Buy sofas you love with our ultimate buying guide
Sofas are one of the largest and most diverse categories of furniture. There are thousands of styles, materials, colours, and shapes to choose from, and plethora of details that make each one unique. If you’re the indecisive type, you could spend hours poring over catalogues and swatches, but wouldn’t you rather choose your new couch with ease and spend that time relaxing on it with a cup of tea and a good book? That’s why we’ve put together the ultimate buying guide to take the stress out of your sofa search.
If you just want the basics about choosing a new couch, we have a shorter guide with quick tips to help you buy sofas, but if you’re ready to get into the nitty-gritty and learn everything there is to know about loveseats, leather, and lawsons, read on:
- Considering your space
- Choosing a sofa type
- Sofas: so many styles
- The frame comes first
- Comfortable with cushions
- All about upholstery
- Time to measure up
- Taking good care
Considering your space
First thing’s first, before you get ready to buy sofas, you have to think about the space where the sofa will go.
A massive, ten-piece sectional with ottomans and footrests and recliners and all the bells and whistles might be a chill-out dream, but if you’re in a small space you don’t want to buy sofas that will leave no room to move around the room.
On the flipside, unless you’re an ultra-minimalist, a single, narrow loveseat is probably not the right pick for a huge, open-plan sitting room.
Once you’ve found a sofa you like, you’ll use the exact measurements to make absolutely sure it will fit, and we’ll get into that more below, but when you’re just getting started in your sofa-buying journey, you can still get a rough idea of what size you’re looking for when you’re ready to buy sofas.
A great way to do this is to map out the shape of your possible sofa using masking tape or newspaper. Of course you need to make space to walk between your furniture and extend footrests if you want a sofa that has one, but also consider the furniture and details around it. Make sure that any wardrobe or sideboard nearby has space for drawers to open, look at the entryway to the room and ensure there’s room for doors to swing inward.
Measure those entryways as well! Ideally, the measurements of the sofa you choose should be at least 10 cm smaller than your doorway’s width in order for it to fit through smoothly (although some sofas do have workarounds for this like pieces that can be disassembled until it’s safely inside the room). Once you’ve got an idea of what size couch will work for your room, you’re ready to make some decisions about the sofa itself.
Sofa vs. Couch: is there a difference?
Just a quick aside to talk about a hot topic in furniture etymology: is there a difference between a sofa and a couch? Some folks say it’s a matter of formality: a couch is casual and comfy, while a sofa is elegant and more dignified. Others say it’s a question of style: a sofa has arms and is usually larger than a sofa. But most people use “couch” and “sofa” fairly interchangeably, and even the most stringent interior designer will know what you mean, so go with your personal preference.
Choosing a sofa type
One of the main considerations when you want to buy sofas is how many people you want it to seat. Of course, this depends on your lounging style (and whether you’re willing to share cushion space with anyone else) but as a rough guide:
|Standard sofa||3-4 people|
|Sectional||3-4 to 5+ people (varies)|
A standard sofa is what probably comes to mind when you think of a couch: two arms, a cushioned base, space for you and one or two others, or for you to stretch out at length.
A loveseat is smaller, more petite, just enough room for you and a partner, friend, child, or pet (maybe two if they’re small).
Then there’s the sectional. This sofa can be anything your heart desires. Buy sofas with a modular design that means you can add or subtract pieces and size it up and down for your needs. It can be similar to a standard sofa, or large enough to seat a crowd. This is also often the option you’ll turn to if you want an L- or U-shaped sofa (although you can find non-modular pieces in the corner shape as well).
A sofa bed is a couch that folds out into a bed (usually with a double-size mattress), while a daybed features a mattress cushion as its base and is generally single-mattress sized.
Both can be great options for double-duty performance and multifunctionality that welcomes visitors and still offers style for your living space.
Sofas: so many styles
We’ll get down to the details of sofa construction in a minute, but before we do that let’s talk about sofa style (let’s be honest, it’s much more fun than learning about suspension springs). Obviously when you buy sofas you want one that is going to be comfortable for years of lounging, but you also want one that looks good, too!
There are so many different styles of sofa that we could write a whole guide just talking about Chesterfields versus chaises (stay tuned?) but for now we’ll run through some of the most popular types that you may be considering:
- Lawson: Picture a couch. The first thing that popped into your mind was probably a Lawson. These classic sofas are designed for comfort. The back and seat of the sofa are rows of cushions that are separate from or loosely attached to the frame.
- Mid-century modern: Clean, minimalist lines define the mid-century modern sofa. This simple yet elegant piece is often lower to the ground and sits on uncovered wood or metal legs.
- Chesterfield: Tufted along the back, arms, and sometimes seat, the Chesterfield is traditionally upholstered in leather and often has a lower back and high arms, sometimes at equal heights. Buy sofas in this style for classic elegance.
- Tuxedo: The tuxedo sofa has high arms that are level with the sofa back, which is straight with no reclining angle, creating an elegant, modern look. It is sometimes tufted like the Chesterfield.
- English roll-arm: The English roll-arm sofa has, as the name suggests, low rolled arms, with a higher back. Although the upholstery is fairly tight, it has a good amount of cushioning and when you buy sofas like this you’re assured of a comfortable yet sophisticated pick.
- Bridgewater: The Bridgewater pairs the arms of an English roll-arm sofa with the cushy comfort of a Lawson and offers the best of both worlds. This is a classic sofa shape but can still be stylish with great upholstery.
- Recliner: The comfiest of all couches, a recliner may not be the most elegant pick but it is the cushiest. This sofa reclines, either manually or with a powerised motor, to let you lie back and lounge. Buy sofas that recline for the ultimate in cosiness for your sitting room or den.
The frame comes first
Everything begins with a frame. When you buy sofas, you want them to last. You may be able to reupholster your sofa after years of wear and tear, but the frame is forever, so it’s important to consider your options carefully. Dense hardwoods like teak, maple, and walnut are the sturdiest, but also much more expensive than softwoods such as pine and fir. Furniture-grade plywood also offers a good balance between economy and quality.
Next comes the suspension. The reason some sofas are so comfy doesn’t just come down to the cushions, but also the springs beneath them. According to the New York Times, most sofas utilise a sinuous spring system that helps cushions keep their shape and provides support as you sit. There are also coil spring systems similar to what you would find in an innerspring mattress, and some sofas even use a polypropylene webbing system that is light and affordable yet still strong.
Let’s talk about legs: sofa legs (sometimes called sofa feet) are almost always made of wood or metal and can be round, square, triangle, or wedge-shaped. They may attach to the sofa with screws or brackets, and when buying a sofa you should definitely check to ensure that the legs are firmly attached and don’t wobble.
Also, if you have hardwood floors, when you buy sofas you want to ensure that the legs won’t leave scratches—you can always cap them with carpeting or scratch-resistant covers, but it’s something you’ll want to take care of sooner rather than later.
Comfortable with cushions
While there aren’t as many different types of filling for sofas as there are for, say, mattresses, but there are still plenty of options to choose from. One thing to keep in mind when you buy sofas is that firmer sofas don’t necessarily equal more durability, so if you’re someone who prefers a softer style, that doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice quality.
Foam, usually wrapped in a layer of polyester for extra resilience, makes up the vast majority of sofa cushions, although memory foam occasionally makes an appearance, especially in sofa beds.
Goose or duck feathers can sometimes be found in extra-luxe sofas. However, the softness of the down means you’ll need to plump and fluff it often, although you can opt for a 50/50 blend for a bit lower maintenance. Folks with feather allergies should probably avoid this option.
A coil spring core like that found in a mattress is sometimes used for sofas that don’t have removable seat cushions. As with mattresses, when opting for an innerspring sofa the most important thing to test is whether there are squeaks or bumps when you sit down.
All about upholstery
Upholstery fabric is where you as a customer and budding interior design superstar will probably have the most creative license in choosing your perfect sofa. While some sofas are designed with a singular look in mind, it’s not uncommon for many pieces to have a medley of options for fabric type and colour. As we mentioned before, if you buy sofas with strong frames they can be reupholstered if the fabric pills over time, picks up stains, or is subjected to other wear and tear. However, you naturally don’t want to be worrying about repairs for a long time after you invest in a new furniture piece, so picking a quality fabric is a key factor in sofa-buying.
- Cotton needs very little introduction. This soft, natural fabric is breathable and comfy for relaxed seating. It’s best for cushions with removable covers that can be washed as it can be prone to wrinkling or stains.
- Linen is another great natural option that’s a bit more durable than cotton. It’s also breathable and, even better, hypoallergenic. It does also get wrinkly, but in a lovely, natural way that can look soft and inviting.
- Wool, on its own or in a blend of materials, creates a cosy feel for your living room. Wonderful for both warm and cold climates, wool is one of the most versatile options for upholstery fabric, bolstered by a huge variety of colours.
- Polyester is a synthetic star for sofas. Super-durable and available in a variety of colours and textures, it promises long-lasting appeal. Buy sofas upholstered with polyester especially for homes with kids and/or pets.
- Velvet is generally made from cotton or polyester, and the deep pile fabric brings warmth and glam to your room. It is a little more high-maintenance, in exchange. If you buy sofas made with velvet, you’ll have to do a little more cleaning, but you’ll enjoy a lot more glamour.
- Microfiber fabric is usually made from polyester, and offers a durable, synthetic version of suede that’s especially good for pet owners because it is extra-resistant to stains and scratches.
- Other fabrics: Acrylic and polyurethane are synthetic fabrics that emulate wool and leather, respectively. Silk is sometimes used for a very sophisticated look, although it’s very delicate and not suited for everyday use furniture.
- Leather isn’t a fabric but it is one of the most popular materials for sofas—and for good reason. Buy sofas upholstered in leather and get durability, easy maintenance, and of course, amazing looks. Leather is a fabulous pick for most sofa aesthetics, whether it’s a squishy, comfy recliner or a sleek, tightly-upholstered tuxedo.
Time to measure up
So you’ve found what you think is the couch of your dreams and you’re ready to buy sofas for your home. You’ve measured your room, right? Well, now it’s time to measure again. Start with measuring the soon-to-be-yours couch. Here are the most important things you need to know about measuring a sofa:
- Don’t just measure frame length and width. The arms are usually the widest part of the sofa, so make sure you measure from arm to arm. This is especially true of sofas with curved arms.
- Depth is also very important, especially if you’re considering different sofa sizes. The depth on a two-seater is usually the same as on a three-seater, and so on, so a smaller sofa doesn’t mean that it’s less deep.
- If the sofa reclines, you also need to measure it at its full extension; there’s no point having a recliner if there’s no room to use it! Also keep in mind that if you have a recliner, you won’t be able to push the sofa flat against the wall, so measure with enough space to position it properly.
- If your sofa has screw-on legs, you may be able to remove them to give some extra space to get it into the room for installation, but if they are permanently connected, then make sure you measure the sofa height all the way down to the feet.
- Ensure you have space for any accompanying accessories, like an ottoman or footrest. Similarly, if you buy sofas that fold out into a bed, make sure that there will be room to open it up. You may be happy to move your coffee table every time you want to use the sofa bed as a bed, but you still need a space to which you can move the table.
- You can measure your room in the same way you did before now that you have the actual dimensions of your sofa, either with a newspaper or string blueprint of your sofa’s size and shape, or simply with a measuring tape. However, if you are using a flat blueprint, don’t forget things like window height (if you plan to have your sofa against a wall), or doors that open toward your sofa.
- Consider the spots the sofa will have to pass through to reach the room, like doorways, narrow hallways, staircase bannisters, and sharp corners.
Taking good care
Now you’ve found your perfect sofa. Congratulations! It looks amazing in your home, and it’s sooo comfortable, too. The only thing left to do (after styling it up with your favourite throw pillows and blankets) is to take good care of your new furniture to make sure you’ll be enjoying it from years to come.
Basic cleaning is simple: vacuum your sofa regularly to prevent dust build-up, and tackle spills immediately to avoid stains. The best way to do this is to soak up the liquid with a cloth or towel, then dry the rest of the way with a hairdryer, unless it’s something that’s likely to stain, aka red wine, in which case further treatment should be done. If your sofa has removable covers, don’t forget to wash them, and use the time to check under the cushions for dust (and loose change).
Fabric fades when exposed to light and heat. To an extent, this fading is natural—think of the lovely patina that forms on a well-worn leather couch—but you don’t want to lose all of the colour you’ve so carefully chosen or end up with an uneven, patchy look. Don’t place your furniture too close to light and heat sources like lamps and radiators. Close your curtains when you’re not home if there is direct sunlight on your sofa.
Over time, you may notice your sofa isn’t quite as cushy as it was when you first brought it home. Sofa cushions do lose some of their firmness over time, but to keep them at maximum fluffiness, plump them from the outside corners when you stand up. If your sofa’s cushions are removable, rather than fixed, you can also rotate them for even use, especially if you have a favourite spot to sit.
If you’re ready to buy sofas but still have any questions, our team of furniture specialists is here to help! Get in touch today and we’ll assist you in finding the perfect couch for your home. And once you buy sofas, armchairs, or recliners you love, don’t forget to show them off! Use the hashtag #mycorcorans on Instagram or tag us @corcorans.furniture (Instagram) or CorcoransFurnitureandCarpets (Facebook) to share your new pieces; we love to see them in your home!