My Search for the Perfect Sofa Took a Year—Here’s the Winner (and the Runners-up)

Brown upholstery quickly became a must-have.
living room with mural
Photography by Alyssa Clough

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My living room refresh felt destined from the start. When I moved into my Brooklyn apartment in March 2019, I was determined to have a conversation sofa setup, where two couches face each other. After five years of living in Manhattan, I finally had enough room for more than a love seat. The only problem was, I couldn’t find a suitable second sofa to face the one I already had, a reliable and super-comfortable gray three-seater from Article. So for two years, I settled on a mint-colored Chiclet reproduction from Industry West that worked in the space but wasn’t 100 percent perfect. 

I was grateful for my safe, sunny living room during the pandemic, but after sitting in the same space with the same view surrounded by the same almost perfect furniture arrangement, I made the choice to switch it up. I wanted friends to be able to pile onto one ginormous sectional, and was also ready for a more cohesive color palette to complement two living room design decisions I very much do not regret: a multicolored mural painted by a friend and my custom coffee table.

The decision to rework the space was an easy one, but actually picking a new sofa? Certainly not. It took me one full calendar year to decide. I was working at a major furniture retailer at the time and have always believed in the paradox of choice when it came to decorating my own home, that being exposed to limitless possibilities (in this case, sofas) meant it was harder, not easier, to choose. Keep reading to get familiar with the top contenders, why they ended up on the reject list and not in my apartment, and how I feel about the winner today.

West Elm Harmony Sectional 

I went back and forth on a few West Elm styles, some more modern, others more plush. This one ended up being my preferred shape, even though I had previously sworn off sectionals. I used the early months to narrow down essentials like size, a new layout, and color palette. West Elm was a great place to start because it has so many silhouettes and upholstery options. It soon became clear that I was gravitating toward a more mature, neutral palette and decided to pursue a search solely for brown sectionals, considering jute, camel, and yellow rugs. My West Elm pick was put on the back burner as I began to further scour the Internet. 

Rejected for: Casual silhouette and large size.

CB2 Perimeter Sofa in Luca Espresso

I’ve always been a fan of CB2’s trendier shapes. I didn’t want any sofa, I wanted a unique sofa. But where CB2 gained points for shape, it fell short in fabric options. The only brown upholstery available was velvet, which felt a touch glam for the vibe I was looking to achieve. The exact sectional I was considering wasn’t available anymore, but I also fell deeply in love with its Perimeter sofa, enough to consider ditching my sectional plans (a big deal). If I was conducting my search today, I definitely would have considered the Chale 4-piece sectional and Terrain 5-piece sectional, too.

Rejected for: Lack of upholstery options.

Interior Define Lukas 3-Seat Bumper Sectional

I have an Interior Define pull-out sofa in my guest bedroom that I adore. It was ordered and delivered in the thick of the pandemic with friendly and frequent emails updating me on the status of the custom-made sofa, which created deep brand trust. The brand had just opened a store in my neighborhood, so of course I went to scout the options. And though most of my stipulations mentioned here include color and style, the most important factor when buying a sofa to me is how comfortable it is. I love to sit cross-legged and generally prefer to be horizontal while relaxing at home. This Interior Define design checked all my boxes, visually and physically. I was even willing to overlook the velvet upholstery! Then…after I got multiple quotes from my design expert at the company and had even typed my credit card information into the checkout page, I pulled the plug, not wanting to wait the 25-week delivery ETA. Just weeks later, it became clear customers were struggling to have their orders fulfilled, so I was extra-relieved I didn’t hit “buy.”

Rejected for: Wait time.

Secondhand From Kaiyo

It was at around the nine-month mark that I started to feel desperate. I love vintage but tend to buy storage pieces and various accessories, not sofas that require a full upholstery job and multiple delivery orchestrations. The thought of making another decision on fabric already felt like too much, but I indulged myself in an evening scroll on Kaiyo anyway. What I found was a wide selection of very cool silhouettes that made me question why anyone buys anything new. Ultimately, I knew I didn’t have the bandwidth to take on an upholstery project, so it was onto the next! 

Rejected for: Too much DIY required.

The Winner: Hem Palo Sectional

To recap, I wanted a sofa that could help make my living room feel more grounded and grown-up, which included a modern, low profile and brown upholstery that was also low-maintenance. It had to be deep and comfortable, and I didn’t want to wait 1 million years for it to arrive. I don’t remember how I finally found the Palo sectional by Hem, but I do remember immediately making an appointment to stop by the brand’s showroom in SoHo to see and sit.

The fabric was different than any I had encountered—a mix of 70 percent virgin wool and 30 percent viscose that wasn’t supersoft to the touch but durable and the exact color I had been imagining in my head. I fell hard for the exposed bar detail and modular design. It was firmer than any of the other contenders, but the shape was incredible, and it was the ideal length. The price was in the right range, and it even had a design element not on my list: an open chaise on the right side that made the expanded footprint of my living room feel more open. I purchased it 48 hours later, and it was assembled in my living room in less than a month. I paired it with a solid Nordic Knots Grand rug in chestnut, a decision made in the span of a few hours.

brown sectional
Photography by Alyssa Clough | The Hem Palo sectional in my apartment.

Would I recommend spending a whole year deciding on a piece of furniture? Absolutely not. Do I appreciate my new living room every single day? Yes. Did I question everything when Sarah Ellison dropped her chocolate Float sectional days before mine was delivered? Obviously, yes. But in a world of fast furniture and instantaneous deliveries, I’m glad that I gave myself the time and space to invest in the right piece of furniture that I intend to keep for years to come. 

Alyssa Clough


Alyssa is a Brooklyn-based maximalist and vintage addict who is always on the hunt for something—a new piece of collage art, more plant babies, yet another ceramic vessel, you get the picture. Obsessions include bold accent walls, living a sustainable, eco-friendly lifestyle, and supporting female artists and makers. Find her on Instagram ignoring her phone’s screen time alerts.