How to buy a Sofa

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There are three major factors in purchasing any piece of furniture.


  1. Comfort – Does it feel good? Do you want to sit on it?
  2. Style – Does it meet your fashion and taste?
  3. Price – Even if it meets the above two criteria if it is too expensive you will not buy.

Buying a sofa can be one of the most challenging choices a homeowner has to make, however, it can be made easier if you just keep in mind what the sofa is going to be used for in the home.

  • Who is going to be using the sofa?
  • What is the sofa being used for?
  • Where will the sofa be used?
  • How often will the sofa be used?
  • How is the sofa being used?
  • How fast do you need the sofa?

These criteria will all be factors in your sofa selection.  By knowing exactly how you will use your sofa, will help you when you are at a furniture store trying to make your selection.  Do you require the flexibility of having a modular sofa so you can easily reconfigure the unit for when guests come over?  Is it just for watching movies?  Is it just for socializing?  Is it just to look fabulous in a room that you seldom use . . . a show piece?  Once you have truly determined what the actual function of the sofa is going to be, it will aid your decision making process.

The style of the sofa will also play a part in this.  If you are buying a sofa just to watch TV then it would be wise to buy a high back sofa that gives excellent head support to sit back and lounge on the unit to achieve maximum comfort.  Purchasing a low back Rococo style sofa will not be a suitable fit for your requirements.  A light weight frame would most likely not be able to stand up to the day-to-day usage that a family would need for long term use.  The same principles still apply, in that if the frame seems the least bit fragile in the store, you are looking at the wrong sofa.  Always remember, if it is wiggly in the store it will not get tougher as time goes by in your home.  Pass on furniture that doesn’t feel strong and rigid in the store.

This also applies to cushions on a sofa.  If the cushions are wonderfully soft and feel comfy in the showroom, then you have to ask yourself, “how long will these cushions last in your home”?  Will the seams or piping start to twist out of position after a short time?  Will the foam start to break down and then your sofa will have big dents where you guests are sitting?  Will your sofa look like a used sofa after a couple of years?

What are the materials used to cover the sofa?  Countless customers come into showrooms convinced that they want leather.  It is a fantastic product that has proven over the years to be tough and durable and look good for many years.  There are many grades of leather that allow you to achieve different feels, from the buttery soft, to the solid and rigid feel that can be created depending on the tanning process.  The softer the leather, the more it will stretch over time and then it makes all of those wrinkles on the seats, backs, and arms known as seat pooling.  Once this happens it cannot be fixed unless you are prepared to have someone pull out the stitching and tighten everything back up to the original look.  This would be time consuming and expensive.  Leather can be treated to have different feels, however, most of the time leather is cold in the winter and warm in the summer against human skin.  This is definitely something a consumer has to consider is how you want the sofa to feel when you are using it.  And of course, it is very difficult to clean lighter coloured leather.  Once you have a big old stain on it they can be real trouble to remove.

The benefit with fabric sofas is that it offers countless patterns, different feels, and thousands of colours to choose from.  Many fabrics today are exceptionally durable and can stand up to daily usage and will be able to maintain the needed durability.   Many fabrics can easily be cleaned using a wide variety of cleaning products, so it is not impossible to try and remove a spot or stain that has appeared.  Many manufacturers will allow the user to buy your own fabric and supply it to them, COM (Customers own material) to cover your sofa. Sometimes this will take a little longer and cost a little more money but I have found over the years that it is always worth the investment.  When you have the opportunity to select your own fabric it personalizes the product more than buying it pre-made off the showroom floor.  The big question most of the time is how soon do you need the sofa?  Many manufacturers will take up to four months to complete a COM sofa so be sure of your timeline before you order.  Many people buy a piece of furniture thinking that they will be fine with a four month wait but so often two months have gone by and you just can’t help yourself so you phone the store and ask, “How is my sofa coming along”?  And of course, the answer you didn’t want to hear, “It should be about two more months”.  This is where many customers fly out of control into a fit of rage pondering why is this sofa taking so long?  You have to remain calm and remember that you ordered a custom made sofa and it will be ready when it’s ready.  Please don’t plan a big party or event around custom made furniture because more often than not it will let you down.  “We couldn’t get enough fabric to do the job.  The fabric was backordered and won’t be here for another month”.  This happens so often to the people that have big plans for when the furniture is required so KNOW YOUR TIMELINE.  How soon do you really need it?  Can you wait until the new product arrives?

Often customers will ask, “What is inside this sofa”?  It is an excellent question.  Do you mean what type of foam?  What type of springs?  What kind of coils?  What type of wood for the frame?  What kind of re-enforcement has been added to strengthen up the connections and joints? What kind of screws?  What kind of glue?  Is there a metal frame inside?  Is it welded or mechanically connected?  The list goes on and on.  I like to keep the simple approach during this process by asking myself, “Does it feel sturdy.  When I pick one end of the sofa does it feel like it going to fall apart in my hands?  Can I jump on it?  Can I flop around on it?”  While in the showroom does it give me the feeling that it’s going NOT stand up to the task I have chosen for it?  When a customer asks the question what’s inside of the sofa I have often wondered if they really want to know.  The manufacturer uses 3” Robertson screws in the arms and back and 2” on the chassis.  They use white wood glue on all connections on inside gussets.  This company provides ¾” steel braid connections for their springs.  My point is that while most of the time this information may be good to know, it usually won’t change your mind about a sofa.  Once a customer has seen and sat in a sofa that they really like, it’s very hard to change their minds by telling them that the screws were 2 ½” Philips head instead of Robertson’s type.  Go back to basics.  Jump on it.  Walk on it.  Flop around on it.  Get comfortable on it.

The most important part of buying a new sofa is to know what it will be used for every day.  This is when the customer must ask themselves all the important questions before they go out seeking a new sofa.  If you require a living room sofa that will be used just for when company comes over to sit and chat, then you need to be sure that it can fit your criteria.  How high is the seat pan on the sofa?  How deep is the seat pan?  How high is the back?  How high are the arms?  Does it have arms?  Because so many people are differently proportioned in their bodies it makes this a very tough decision.  Two people for example are both 5’-8” tall.  One person has very long legs and the other has a very long torso.  The problem comes into play when you have a seat pan that is 16” high and 24” deep.  For the user with the longer legs this sofa may fit them beautifully however, the person with the longer torso would sit down and their feet would not touch the floor.  For a family room sofa this might work because you can pick your feet up and find a comfortable position.  If this is a living room sofa to be used for chatting it will not work as well.  It is very uncomfortable to sit with your feet dangling in the air for a few minutes, let alone for a few hours while hanging out with guests.  Knowing what the sofa will be used for will answer all these questions ahead of time and will make your sofa selection far easier to make.  Which room will it be in and what are you trying to achieve?  If the plan is to have a sofa for the media room to watch TV then it just makes good sense that the back of the sofa would be high enough to provide head support to the users.  Otherwise when you lean your head back to relax, you find yourself looking at the ceiling, which is not the ideal condition.

Once you have clearly defined the use of the sofa you will find that it will assist you in making a great choice.  Seat height, seat depth and back height are critical to making the right selection.
Another thing to remember when in the stores is do you want to be able to lie down, flat out, on your sofa?  Sofas come in hundreds of sizes, but the simplest way to confirm this calculation is to kick off your shoes in the store and lay down.  Is it deep enough?  Is it long enough?  Is it soft/hard enough?  Could you fall asleep on it?  This is an easy onsite action to confirm its usability.

Another point to consider when buying a sofa is the size, shape and volume; the amount of negative space it uses in the room.  If you have a 7’-0” long x 3’-0” deep x 3’-0” high sofa this is approximately 60 cubic feet of product sitting in your space.  If you wish to lighten up the heavy effect of a large sofa then consider buying a sofa with legs.  Once you can see underneath the unit to the back wall or from front to back in an open environment, it will make the sofa appear less bulky and not so large and heavy.  This of course works on tables and chairs in the same way.  The more open the product is, the lighter in visual weight it appears.