Sofa Buying Guide: Do's and Do Not's from Experienced Professionals
Written by Andrew | Last Updated 2019-11-11
Not only a home designer, Andrew is also the founder of BFA. He always have full enthusiasm for the industry and his job, and he enjoys to share some new ideas to others. His professional advice can help you choose furniture better and home style which fits you.
Since sofas and couches tend to be major furniture investments for most families, the kind that will stay with you for many years and even decades, it is very important that you do some research, understand what you are looking for, know what common mistakes and pitfalls are, and make as good and well-informed a purchase decision as possible. Although there are countless styles available on the market (and style and tastes tend to be personal matters of choice), there are still a number of objective criteria that you can use when buying a sofa to make sure that you get one that you will be happy with for years and years to come.
Whenever you find yourself shopping for a new couch, here are a few key tips that you should keep in mind.
Make Sure it Is the Right Fit
There is no reason to even consider purchasing a sofa if it does not fit in your living space or does not fit your intended uses or family well. The seats of the sofa you buy should be comfortable for every member of your family. If you are thinking of purchasing a reclining sofa, be sure to check how comfortable it is in all of the different positions in which it can be set. One of the key considerations related to comfort is the depth of your sofa’s seats. You should choose either deep or shallow seats based on your height. The back of the sofa should adequately support your back when your feet are flat on the floor. If you like to sleep on the sofa, be sure to lie down on it to test it out (if possible) to confirm whether or not it is long and deep enough for you to comfortably fall asleep on it.
Know How to Assess the Frame
Although the exterior fabric or upholstery and the cushions of your sofa can be changed or replaced as the age with time, sofas are only as good as the frame on which they are built. If you want to buy a good, sturdy, reliable sofa, your starting point should be to learn about the frame. Low-budget sofas generally come in frames that are made of particleboard, plastic, metal, or a mixture of these. However, a high-quality couch will almost always come in a solid hardwood frame, preferably one that has been kiln-dried. This refers to hardwood frames that are made of oak, beech, or ash and have been dried in a kiln. Pine frames tend to be cheap but they sometimes start becoming warped and begin to wobble within about five years of manufacture.
Since the legs of your sofa are an integral part of the sofa’s durability, make sure they are a part of the frame itself or at least attached with either screws or dowels. It is better to avoid purchasing a sofa if the legs are simply attached with glue.
An easy test that you can conduct to check the construction of a sofa frame is to lift one of the front corners or legs of the sofa a few inches off the floor. You can tell that the frame is weak and will be prone to twisting if you find that the other front leg does not also quickly rise off the floor. Also, any sofa that you can see twisting or creaking under this stress test should be avoided.
Ask About the Joints
You should also ask about the joints of the sofa. Some constructions that are acceptable, in addition to screws and dowels as mentioned above, are mortise/tenon and tongue/groove constructions. Glued or stapled legs should be avoided. Also, avoid sofas for which the salesperson is unable to specify what kind of construction has been used.
There is nothing better than an in-person use test. Sit on the sofa, sit on the side (near the arm), and listen for creaks and feel for movement. Inferior frames will give telltale signs of their inferiority if you look in the right places.
Test the Springs
You should also test the springs by first lifting up the cushions and then pressing down on the seats. The springs should feel like they are evenly spaced, even though you cannot see them as they will be covered by batting. Also take a look at the front edges of the sofa, since many sofas tend to have a sprung edge, similar to how a mattress with a box spring underneath it will have, to help you get back up on your feet.
Most sofa springs come in one of three different levels of quality. The least expensive and least durable ones are not even springs; in fact, they are just mesh wires or webbing. If you want to purchase a high-quality sofa, avoid these types of sofas at all costs. You would be better off going for serpentine springs. These are sinuous pieces of snaking wire that can be found across the entire gap between the frame’s members. They offer decent support but may sag over time if the metal used in them is not heavy gauge. What you want to buy are eight-way hand-tied springs. These are used in luxury sofas. They are very comfortable but are also very expensive. However, only you can really judge how comfortable they are and whether or not the higher cost is worth the comfort as compared to sinuous snake springs.
Feel the Padding
Make sure that your sofa frame and all of the different corners of the sofa are well padded. You can check this by running your hand down all the corners, making sure you cannot feel the edges of the frame poking through the sofa’s upholstery. If you can, this might be a sign that the upholstery will become worn quite quickly. Poky edges are also an indication that the sofa will not likely be very comfortable to use.
Test the Sofa’s Various Features and Operating Mechanisms
If you are looking to buy a recliner or a sleeper, make sure to test out the sofa’s various operating mechanisms and features to make sure they operate smoothly and easily. Furniture items that recline are usually more expensive than non-reclining furniture, so make sure if you are paying more for such an item that you get something that functions smoothly and without any hassles. Mechanical issues or rough operation of features will only become worse over time, so make sure you identify them early.
Assess the Upholstery
A common misconception is that quality upholstery is critical to the comfort of your sofa. This is not entirely true, but quality upholstery is a crucial component of the visual appeal of your sofa. As is true for well-tailored clothing, your sofa should have matching patterns and stripes at the seams. This is a subtle point that many people do not catch right away, but mismatched patterns and/or stripes can give a sense that something is not exactly right. If you have stripes that match at the seams, your sofa will look well finished. Patterns in the upholstery should be in the center and all seams, as well as any welts, should run straight. If you have uneven welting or seams that are pulled to one side or the other means that the cover of the sofa was unprofessionally tailored. When you have fabric upholstery, higher thread counts are an indication of denser weaves and fabric that is more durable. Also, make sure to check buttons or tufts to ensure that they are stitched on securely. Obviously, loose buttons will detach quickly and will soon be lost.
In terms of fabrics and materials, you can choose from the following:
Velvets are thick, bold, and rich-looking. Cotton varieties are ideal for year-round use in the formal rooms of your home. Polyester and polyester blend fabrics wear well and are often stain-resistant and are also pet-friendly. They can even be thrown right into the laundry and look just like linen.
Linen looks pretty and very relaxed and is best suited for casual sofas. The main downside of linen sofas is that they wrinkle, though heavy weaves are less prone to wrinkling.
Damask is a luxurious and traditional option but is dry-clean-only.
Wool blends are wonderful to touch and are highly versatile. A little added polyester makes wool blends a lot more durable but they are still dry-clean-only. To avoid pilling in such sofas, avoid vacuuming them vigorously.
Leather sofas are expensive but hair comes right off them. You can use faux leather or ultra-suede for looks that are not just stunning but kid and pet-proof as well.
Inspect the Cushions
Make sure that the cushions of your sofa are firm and that they fit nicely with the frame of the sofa. Your cushions should come back to their original shape once you press down on them and release the presume. A cushion that stays down and depressed once pressure is applied and removed will soon lose its shape and will become an eyesore.
There is a lot of debate regarding the type of material that is best to use for sofa cushions. Polyurethane foam is probably the most common material that is used but you need to strike a balance between a foam that is firm but not hard but long-lasting as well, or a foam that is soft and comfortable but not likely to break down quickly. Highly resilient foam is one option that is used to make comfortable and long-lasting cushions. Some high-end sofas even use goose down and feathers, but these types of sofas are for the uber-rich.
You can test your potential sofa’s cushions by pushing down on them and seeing how the re-inflate themselves. Also be sure to ask the salesperson – if you are shopping in-store, that is – how the foam was constructed. There are many new safety regulations that ban the use of harmful flame retardants in certain foam types in various US states. Many manufacturers have since stopped using them, so make sure your chosen sofa complies with these regulations. You can unzip a cushion to double-check that the filling used, whatever it is, is in fact encased in the cushion. Some companies may take shortcuts and skip using a bag altogether, leaving you with open foam or stuffing, which can be messy and a headache to manage if the cushion happens to open.
Measure Your Doorways
It is not uncommon for sofas and other large furniture items to be returned for the simple fact that they did not fit through the front door or the hallways of the intended destination. Some sofas have legs that come on and off to make delivery easier. Sometimes, doors can be removed from their hinges to enlarge the doorway just enough to allow a large sofa to pass. Make sure to measure the diagonal as well as the height and width of your doorway openings to make sure that whatever sofa you buy will actually fit through the doorways it will have to pass through before being set up in its final destination.
Buying sofas and new furniture of any type for the home is generally a fun and happy experience. However, with so many options available on the market, and because sofas tend to be expensive and one-time purchases for many people (at least for many years at a stretch), make sure you get the basics right by filtering the options that are out there based on your needs, your budget, what fits and what doesn’t, the materials you like, the features you want, the likely lifetime and durability of the sofa that you want to select, and any final offerings or features such as warranties and coverage options on offer, color schemes that match your home, the return policies of the seller, and whether or not free delivery and setup is offered with the sofa. Once you have done that, you are good to go.