Buying a New Couch

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Whether you just can’t get rid of that stain on your old couch, the fabric doesn’t match your taste anymore, or you’re moving to a new place and need something to fill a bigger (or smaller) space, it’s time to retire your old couch and get a new one. Because a good sofa can be expensive, many of us start out with hand-me-downs from friends and family—but once we start to move up in the world, most of us want a sofa that’s all our own. If you’re in the market for a new sofa, here are some things to know before you buy.

The number of people you need to sit. When thinking about the size of your new sofa, think one cushion per person. A three-cushion couch seats three comfortably, whereas a two-person couch will only fit three if those people don’t mind snuggling.

How messy your family is. If you have kids or pets, keep in mind that a sofa with a pattern will hide stains better than one without. In addition, if you think your sofa will undergo a lot of wear and tear, pick a sofa with a sturdier fabric. Although we think of leather as a luxury material, it’s actually very durable and low-maintenance. Suede is another story, however.

What you find comfortable. Comfort means different things to different people. Do you have a favorite chair that you just sink into? If so, do more than just look for that same cozy feeling when shopping for a sofa: actually measure your favorite chair’s dimensions, including the back angle and the depth of the seat. Chances are that the sofa that’s most likely to be comfortable for you will have similar measurements.

How much space you have. You should have at least three feet around a sofa for people to pass by—any less and your room will feel crowded and cluttered. Measure the “footprint” of any sofa you’re thinking of getting so that you’ll have an idea how far it comes out into your living room. In addition, don’t forget to measure your exterior doors, stairwells, elevators, and any other space your sofa will have to fit through. Check to see if your sofa disassembles, too. There’s nothing worse than buying the perfect sofa, only to find out you can’t get it into your house.

Quality. Even if you’re on a low budget, you should look for a good-quality build when buying a sofa—otherwise you’ll just have to replace it again, and sooner than you probably want to. To check the integrity of the frame, try lifting one front leg up. If the other front leg stays on the ground after you’ve lifted the first more than an inch, move on—the frame is too flexible and weak. Your sofa’s feet should be part of the frame, not bolted on. Before buying any sofa, ask for a swatch of the fabric it’s upholstered in and rub it together to check for pilling. If you use chenille or another loosely-woven fabric, don’t buy if it’s not backed in acrylic or knit—it’ll pill up otherwise.

Color and pattern. Before buying a sofa, ask for a swatch of material to take home. Colors and patterns can look very different under different lighting. Taking home a swatch lets you get a better idea of how the colors of the sofa will look against the décor you have.

Your usage habits. Looking for a signature piece to really add a statement to your living room? Then fabric and form might be more important to you than comfort. This won’t be the case, however, if you’re planning to do more TV-watching and book-reading on your new sofa than entertaining—you’ll want a sofa that holds up well and that is comfortable. If you plan to use your sofa as a guest bed, make sure it’s plenty long enough for a good-sized person to stretch out on; check the length between the arms, not just the overall length. Some sofas come with fold-out beds, but make sure you unfold and test the bed in the store before bringing it home—some fold-out sofas are more comfortable than others.

Your frame. Sofa frames come in wood, steel, plastic, plywood, particleboard, and many other materials. Oak and maple frames are generally the best choice for durability. Steel, plastic, and particleboard tend to lose their shape, and are more likely to crack over time.

You could say that your sofa is the most visible piece of furniture in your house—it’s the focal point of your living room, the area where you’re most likely to entertain, and where your guests will gather. Picking the right sofa is essential to giving your living room the look you want—and a good sofa will be around for a long time, so make sure you pick one you’ll love for years to come.

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