There’s nothing better than to curl up and relax in a cosy sofa. But buying one that will stand the test of time requires some careful consideration. The important thing is not to rush into an impulsive purchase as your sofa will be one of the most-used pieces of furniture in your home. A high level of craftsmanship that delivers deep comfort and support is paramount, but then there are other considerations, such as sofa style and shape, upholstery type and durability, and the sofa’s suitability to your home and lifestyle. Helping to steer you in the right direction, this buying guide lists the most essential points to consider, so that when at last you make your purchase, and sink into your new sofa at home, it will not only provide an exceptionally comfortable experience, but will also last for many years to come.
Never forget to measure
Measure the area you’ve designated for your new sofa very carefully, taking into account the size and shape of the room. Once your heart is set on a sofa that you think will fill the space well, bring its measurements home and mark the sofa’s outline on the floor with string. This way you can be sure the sofa will fit the space and that there will be room to walk around or past it. TIP: Equally important is how you plan to get your sofa into your living room, especially if your home is small and has only a front door access. If you have narrow entries, or live in an apartment accessed via a lift or stairs, consider whether you will be able to easily manoeuvre your sofa in the lift or through the front door, otherwise hauling it up to your apartment could end in disappointment.
Test run for comfort
Now, this is fun. Spend plenty of time sitting on sofas testing them for comfort, as what you see, and more importantly what you feel, is mostly what you get. That said, be aware that a sofa that feels wonderfully supportive now may sag over time. For this reason, ask the store salesperson lots of questions about the sofa, particularly about what’s going on under the upholstery. In terms of quality and craftsmanship, this will ultimately be the real indicator of whether you are buying a sofa for the long or short term.
Match shape to shape
If you have a narrow or small living room, you don’t want to clutter it with a huge sofa that leaves no room for anything else. Long sofas are ideally suited to terrace house living areas that are often open plan.
Suit a sofa to its purpose
If you have a family, consider a couple of sofas that fit together in an L-shape or U-shape so everyone can sit together. These styles, also known as modular or sectional sofas, should be upholstered in a durable fabric – especially if you also have pets. Good choices are leather, strong synthetic microfibre, cord or chenille. Reclining sectional sofas are also great lounging options and are particularly ideal for home theatres.
Ask about the construction of the sofa’s frame
A sturdy frame is usually a long-lasting sofa. A wooden frame is best, especially if it is a quality timber that has been kiln-dried – be wary of cheap pine or green timber, which may warp in time. The frame should be secured together by dowels or nails; avoid those that are held together by staples and glue. The legs should be either part of the frame or solidly attached. Metal frames may be necessary when the seat of the sofa has a large span, but it may make the whole piece of furniture very heavy to move.
Question the sofa’s support system
Longer-lasting sofas generally have springs, and there are many types. The highest level of support is offered by a pocket coil spring, similar to those in a mattress, or a serpentine-style spring, but there are also other methods for support, such as webbing. Although this is a cheaper method of suspension, webbing can offer good support if used in conjunction with springs in the areas that will bear the most weight: the seat.
Check out the cushions
Typically there are three cushion arrangements offered for the backs of sofas: a fixed back (very popular in mid-century couch designs), a cushion back (the most common style, which often has T-shaped back cushions that curve to fit around arms) and a scatter back (a loose arrangement of cushions that hide a padded back frame). Pictured here is a combination of scatter and fixed back cushions.
Feel the fillings
The most expensive fillings for back and seat cushions is feather and down, but these fillings are not necessarily right for all sofa styles because they can look a little lumpy. As a down cushion requires lots of fluffing and patting, it is better suited to back cushions. Seat cushions should be firm and regain their shape when you press down (unless they are filled with down or feather). Foam cushions are the most inexpensive but they can deflate quickly if of a low density. A great choice for the seats and back rests are cushions of high density, resilient foam wrapped with either down or even a (cheaper) polyester.
Choose hard-wearing textiles
If you want to keep your sofa for decades, choosing the right textile for your sofa is as important as making sure the construction standards are high. Hard-wearing cotton and linen are winners, but when mixed with a cheap synthetic, can often pill after a year of wear. High-quality synthetic microfibre fabrics, however, can mimic the weave and handle of most natural fabrics and are stain resistant, making these textiles excellent choices. They are also less likely to colour fade. TIP: Choose fabrics with patterns in the weave as these tend to wear better over time. Ask the store you are buying your sofa from for a swatch to take home. Place insitu to see how the fabric looks in both natural daylight and under artificial light at night.
Like leather for its durability
Both luxurious and practical, genuine leather lounges tend to complement any home decor. If combined with quality construction, they offer years of comfort and style. TIP: Leather is a durable material, and gets better with time, but it needs some care. Treat it with a high quality conditioner every six months to a year.
When in doubt about colour, play it safe
If you’ve found your dream sofa but are unsure about what colour is going to work in your decor scheme, or haven’t even decided on one yet, stick with a neutral. It will probably work with any of the colourways or patterns you introduce at a later date. If your decor plan has a predominately warm palette, choose a beige, mushroom or cream sofa; a grey, charcoal and even white sofa will work best with a cool colour palette. Punchy colour should come from accessory pillows or throw rugs as these can easily be replaced when the next new colourwave trend hits. TIP: If you really feel that a colourful sofa will work in your home, choose one in a block of colour that will be easier to style as trends change over time.
Don’t choose trendy textiles and patterns
A word of warning for the trend-hunter: If you are looking to buy a sofa you plan to have forever, try to avoid purchasing one that features trendy weaves or big patterns lest it falls out of your favour.
TIP: A herringbone or flecked tweed incorporated into the design of a weave produces a fabric that wears well and hides any fading or scuff marks.
Settle on your style
As the style of your sofa will be influenced by the existing decor of a room, choose one that will suit. A low-profile sofa will suit a modern decor and a high-back sofa will work better in a more traditional home.
Find comfort and style in arm shape
Consider the style of arms you like and whether they are comfortable enough for resting your arm on, snoozing against or even perching on from time to time. Some people like square arms, others prefer rounded ones. Wide arms (as pictured here) suit more contemporary styles, especially sofas with a low profile, but can take up a significant amount of room. A high-backed sofa often has a narrow arm, and if the sofa is a classic style, may boast a curvaceous scroll or a flare.
Make a modular work for its money
Modulars come in a range of sizes and have many benefits. As they combine various lounging pieces in one unit, they are relatively compact, maximising the space a room has available. They also offer more space to sit, especially if a chaise or fixed ottoman is attached. Due to their flexibility and versatility, modulars can be set up in different formations and sometimes you can create your own combinations. From L-shapes of two- and three-seat sectional sofas with chaise lounge additions, to larger U-shaped modulars, which can be expanded by adding a corner or terminal, these are sofas well worth considering.
Look at a low-profile arrangement
Sofas that encourage prolonged lounging and relaxing often feature plenty of plush pillows and cushions, a wide frame and ample cushioning on broad arms. Additionally, these kinds of sofas often come in various pieces or modular forms, which means the sofa can be transported to other homes or living spaces as separate pieces and assembled in whatever combination works.
Consider a classic
The tufted sofa, also known as a button-back when the centre of each tuft sports a button, features a classic cushioning treatment that comes in a variety of styles – think French provincial sofas, chesterfields and mid-century modern settees. Tufted sofas rarely go out of fashion and will look great in any home decor scheme if in a plain fabric, but they are usually a little expensive owing to the amount of work that goes into the tufting. TIP: Tufts are trending but won’t suit everybody. Never choose a tufted style as your first forever sofa when you have young children, because the tufts collect crumbs and the sofa becomes better for snacks, not naps.
Still can’t choose? Get the help of an interior designer on Houzz.