Skip to main content
Advice for HomeownersDecorating Advice

How to Correctly Mix Furniture Arm Styles

By 01/13/2013January 28th, 201716 Comments

The second apartment that I decorated from top to bottom with a mix of garage sale/flea market finds and furniture that I took with me after my divorce when I was 29 was in downtown Vancouver. OMG is that a run-on sentence or what!

Anyway, my ex-husband and I had decorated in the 80’s forest green trend and I left with  a large upholstered forest green chair (and ottoman) with huge rolled arms, typical of the 80’s. Kind of like this one below (but picture something even bigger, more like a chair and 1/2):

Rolled arm chair


Then when I moved into my apartment, I still needed a sofa so I went out to a local department store and chose a taupe and cream fabric in a leaf texture with a tuxedo style arm and I was happy.

Until it arrived.

And when I arranged them together in an L shape I was totally horrified at how they looked together. Bad. Very bad.

Tuxedo Style Sofa

source (it looked similar to this one)

Although I should say that it’s rare that the oversize furniture of the 80’s works with any classic styles.

Even though it was a custom order, I was just about to take advantage of the very generous return policy they had at the time, however, lucky for me, my designer friend Pat Wickware saved me that weekend.

She came over and re-arranged my furniture, moved the offending green chair to the opposite corner of where my sofa was placed and after a quick shopping trip to antique row for some end tables, it all came together.

That was my very first expensive-mistake design lesson.

When I went out shopping for my sofa, it did not even occur to me that I should consider coordinating the arm style of my existing green chair to my new sofa.

So here are some general guidelines to keep in mind:

Keep traditional arm styles in the same room. 

There are always exceptions to every rule in design but remember my advice in this post. If you are not a professional interior designer, or a super creative, my-house-looks-like-a-designer-lives-here kind of person, stick to the rules for a result you can trust will work out.

Black + Grey


 Here we have two wing chairs with rolled arms and a french style rounded arm.

Rolled arm sofa with contrast piping


You can always repeat the style of the sofa arm to the chairs even if you use different fabrics like in this image above.


The english arm sofa here is paired with two rolled arms which is a very common combination that works very well.

When you choose a sofa with squared (track) arms, keep the ams of the chairs square as well.

Interior Design by Maria Killam


Interior Design by Maria Killam


This loft that I designed has regular track arms on the chairs and the sofa isn’t the same but the lines are contemporary and linear instead of rounded like the traditional styles.

Here’s a couple of images where the rules are broken:

Track arm chairs




This sofa is hard to see on the left but you can see that it has large rounded arms. We might feel differently if we could see the entire room properly but one of the reasons why this works is the arm heights are the same. And the track arms on the chairs are not too skinny.

Seaside living room


Here again we have two small rolled arm chairs with two sofas with square arms. Both have a t-cushion and both are not visually heavy.

Also, interesting about both these images, the chairs are in a highly contrasting dark colour. Maybe that’s the other reason why it seems to work.

However, now that I’ve pointed it out, if you keep looking at other images, you’ll notice that usually contemporary more squared off furniture is organized together and round goes with more traditional looks.

Have you made any style blunders while buying your main furniture pieces?

Related posts:

10 Best Designer Secrets

The Right Chandelier for a Dining Room with a High Ceiling

Round or Rectangle Dining Table: Yay or Nay?

If you would like your home to fill you with happiness every time you walk in, become a client

Download my eBook, How to Choose Paint Colours – It’s All in the Undertones to get my complete step-by-step system on how to get colour to do what you want.

To make sure the undertones in your home are right, get some large samples!

If you would like to learn how to choose colour with confidence, become a True Colour Expert.

73 pins


  • kellie says:

    Hunter green leather sofa set. Since that time I’ve learned to never buy a big piece in a trendy color. I go neutral for the large, expensive pieces and use pillows and accessories for the color trends.

  • Sharon says:

    I bought a rounded arm sofa and chair – that in itself wasn’t so bad – but the height of the arms is what made it a real blunder. Listening to a hubbie that wanted high arms and high back, the rounded (quite rounded by the way) arms were the height of the back. Now it looks like you are in box! I like rounded arms much like the source pictures you show here – they are low and don’t take over the whole look of the sofa and chair! And… I will not buy a matching chair to the sofa again – waste of money!!!

  • Janet Klann says:

    My problem was not arms, but legs! My traditional (expensive) sofa had wings and Queen Anne legs. My 2 side chairs (moderately priced but new) had wings and Queen Anne legs. I found end tables on sale, loved them, brought them home, and they had Queen Anne legs. The whole room was filled with curvy, dancing legs! Almost made me seasick! Moment of genius: exchanged the tables with straight leg tables from my guest room and, when expensive sofa was re-covered, had them trim back the wings. Result is harmonious, not over repetitive. I’m happy.

  • Anna says:

    Maria, Great post! What about mixing a t-cushion sofa with chairs that have standard cushions and vice versa?

  • Charlotte says:

    Timely post as I just ordered our first non-parent-handme-down sofa and have been wondering what kind of chair to buy.
    No major furniture gaffes yet- we just moved into our first house & are going slow.
    Would you consider doing a future post on combining different periods of furniture- like Victorian with casual, 60s with traditional, older primitive antiques with anything – for those of us who have family antiques or vintage items and want to incorporate them with more current pieces? I’m now facing this problem & just don’t know how to mix old & new without creating a disaster!

  • Lauren Tyson says:

    My first sofa was 1977. In-laws gave us $1,000 for a wedding gift and we bought a dark brown velvet tuxedo style sofa. It was gorgeous! No mistake there except selling it. Second sofa was 1985, contemporary styling, white! Stepson still hasn’t gotten over how we watched him like a hawk while he was on it. Third sofa in 1994 was custom-made, sage green sectional. “Coulda bought a new car for what we paid,” my hubby would tell people! Next in 2008 was a lazy boy sectional, rust colored chenille print; just sold it. Wish we hadn’t gotten a print, might’ve still had it. It held up very well. We have leather now, traditional styling and very happy.

  • K Jame says:

    If the couch has legs, should the accent chairs have skirts and vice versa? Or is there a rule for matching the bottoms of furniture like there is for the arms on furniture?

    • Maria Killam says:

      Yes but it’s not a short answer. If you have enough legs it’s nice to add a skirt but in a more modern space you wouldn’t have skirts at all. Maria

  • Donna Frasca says:

    I want a brown leather sofa and love seat for my LR – it’s next on my list!

  • Terry says:

    My comment doesn’t have to do with furniture, but undertones. In the picture above with the stone fireplace (third picture), the fireplace looks to have pinkish undertones, and the chairs and walls are yellow. Am I seeing this correctly?

    • Maria Killam says:

      I would say it’s got yellow beige, butterscotch, taupe and some pink beige in there too! Lots going on!

  • Always you provide unique ideas and unique posts, thank you

  • delores says:

    I bought 3 piece big arm furniture, i need a coffee table, can i use a glass chrome coffee table with this furniture.

  • Arlene says:

    Have do brown leather sectional and a kilm covered wingback chair I need another chair what do you suggest

    • Maria Killam says:

      Pick a solid colour from the wingback chair! So if the Kilm has mostly red in it, go with a red chair. Hope that helps, Maria

Leave a Reply