You’re going to be spending a lot of time on the sofa (be honest), so taking the time to find a cozy, chic couch is key. We asked our designers to help us create the ultimate sofa shopping guide.
When you think about it, a sofa sees a far amount of action in its lifetime. From being filled with guests at holiday parties to being the number one snuggle spot for parents and kids alike, it needs to be able to go from casual to chic at moment’s notice. For many, the sofa is not only the centerpiece of the living room, but also the most used piece in your whole home.
And typically, the sofa is a big investment (though you can find one any price point—trust us, we’ve seen them all). To ensure you’re finding a hot seat tailor-fitted to your home and lifestyle, we crafted a guide to navigating the process.
Find your purpose
When scouting for a new sofa, don’t dive in blind. To start, think about how you use your living room in general. After all, functionality is key.
“I always like to start by asking my clients how they use the space,” explains Los Angeles-based Homepolish designer. “I try to ask questions like ‘Is the sofa going into a room meant for TV watching, or is it a formal space geared toward adult conversation?’”
For example, a sofa with a shallow seating area and firmer cushions will is more ideal for formal seating (it also encourages good posture), while a deeper sofa is maximized for lounging and can even act as a second bed of sorts.
Besides depth, selecting the right dimensions is key to attaining a balanced design. Beyond determining between loveseat, sofa, or full-on sectional, there are a host of options within each style so, as the saying goes, measure twice, buy once.
What to consider
Once you’ve figured out the role you sofa should play should influence your decision, it’s time to match purpose with style. The biggest determinant of your sofa’s vibe is its shape.
In general, streamlined, simple silhouettes make a perfect match for minimalist, modern homes. But you’ll want to balance that clean-lined look with comfort, so be on the lookout for options that are plush and pillowy, but still maintain the sleek aesthetic of Scandinavian or mid-century modern décor. Options with roll arms and fluffier fills tend to feel more casual (or even more traditional), but keep in mind how your sofa will play in the scope of your space. If every other piece is traditional, you might want to contrast it with a clean-lined sofa. A tuxedo or Chesterfield options offer the most minimal of shapes—with the arms and backs of each hitting the same height.
Not all arms are created equal—On a T-armed sofa, the seat’s cushion juts out and wraps around the arm, for a more traditional look, while an L-arm ends the arm and sofa ledges at the exact same point. The L-arm’s clean look provides angular lines and symmetry that will speak to the heart of any modernist-lover.
Decide what you’re looking for in cushions as well—do you want connected cushions on the back or loose and removable (and if you need maximum ease of care washable covers). Connected cushions look more polish, but can make cleaning more of a challenge.
Of course, if you want something more distinct, you can always opt for a one-of-a-kind a vintage piece from any era that makes your heart go aflutter. Sites like 1stdibs and One Kings Lane can provide endless vintage options to stand out in any space.
The frame of the sofa is the veritable wind beneath your wings, ensuring the piece’s longevity. Inexpensive sofas tend to be constructed with plywood frames and staples, leading them to break down faster over time. If you can, aim for hardwood frames constructed from materials ash and maple that use glue, wood dowels, or joists for support. If the frame is exposed, metals like brushed brass, aluminum, and matte black iron can add an elegant touch as well.
To test the frame, designers recommend “the flex test.” Pick up the sofa by the corner (get a friend to help if you need it!) and note if it buckles or torques. Significant movement within the frame is probably not a great sign.
Your mother was right: it’s what’s on the inside that counts. Most sofas are filled with high-density foam, fiber batting, feathers, or springs, and the firmness of a seat is decided by the filling.
For that sensation of falling onto a cloud, go for a higher foam and feather ratio. Keep in mind that these sorts of cushions will need more fluffing (and might be partial to sagging). If you’re of the mind to have a firmer sofa, look for one with a higher-density, more packed foam filling.
“Some people choose to do only feather and down for a super soft cushion,” Jennifer shares. “You’ll definitely need to do lots of fluffing in order to have the cushions keep their shape. 90 to 10% is a pretty common ratio of feather to down. I’d suggest a higher ratio of down if it’s your only fill, as that’s the material giving your cushions loft. Polyester fill is also a great option for people with allergies.”
One designer trick to having it all: “I recently had sofa cushions remade for a client who was frustrated that they were losing their shape, but the client didn’t want to forgo comfort and softness,” continues the designer. “I had my upholsterer wrap springs inside of high-density foam—the springs really help cushions bounce back into shape. The foam quality made it so that we couldn’t feel the springs when using the sofa, which is ideal for comfort. We then wrapped the foam in feather and down so that they still felt super soft and plush.”
When it comes down to it, this is really a matter of personal preference. If you want opulence, you can go with the luxurious velvet or maybe you pine for masculine, buttery leather. Laser in on what you like and then keep these factors in mind.
“If you’re purchasing or selecting your own fabric (as opposed to buying an already-made sofa), be sure you are specifying ‘upholstery weight,’” Jennifer advises. “This means that it’s thick and durable enough to have people sliding on and off of it over a long period of time without the fabric showing wear.”
Once again, consider the sofa’s purpose. Do you need something that is fade-resistant or stain-resistant? A white velvet sofa might be mouthwatering, but if you have young ones, the upkeep might be too much to handle. Consider the fabric’s weave too: large loops in the construction might be a trap for snags. To avoid fabrics that will pill, Jennifer recommends aiming for a high thread count.
“The higher the thread count, the better,” Jennifer “Linen is excellent at resisting pilling but will wrinkle over time. Cotton on its own will pill, but is often blended with others fibers to combat that issue. Velvet and mohair are incredibly durable, and nothing beats leather. Polyester, nylon and acrylic are the worst offenders.”
Hue will make a huge first impression, but it’s important to choose wisely. A neutral sofa will be versatile option if you plan to switch your look.
“Sofas are large purchases and you want them to be as timeless as possible,” opines Homepolish designer. “Think of a neutral sofa like a good pair of jeans; you just don’t get the same longevity out of crazy patterned or colorful pants that slowly go out of style.”
But if you want to be bold, feel free to branch out. If you are drawn towards eclectic style, consider a contrasting shade color to your color scheme (think blue with pink, green with white). If your style is more traditional, keep your sofa’s shade within the same color family as the rest of the room. Or layer on the look with loads of accessories. Throw blankets, pillows, and the surrounding rug can all introduce a variety of colors, textures, and dimensions. These are far easier to switch out or replace as the seasons, trends, or your own personal preferences change.
Try before you buy
Plenty of upstart options offer virtual sofa shopping, but nothing beats the in-person experience, even if you’re just using it at the start to get a feel for what you’re after.
“Go sit in some sofas!” advises Homepolish designer. “Even if you end up sourcing a sofa online, going to test out different sofa styles is helpful to determine what feels right for you in terms of upholstery firmness, depth of the seat, and height of the arms.”
Most designers tend to agree. “Lie on it, bounce up and down to make sure it doesn’t make weird noises, put your head on the pillows,” says Shannon. “Just pretend like it’s yours for a minute and see if it feels like a fit!”
If you have yet to find the sofa of your dreams, consider going custom. Customizing furniture can give you the peace of mind that the end product will be exactly what you want.
“Buying a custom sofa allows you to tailor the size, style and color exactly to your needs,” Leah notes.
If you’re hesitant to venture into the world of custom interior design, have no fear. Head over to our guide that will show you how to navigate the world of custom work.
Need some help finding the sofa of your dreams? Let us select your perfect Homepolish designer.