s a classic. ~ karen!

  33. Linda Weber says:

    I bought 2 of these Steven and Chris (rip) sofas 8 years ago. They look like a modern version of the English roll arm sofa! They are rather deep so that many cushions are needed to sit on comfortzbly and the low arms make it difficult to lie down against but now that you mention curling up, on that makes total sence!!!

  34. Linda Weber says:

    I bought 2 of these Steven and Chris (rip) sofas 8 years ago. They look like a modern version of the English roll arm sofa! They are rather deep so that many cushions are needed to sit on comfortzbly and the low arms make it difficult to lie down against but now that you mention curling up
    on, that makes total sence!!!

  35. Beth says:

    I don’t love the roll arm sofa style (give me a nice high arm every time!), but those Jane Lockhart sofalegs are to die for!

    And I agree with all the other commenters who want you to have 1 or 3 cushions. Unless you’re getting a loveseat, don’t go the 2-cushion route.

    Also, you never explained why you despise loose back cushions? Are you afraid of a big pillow fight?

  36. Amy Watson says:

    You never take my advice but that’s not going to stop me…..I bought my dream sofa 10 years ago, I wanted the foam surrounded by down, couldn’t afford that so I went and bought 4 down pillows and did it myself…10 years later and it’s still perfect….

  37. Caro says:

    Laurel Bern of Laurel Home Blog has written a very informative article about RH – Restoration Hardware. Without a doubt an eye opener.

    • Karen says:

      I just read it! Interesting. I was truly stunned when all my billion dollar pajamas showed up all different sizes and unfinished edges. REALLY glad I made my own Restoration Hardware outdoor furniture and didn’t buy it. I’m guessing I have better quality control than they do. And perhaps just better quality, lol. ~ karen!

  38. Lin N says:

    Ah…memories of buying a couch! I am quite particular on cushion firmness and width of seat. I must have sat on at least 50 before having one custom made at a furniture place years ago. Some I sat on and disappeared into the interior of the couch never to be seen again (too soft), others I felt like ‘Edith Anne’ (Lily Tomlin) in her rocking chair with my feet dangling in the air (too wide). I think the Roger & Chris sofa is the best out of the bunch. Personally, I don’t favour the low arms as I tend to sit along a sofa with my back against the arm. I have a low armed sofa now that I have to stack cushions against for it to be comfortable. My current couch? A purple 3 seat, modern with foam cushions I got from friends…love it…except for the low arms.

  39. Karen says:

    When you mean Canadian furniture manufacturer in Toronto, are you talking Silva? I would love to buy an English roll arm sofa, and as a reader from Ontario, would like to know where you eventually end up sourcing it from, and all of your thoughts about it! I too would like a firm back. I believe that Ethan Allen also carries a nice version. Also, as for colour, Maria Killam always recommends that you choose a favorite colour for your sofa. Good luck!

  40. Barbara says:

    Trying to find the right sofa is a total nightmare. After much research and store hopping I settled on exactly this sofa; the english rolled arm with loose cushions on the back. I went through Swiss Interiors in Oakville and it was custom made by Silva in Toronto. The sofa was $3K which I was thought was quite reasonable given you can pay a ridiculous amount and always uncertain of it’s actual comfort level. Silva deal with the public through certain stores that carry their stuff. I will gladly send a photo if you want to take a look at mine.

    Barb

    • Karen says:

      Thanks Barb! But I’m actually going to take a run to Silva hopefully this week. 🙂 Feel free to send me a photo of your sofa though. Just our of curiosities sake. 🙂 ~ karen!

  41. Carolyn says:

    Hello Karin! Did you know that Silva is having an open to the public, Floor Model sale this weekend? Details are on their website (http://www.silva4home.com/)

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