Decorating Around a Leather Sofa

By Kate Riley May 5, 2013

Hey everyone, it’s the start of a new week! Let’s kick it off with a recent reader submission, an email from Kristin who posed a design dilemma many people (*ahem* ladies) face when decorating their living or family rooms, and today’s focus is on that piece that so many dudes love, the leather sofa or sectional. I received this recent email from Kristin:

“Hello! I have been following your blog for years and I share a lot of the same styles but have a dilemma. My husband and I have a decent size house but one living room with a leather furniture set. I love the airy and clean looks of your decorating style, but the leather furniture purchased by my husband is big, dark, and manly.  We don’t have many windows and the walls are a light beige (Latte by SW) and I decorate with a lot of whites, blacks and beiges but I just feel STUCK! Any suggestions for making the room feel more light and feminine?”

Hi Kristin! This is a common dilemma, since many people own leather sofas and sectionals, and pieces upholstered in a traditional dark hide can feel visually heavy in a space. But I think it’s less about making a room feel more feminine and more about creating a room that is balanced with clever layering and accessorizing since (done right) leather sofas can be both attractive and comfortable. Here are five ideas I came up with to decorate around leather sofas.

1.)  Lighten Up.  A traditional leather sofa is dark by nature so the easiest way to balance that out is to accent and/or surround it with plenty of light for desirable contrast. A paler hue on the walls, soft cream or white accent pillows, and/or a light or white coffee table will accomplish just that!

leather sofa painted hive

The Painted Hive

essex leather west elm

West Elm via Apartment Therapy

leather chesterfield white walls

source unknown

leather sofa colorful rugs sfgirlbybay

SF Girl by Bay


2) Break It Up.  Another way to minimize the visual weight of a set of leather furniture is to break it up. Keep the sofa and find a place for the other pieces. Supplement with upholstered chairs for a chic and collected look instead of a matchy matchy one.

leather sofa upholstere chair

Apartment 34

   leather sofa upholstered chairs

Room & Board


3.) Layer Around It.  A leather sofa sitting all by its lonesome will dominate a space if you let it. So don’t. Take the focus away from leather furniture by layering a room with other furnishings in different finishes from bookcases to console tables to ottomans and end tables. This first image is of two leather chairs and not a sofa, but a great illustration of the technique. Notice how the blue cabinets behind and the striped fabric on the ottoman in front balance the supple leather furniture set in between.

blue cabinets leather chairs bhg

Better Homes & Gardens

Bring in dynamic artwork and living trees. Soften with pale fabrics to add contrast and metallic accents for interesting texture.

leather sectional sean michael design

Sean Michael Design

This image is another example of how to decorate around a dark sofa, even if it’s not leather. The gallery style art, the pale gray walls, and the airy furniture accents combine to balance the visual weight of a dark sofa anchored in the center of the space.

west elm brown sofa

West Elm


4.)  Study Retail Styling. Pottery Barn does an exceptional job of styling leather sofas in a room scene – take a cue from the way retail stylists layer with pillows and throw blankets and then surround it with different furniture and artwork with varying colors and textures.

brooklyn sofa pottery barn

Pottery Barn

pottery barn chesterfield

Pottery Barn

crate and barrel leather sofa

Crate + Barrel


5.) Embrace It.  There are several ways to detract from a big leather sofa, but there is another reason to love it and that is if it brings comfort to your home. Sure there are tricks to minimizing a leather sofa’s bulk and weight, but at the end of the day if the family loves it, then go with it.

leather sofas in family room

The Vintage Modern

Those throw pillows and blankets help but most importantly if your family or loved ones feel nestled and comforted on its cushions, then embrace the purpose it serves. Don’t forget, leather is family friendly and easy to clean!

leather sofa in family room southern living

Southern Living via My Home Ideas

For those of you who live with leather sofas or chairs, how do you accessorize or decorate around it?



  1. Love this! After years lusting after white slipcovered pieces, I finally made peace with my boy-friendly leather furniture. And it works! Difference is in the details. :) Throw an indoor/outdoor rug down on the floor and the kid-friendliness/mom-sanity skyrockets. :-)

  2. I just added turquoise, orange and lime green accents to my room. With those fun colors, I find the brown leather “grounds” the accents in the best way. I am so happy with the way the room turned out.

  3. This comes in perfect timing. We’re in the discussion stage of purchasing some leather furniture. I actually really love it, but I’ve been unsure as to whether or not I’d love my living room with leather in it. I feel like I have more of a direction to go after reading this post. Thanks!

  4. Thanks for all the inspiring photos. I to have a leather sofa and would love to have a slip covered sofa in beige or white. I think the pillows help lighten it up. Now if I could only put my pillows on mine…have to wait till the puppy gets older !

  5. Great topic. I too have leather furniture in my great room, but prefer the light shabby chic style. I will be using some of these tricks definitely!

  6. Great tips and great examples. I love the 2 chair photo with the bookcase and the last example, so inviting! I think in a family room a leather sofa would be perfect for a family with children and pets, I’ve always lusted after the huge leather sofa from Restoration Hardware, it be great for movie nights!!

  7. O, I love love love my twin leather sofas….one of the finest purchases we have ever made.
    Leather looks great, on it’s on or with a FEW pillows. To me, there is not a sofa made that looks as cushy and comfy as leather ones. :)

  8. I am thrilled you talked about leather furniture….for I am going through the same ordeal. We have a dark caramel sectional in our family room (we don’t have a “formal living room per say….we have two family rooms….one on the upper level & another on the lower level of our home). The lowel level has leather as well…but that room is more rustic…with a propane stove & maple wood walls. Yet it is still so warm & inviting.

    In this room with the sectional…we also have dark ceramic tile & a new brick fireplace & stove insert. We need more seating…today I am furniture shopping. And I plan to paint the room a light cream colour. (we have two dachshunds…hence no rugs..although I would love to purchase one to “ground the space. But I love my dogs more than this room….so rugless it is.

    Thank you so much for the wonderful post & ideas….I now have a clearer vision of what my room needs to not feel so “weighted”. Oh yes….and we have mahogany shutters on the large window in the room….so I need to add a softer touch to the space. And will do so with paint and accessories.

    I love your blog!

    • Thanks for the great advice. I too have a lovely leather couch, love seat, club chair etc.using the color wheat,, moss green, and turqouise and black sets it off perfectly. No rugs either because we have doxies. So resilant with a family of six and lots of entertaining.

  9. I just painted a coffee table bright orange to go with my brown leather furniture. It pops in the middle of the room and looks great with the leather. Pillows and throws and we have a wonderful nest!

  10. Until last month, I had leather sofas for nine years. The best part is they still looked new despite three boys and pets. We painted the walls Comfort Gray, a light blue-green, and it really helped lighten up the room. I also piled cream and pale blue pillows/blankets on it and used a light rug. Another thing that helped was to place the sofas across from each other to break up the dark furniture. Now that my kids are getting older and spend most of their time in their game room, we finally bought white slipcovered furniture. I love it, but I would have never bought it if my kids were still little and sat on it regularly because the maintenance would be crazy!

  11. Ohhhhhhh, gosh, I want one!! I have two cats that like to scratch, so I don’t think there will be a leather couch in my future. :(

  12. This is funny because I have a navy leather loveseat my husband bought me as an anniversary gift one year. He would love to get rid of it, – and it does have cat scratch marks on it – but it is my reading haven and I will never let it go! I love the suggestions for decorating around it, though! Thank you!

  13. Great compilation! It’s like one big, beautiful pinterest board, but with commentary and explanations! The only additional option I’d offer up is to recover the seat cushions with a rich, yummy fabric to lighten and add texture to the overly smooth, and sometimes shiny leather surface. Then of course more throw pillows, because in male dominated households (let’s face it, that’s where most leather furniture resides) a girl can never have enough throw pillows.

  14. I love this! We have leather sofas in our family room, purchased largely because my then-infant son was a major spitter-upper and we were at Ikea and they were unbelievably cheap. (It wasn’t till I got them home that I realized that the leather Ektorp sofas, unlike the fabric ones, do not have detachable lower cushions–oops. Fortunately, nothing gross ever got underneath them). The moment we got them home, my heart sank–they felt so heavy and masculine. I do find that lighter colors in the room help lighten up the overall feel. In our case, though, throw pillows (which also helped) just turned out to be too big a pain–they were always sliding off or getting in the kids’ way–so I just keep one in a corner of one couch. In the end, I mainly followed the last bit of advice and embraced them. They are in fact incredibly comfortable and have served our family well, especially when I consider their low price.

  15. You know, I’ve always thought it funny that people say leather is pet friendly, because every family I’ve ever known with dogs or cats and leather has always had scratches and holes in their leather sofa. I wonder if this is common, or just the people and pets I know?
    I’ve never owned a leather sofa, but I love some of these inspiration photos. A lot of great ideas for breaking up the bulk of a sofa no matter what the material!

    • It depends on what type of leather you’ve got. We purchased a beautiful leather couch that was smooth but ‘vintage’ looking…like an old leather, book that’s been handled. 2 kids and a dog later, that thing is scratched up beyond belief! 15 years later, we purchased a leather sectional but picked out our leather and learned that the soft, pebbled textured leather is incredibly resilient. It’s now several years and old and is in fantastic condition still!! I’ve accidentally scratched it and yet it looks new still.

  16. When shopping for a leather sofa pick something that isn’t so clunky and heavy visually. My leather sofa has been a saving grace in a 2 toddler house.

  17. Why is it that the men in our lives think those big bulky leather sofas are a good idea?? lol We got one about two years ago and yes its comfortable and pet friendly but its hard to accessorize. I finally painted the walls a buttery yellow to get away from the cave feeling and added bright pillow that I change out for the seasons… Not my favorite room in the house but its a compromise! So glad to see others struggling! I thought it was just me. Thanks for the inspiration.

  18. …By adding lots of color in the room with textiles. I love my leather couch! I am not a shabby chic kind of person.

  19. We use lots of bright throw pillows and a soothing cool wall color to offset the heavy sofa. Around these parts with little kids and dogs…. the furniture was to work hard. Leather is so easy for my family. For the formal living room, it’s easy for me to say to the kids… You can lounge on the sofa (leather) all you want… barefoot… with shoes…. without.. covered in mud whatever… but the antique chairs are off limits. It’s a great way to make sure the room gets used, and the kids know most of the room is kid friendly with the exception of two chairs.

  20. I love the one by West Elm.
    I really like the wood table with metal legs.

  21. I love our leather sofa! I like to use bright pillows and a red Target throw to soften the edges a bit. Leather can be pet friendly if your animals have a tendency to pee on the furniture (not that I would know anything about that seeing as how there’s currently a cushion on the sectional in our basement that wants to permanently smell like puppy pee…) But if you have cats that like to jump from the back of the sofa to the kitchen island, then beware of scratched leather! Maybe just stick to having either cats or dogs but not both and you’ll be fine. :)

    Here’s my leather sofa decked out with bright paisley pillows:

    • Thanks for sharing Jenna, you’re right about pets! I have two slipper chairs in our master that have little kitty claw marks in some places!

  22. These are beautiful examples, Kate. Great job! One thing I’d like to add is that she can paint the sofa. I attempted painting an upholstered chair with Rustoleum fabric and vinyl spray paint on my blog. It did not do well with upholstery, BUT another blogger used the exact same paint and it did amazing on her leather sofa! It wore well and was not crunchy according to her.

  23. Thanks Julie! Just the project I’ve been meaning to do for my brown leather couch. Cute pillows! :)

  24. I’m planning to buy a new sofa and have never really thought that leather one could be my cup of tea – until now. I have two fairly little dogs and the texture needs to be durable sort so this could be the answer. I’ve always thought leather to be too dark and hulking but the light brown sofa by Pottery Barn made me think the leather option in a new way. Let’s see if the leather is going to be my choise.

  25. Ah! Ha! That’s what I’ve been doing wrong. My pillows are too dark – and I keep repeating the mistake because I always thought if I went light, the contrast would be too much. But I love the look of the top picture and my sofa is quite similar .

    Thank you so much for this post.

  26. Hi CG! This is great information! I have a dark leather recliner. The question I have is what shuold I do around a big LIGHT colored sectional? Do I do the opposite of what you mentioned?

  27. Hi CG – just wanted to let you know that your fifth image down is actually a shot of my living room, featured in San Francisco Magazine and also on my site. The couch is from Room & Board. Thanks!

  28. Am I the only one who finds that throw pillows slide right off of leather furniture…? Beautiful post, otherwise!

    • Ha Tina! Yes, I suppose they do a little more frequently.

  29. I threw my husband a bone about 20 years ago and let him buy an italian leather sofa. It took me awhile to embrace it, but now I love it. It’s a beautiful cognac color and is surrounded with items we have collected living and traveling together for 32 years including a sisal outdoor rug that is topped with a real zebra skin rug or an oriental rug (depending on the season), ikat, linen, and kilim pillows, an aran knit throw, white slipcovered chairs, watercolor paintings, my childhood mirror, photos, baskets, and a table and armoire my husband built. It has been a slow process for the room to come together, but I love the room and am glad the leather sofa is a part of it.

  30. I think now I am ready and prepared for a leather sofa even though I would still go for a lighter shade (cream). Since my wooden floor is really dark it might get a little heavy otherwise.

  31. Hi Kate. Ooh, I was totally surprised and completely excited to see the pic of my living room at the top of your post today! I LOVE how low-maintenance and life-friendly my leather sofas are though am looking forward to having natural linen couches one day! I think accessorising with natural elements, particularly plants and/or flowers, is another way to help lend a light, feminine feel to a room with dark sofas.

    • Agreed Kristine, your living room is a perfect example of how it’s done!

  32. I think so many design blogs tend to have a feminine look, while leather adds masculinity to a room. So I think it is harder to find examples of leather since we see so many white slipcovered sofas in beautiful rooms on blogs. When I see a leather or other colorful sofa, it catches my eye more so than the normal white.

  33. I have somewhat the same problem over here… though I’d love to have a leather sofa but can’t because I have a cat :( I have a very large green sofa and chair with ottoman. They are huge and the room is small. I am looking forward to covering them or replacing them with something lighter when my teenagers leave the house…. a light color would never stay clean!

  34. About pets…I think the point is that the hair doesn’t really stick and if it gets dirty, it can get wiped off as opposed to vacuuming and somehow stain treating fabric. I have a large leather sectional and it did eventually get scratched up by the two large and active dogs but it is apparently possible to have it refinished which I am planning to do (cheaper than new couch). Also some stores (like Restoration Hardware) sell couches with distressed leather, this way the scratches add character, to me those are the best for pets. Otherwise, my sectional is cream color, this way it does not overwhelm the space and goes with my clean and simple decorating. I wanted cream because I thought that dark would overwhelm the space, plus it goes well with dark wood floors and dark furniture. Great tips on decorating around leather though!

  35. Your post couldn’t have come at a better time! I recently scored the Craigslist deal of a lifetime, a Pottery Barn Mitchell Gold leather chair and ottoman. It’s in my family room with another great CL find, a white slipcovered sofa. They look so good with each other, a match made in heaven! And I’m going to be buried with that chair, LOL!

  36. one thing most of these rooms have in common that you didn’t mention is the use of wood in the space, particularly vintage or rustic wood. Not too much to make it feel heavy but just enough to compliment the leather sofa. The patina of older wood and leather make the look intentional rather than the sofa looking like the deal you lost with your husband.

    Nice collection of rooms that do it right!

  37. Hi,

    I live in a Victorian home and needed a classic, not bulky sofa. I have a spontaneous personality and a most eclectic taste, most furnishings are second hand, nothing has to match (not even my dishware)….so the following story is not my norm and still amazes me.

    When we decided to buy a leather sofa, we visited many cities and stores for three years. It was hard to find a leather sofa that did not have a slant back or large arms.With a foot of difference between my height and my husbands, what fit him did not fit me. We looked at different colors of leather. We learned about price and value and what to strive for in good leather furniture.

    Once we picked our favorite a dark brown camel back sofa with only a 34 inch depth of the seating we were in love….it took us another 18 months to commit to the purchase, just in case there was a chance of a better “value”.

    Everyone who sits on our sofa, says it is the most comfortable leather they have experienced. They say they don’t slide off or struggle to stand or need pillows to brace their backs. I have two families who will purchase this sofa if we sell it. NOT!

    My living room has a 10 foot ceiling, traditional wide wood work, wood pocket doors and a beautiful large stained glass window.

    For 7 years, I did not like the leather or the window with light colored walls. I tried beige, yellow, off white and faux textured walls. Then we painted the walls Benjamin Moore Townsend Brown and got a wool patterned rug on the wood floor in black, terracotta, tan, ivory and a hint of lavender mauve.

    As long as it took to commit to this leather couch, you can imagine my trepidation of painting the walls so dark. I love it! With accessories, I can shabby chic or go traditional… funky bright to beigey burlap. The flow style and color of my house is finally to my satisfaction.

    I agree with your last guest comment about wood, your last picture really caught my eye with the green wall and wood. It seemed tranquil and cozy to me.

    Thanks for showing your kewl stuff!

  38. I had been fighting with our modern black leather sectional for years but recently decided to embrace it. The living room (with the large black sofa) is directly open to the kitchen (all white). I’ve been trying to bring more white into the living room for a while now, but I had also been obsessed with turquoise. Instead, I’ve finally realized the best idea is to do a black and white scheme, still with some pops of color.

    I wish I had some current photos to share, but I haven’t taken any since I started the transition. Mainly, I’ve been subbing out the turquoise elements for white or black or the combo. My pillows are of various designs, but all black and white.

    Originally I had wanted a linen-look sofa but with our four cats that sometimes leave us a lovely hairball, leather was a more practical choice. Obviously linen and black leather are just about polar opposites, which is why I fought with the sofa for so long. It’s super-comfortable and the size is great, so now I’m embracing it!

  39. This is so funny! I actually love my leather sectional which is big, comfy and kind of a deep rich cinnamon color. And I have the same color paint (SW Latte) on my walls with white trim. It’s true, I lust after white slip covered furniture (which is in the house/room I live in ‘in my head’ when I need an escape…everything is light airy whites with SW Sea Salt on the walls) but I have really come to embrace my big, comfy, leather sectional. In fact, it was my idea to get the leather after 25 years of upholstery and I actually had to talk my husband into it…lol! We’ve had it for about 7 years and I still love it. Now the plan is when I’m tired of this upstairs in the great room, it will go to the man cave and I will probably at that point do lighter upholstery. This is a quality piece of furniture and was a huge investment on our part from an independent furniture store that only sources leather furniture from one manufacturer in North America. So we better love it for awhile. I’ve always looked to Pottery Barn and Restoration Hardware for ideas on softening the look with pillows and accessories around the room. All my trim/doors are white. My accent pieces were mainly black (candle sticks, photo frames, etc.) but I’ve recently incorporated some white and I really like the look. I didn’t think it would work with my décor but for Easter this year I switched out my candle sticks, picture frames, wrought iron pieces, candles, etc. for white and I liked it so much I am keeping it this way for spring/summer. Thanks for all the inspirational photos…got some great ideas as always!

  40. My fiance and I just bought a house together about 6 months ago. I have been dealing with his grandma’s OLD couch (it’s red, green, and gold plaid) for almost 2 years now. I finally made a comment to him about getting a new couch since we have moved into our new house. The only problem is our living room is wood paneling! Gasp! It’s hideous. Anyways, he want’s a leather couch and I want a dark grey linen couch. After seeing this post, I may just let him get that leather couch. Mainly because I’m tired of sitting on his horrendous couch (and it’s not looking like he’s going to cave on the grey couch anytime soon) but secondly because I finally have hope that I can make it still look feminine after reading this post! Thanks so much for the inspiration!

    Now if I can just convince him that the wood paneling HAS GOT TO GO! :)

  41. Our marsala-colored leather sofa is in its element at our house. It is surrounded by shelves of our huge collection of old cloth-covered books. I have also artfully placed a few of the old books on the end table and coffee table along with candles and plants. We have lamps and other accents in burnished brass. Two of the decorative pillows on the sofa are made of a tapestry-look fabric. Two other pillows are a shiny dark gold fabric. It all works to create an English library look. So this is another way to deal with leather…let it be what it is.
    My suggestion to those of you who are thinking about buying a leather sofa, expect to pay well if you want a good one. We bought ours at Arhaus about twelve years ago. Except for some scratches from our beloved dogs, it looks great, and I don’t even mind the scratches too much. After all, patina is a fact of life.

  42. Where did you find the pillows in the last photo (little girl on couch).
    I am struggling with the choice between sofa or sectional….

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