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Reclaim your home: Sofa shopping

Buying a new sofa is a pretty big deal for most of us. As one of the larger pieces of furniture in a room, you want to get the look just right. Comfort, durability, and cost are major considerations, too.

Here are the six main things to consider BEFORE you head out sofa shopping to keep "options overwhelm" at bay and ensure a winning purchase.


Size and shape

Size and shape will likely be the greatest determining factors in your sofa purchase. What is the size and layout of the room? What other seating options are available? Will the sofa be used for family movie night, entertaining, or quiet solo reading time?

As for shape, sofa vs. sectional is the great debate. Sectionals can really do a great job filling space, especially when lounging is the name of the game. The downside is that sectionals usually have to stay put in a specific place. Sofas typically offer more flexibility and can be easily moved around a room.

Great bi-sectionals like this one, with a chaise that adapts to left or right, are hot right now.



Photo: Gus Modern

To help you get clear on the dimensions that will really work with your space, play around with a mock-up using empty boxes or painter's tape.


Photo: Thrifty Decor Chick


Maybe your room only allows one spot to put your sofa. Or maybe you're just used to seeing things as they are. Step back, take in the totality of the space, and revisit how you plan to use the sofa. Putting it in a place most conducive to your intended use will ensure the feeling and flow overall.

If your sofa is the spot where the family collects for movie night, you definitely want clear lines to the TV. But if your intent is for entertainment and engaged conversation, consider opposing, unmatched sofas.


talking sofa.jpg

Photo: Houzz - ABCD Design

Make sure you consider placement of accessory furniture, such as side or coffee tables for putting beverages, snacks, or books within easy reach. Diagonal placement of sofas looks interesting and can really open up a smaller space.



Photo: Houzz/Sara Eizen


So now that you have your space and function squared away, it's time to think about the style of the sofa itself. Casual and comfy? Sleek and streamlined? Vintage? Modern? I say go for a look you love and that augments the style of your home, even if it's not necessarily a match. There is absolutely nothing wrong with mixing modern with antique if the overall aesthetic is a hit.

Another consideration is the style of the sofa back. A loose back, with cushions and pillows that can be removed (great for fort building!) is usually best in a casual space where slouching is encouraged. A tight back, which is integrated with the sofa, is usually best in a living room where you may want a more formal look and feel (or for type-A personalities who don't want to deal with fluffing sofa cushions into shape all day!)



Photo: Sara Eizen


If you have little ones at home, I recommend synthetic fabric, which is easy to clean and withstands the test of time busy feet and hands. Many companies are now offering amazing outdoor fabrics (see below) which look and feel like regular upholstery fabric but better resist stains and fading. Leather is durable and looks great, just know that pillows and throws tend to slip and slide. Unless your sofa is in a low-use zone or just for looks, avoid fancy satin, brocade, and damask.



Photo: Pulliam Morris Interiors


To print or not to print, that is the question. A sofa is typically an investment so you want to choose one that will fit your family and lifestyle for years to come. That's why I usually advise going with a fairly neutral fabric and adding color, texture, and finesse with pillows and throws.

(Designer tip: Ask for a fabric swatch to take home before you buy. Check it out under different lighting in the room and see how it goes with other furniture that will be sharing the space.)



Photo: First House Living


I'm the first to admit that it's hard to resist a good buy. But if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. The last thing you want to do is repeat this sofa shopping process all over again when your "screaming deal" falls apart too soon.

A quality sofa is solid with a bit of weight. Do the flop test. Examine the cushions and frame. Frames made of kiln-dried hardwood (alder, birch, maple or oak, or a good, high-quality plywood) will last longer because the process of kiln drying removes all moisture from the wood, enabling it to retain its shape and stability over a long period of time.. Also look for joints that are double doweled and fitted with corner blocks that are glued and screwed, not stapled, into place.

As for cushions, you'll do best with as dense a foam as you can find. Foam coupled with batting and/or down is ideal. If you get down to the springs, eight-way, hand-tied springs are top notch while S-shaped springs are just as comfortable at less cost. Drop-in coil springs are a less expensive alternative.

Shopping for a sofa may not be the easiest or most exciting task on your weekend to-do list, but I hope these guidelines will get you started. And just think, with football season and cozy holidays just around the corner, the payoff for making a smart sofa purchase will be huge.


Sara Eizen is a Seattle-based interior designer and home organizer with a passion for helping busy families reclaim style and space in their homes on any budget. In a bi-weekly column for Seattle's Child, Sara shares creative, fun, affordable tips and tricks for clearing clutter, sprucing up rooms with minimal effort, creating systems that simplify family life, and much more.

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