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Buying a sofa is more or less like finding a home. The search can be long and tedious, requiring you to sift through listing after listing until you land on one that checks all the right boxes. And sometimes, if you’re really lucky, you’ll happen upon the one. Either way, it’s an investment and an item that will go on to not only inform the aesthetic of your living room but also stand as a focal point that ties all of the elements of the space together.
Before you set out to purchase a sofa, there is a whole host of factors to consider, from the aesthetic to the practical. To start, think about what’s most important to you. “For me, it’s comfort,” says Decorist designer Linzie Merchant. “I like to entertain guests, most of the time in a casual setting, which might look like a movie night on the sofa with popcorn and wine or just sitting around in comfy clothes catching up on life with old friends. Form follows function, so ultimately, if a piece of furniture doesn’t function for the use it’s intended for, it has failed.”
With the influx of online retailers and DTC brands, buying a sofa sight unseen has become more and more common. So how does one ensure they’re sourcing the right piece? After all, reviews can only reveal so much. Arming yourself with the knowledge of the components that comprise a quality sofa will help you differentiate a durable, long-lasting piece from a short-lived one. Here’s what you should know.
What to Consider Before Buying a Sofa
Sofas serve a multitude of purposes. They’re a crash pad for lazy Sundays and a companion for Netflix marathons. They’re also a room’s center of attention and a spot for showing off graphic throw pillows and chunky knit throws. Before you purchase a sofa, there are a few key details to consider to help you find a piece that not only lasts long but also gets ample playtime.
First and foremost, decide what type of sofa you want for your space. The most common options are:
“These questions will help decide the sofa’s shape, height, and comfort level,” says Brockway, who also recommends factoring in the intended long-term use and the types of fabrics that will be conducive to your timeline.
Set a price range and research across a wide variety of brands and retailers to find the perfect piece (see our Best Places to Shop section below). Keep an eye out for promo codes and flash sales, and don’t forget to account for shipping and white-glove delivery fees (and return policies!). Also consider vintage. “In many cases, vintage furniture costs 70 to 80 percent less and is often actually better made,” says Brockway. “Choosing a vintage sofa will also bring character, uniqueness, and style to a room, and that is priceless.”
Picking out a sofa is all about striking a balance between your lifestyle and aesthetic. Loungers should seek out deep-seated options, while traditionalists might go for a classic Lawson. Though there is a seemingly endless stream of possibilities out there, here are some of the basic sofa styles to know.
The fabric you choose for your sofa is as important as its shape and style. “This is one key aspect that will determine its durability and longevity,” says Decorist’s Merchant, who recommends surveying the entire array of fabric options to find what best suits your lifestyle. Here are some common options:
Buyer beware: “Be extra mindful of colorful and boldly patterned fabrics,” says Merchant, “as these are often flashy coverups for the quality of the material.
Measuring Your Sofa and Entryways
The magic formula: Make sure either the depth or width of the sofa is smaller than the width of your doorway—and allow wiggle room for packaging.
“Remember when Ross’ sofa broke in two on ‘Friends,’ as the gang tried to pivot it around the stairwell?” says Brockway. “Measure not only where the couch will end up, but also the spaces it’ll go through to get there.” Stick with these tips, and you’ll be fine:
If you just so happen to measure incorrectly (hey, we’re all human!), go ahead and call the couch doctor.
Checking the Sofa’s Construction
Poorly made sofas will serve their purpose, but live with one long enough and you’ll notice how the upholstery fades in color and texture and the cushions lose their shape or density. Having a basic understanding of the components that comprise a well-built sofa will help you invest in a piece that can withstand daily wear and tear. Here are the major checkpoints to review before you buy:
Natural wood is the most solid and sturdy frame material, while MDF (medium-density fiberboard) is the least reliable and more likely to fall apart.
The components that keep the frame together are also significant. A sofa solely attached by dowels or glue won’t be as sturdy as one with a mix of the two and/or the addition of screws.
Springs are what give your sofa bounce and comfort—or a lack thereof. The main types are:
When it comes to a sofa cushion, do you prefer firm? Sinkable? Both? That’s where fill comes in. Some sofas feature a mix of two, one for the backing and the other for the cushions. Here are some common fill types:
When settling on a fabric, durability and ability to withstand daily wear and tear is essential. The Martindale rub test is a good indicator of fabric quality, notes Article’s Hunt. In the test, a machine is used to simulate natural wear by repeatedly rubbing fabric with excessive force to see at what point it starts to break down. The higher the rub count, the more durable the fabric. “You’ll want something that can withstand 25,000 rubs or more,” says Hunt.
Best Places to Shop for a Sofa
Ready to find your dream sofa? Here are some of our favorite spots to shop.