Buying a sofa is one of the most difficult and important decisions for the home. We’ve made it easy for you with our essential guide.
- Colour and pattern
- Fabric choice
- Testing the sofa
- The frame
- Body work
- Cushion comfort
- Looking after your sofa
- Leather sofa advice
What size is your living room and how much space can you afford to give the sofa? Do you need it to be big enough for your entire family or just you and your faithful hound? Will you be able to get it through the front door or, if you live in an apartment, into the lift or up the stairs? Make a note of the maximum width, height and length that will fit into your living room space and the entrance to your home. Use newspaper and masking tape to mark out the sofa shape on the floor.
Next, think about the style of sofa you would like, one that would best suit your room and other furnishings. You can choose between contemporary and traditional styles or you can design your own style and have the sofa manufacturer make it up for you according to your specifications. You may also want to check out loungers, sofa beds, futons, corner units and L shaped seating, one of which may suit you better than the standard upholstered two-seater.
Colour and pattern
The colour and pattern of your sofa is very much down to your own personal taste. While the current trend is for vibrant colours and bold patterns, trends come and go so, if in doubt, you’re probably best picking a neutral colour and dressing the sofa with coloured and patterned cushions and throws. On the other hand, if you love bright splashes of colour and interesting designs, go ahead make your sofa the centrepiece of the room.
When it comes to choosing the fabric for your sofa, choose one that will wear well. Is the sofa going to be used in a formal living room or a family room? If you have kids, you should probably stay clear of white sofas. Similarly, animals cannot be trusted not to get their claws into expensive leather. Look at the sofa fabric in the showroom and run your finger across the arm to make sure it is nice and smooth and that the colours and textures are consistent. Don’t forget to ask the sales assistant to explain the grade of the fabric; every fabric has a martindale on it, which measures how strong the fabric is.
Stand back from the sofa and check the pattern. Does the pattern on the back of the sofa match the cushions? Does the pattern on the cushions match the skirt? Are the stripes aligned at the edges? The mark of quality construction is the careful matching of patterns. If it doesn’t match, don’t waste your money on it.
Testing the sofa
Test the sofa out while it’s still in the showroom. Sit on it – if possible have at least two other people sit on it as well. Is it comfortable? How about the centre cushion? Is the seat the correct height for your leg length? What about the arm height? Do the back cushions allow you to sink in or keep you upright? If in doubt, sofa experts advise that you plump for a firmer model as it will be better for your posture, is less maintenance and sofas do soften with use.
The sofa frame should also be looked at when buying a sofa. Make sure it’s a good quality frame – it’s the most important element when it comes to the comfort and longevity of the sofa. 100% beech wood kiln dried frames tend to be the hardest and will give the sofa extra strength. Good quality furniture makers sometimes combine beech wood with soft wood to provide some ‘give’ and this is fine, however, you should avoid beech wood and box wood (the wood that orange boxes are made of) combined frames and frames made of chipboard.
A quick test that you can do in the showroom to check to see if your sofa frame is of good quality is to gently lift the sofa by the corner. If it feels heavy and solid, work has gone into engineering the frame. If it feels light, it’s probably been constructed using a lightweight board which, instead of being screwed and glued, has merely been stapled together. Always make sure that the corners have been blocked, screwed or bolted and if you find that they have just been glued or stapled, don’t waste your time on it. When frames are inadequate they make noise, sag (also causing the coverings to lose shape) and look and feel cheap so if you don’t know how a sofa’s been constructed, ask before you buy.
Once you’ve checked out the frame, turn your attention to the rest of the sofa’s body. While you’re sitting on it, check out the springs for resistance. Good quality sofas have coil-sprung seats, as these distribute the weight evenly. Another option is webbing, which makes for a firm seat base.
Find out what kind of filling has been used in the sofa. Top of the range sofas use natural fibres, such as hair, cotton wadding and wool, however, these materials are expensive so most sofas will be padded with foam and other man-made materials. Check to see if you can shift the stuffing easily on the arms and back of the sofa. If you can it’s not a good sofa. Sit on the arm and feel the back of the sofa. You shouldn’t feel the wood frame underneath the upholstery and padding as hard edges will cause fabrics to wear quickly. Also, make sure that when you pull on the seams on the sofa they don’t open up.
Finally, don’t overlook the cushions. Look for loose or separate cushions with zippers – the ones that are attached to the frame are not removable and are therefore very difficult to wash. Unzip the cushions and examine the padding inside. It should be firm and should have a heavy feel that prevents the cushion from sagging. If the padding is foam don’t forget to confirm that it’s fire retardant and don’t leave the store with a sofa without finding out what kind of warranty the manufacturer provides.
- Vacuum upholstered furniture frequently to remove surface dust and dirt.
- Rotate loose cushions weekly for even wear.
- Keep your sofa out of direct sunlight, which can cause colour fading, fabric deterioration and drying and cracking in wood.
- Keep pets off of the sofa. Pet body oils are very difficult to remove from upholstery, as our pet claws from leather.
- Use caution with clothing such as blue jeans. Fabric dyes can transfer onto upholstered furniture and zips can damage leather.
- Use caution with printed material (ie, newspapers) as the ink occasionally bleeds onto porous surfaces.
Leather sofa advice
Leather sofas are expensive and need to be treated with some degree of care. For those into leather Reid Furniture offers some tips for choosing.
- Practical high protection leathers are treated during the tanning process making them resistant to liquids, sunlight, and wear and tear.
- Real leather will always bear the marks of its natural origin – variation in grain, shading, brand marks, healed scars, insect bites, blemishes and stretch marks. These ‘flaws’ are the hallmarks of authentic leather.
- If you buy a light-coloured leather beware of continuous contact with non-fast colourfast clothing, such as denim, as the dye can permanently stain your suite. Denim is a very abrasive material and tends to have buckles and rivets that can scratch or tear leather. Newsprint also leaves traces of ink that can permanently discolour leather so never leave newspapers sitting on your sofa or under seat cushions.
- Never use aerosols, chemical polishes, detergents, saddle soap, wax soap or any cleaner with a solvent-based carrier. If you’re finding it difficult to remove a stubborn stain, seek professional advice.
- Expect to wait at least three to eight weeks for delivery of your sofa from time of order
If you can’t afford a new sofa, consider updating yours with washable loose covers made to order from Loose Covers.