Sofa Buying, Like a Boss: 10 Questions Design Pros Always Ask Before Taking the Plunge

published Sep 1, 2016
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(Image credit: Elissa Crowe)

A new sofa is a major investment, often involving months of IRL and virtual window shopping, mulling, second guessing, and more mulling. I checked in with a few interior designers (i.e. professional sofa buyers) to ask for their expert advice on what you should consider before starting the sofa-buying process and how to make the task more straightforward. Consider this your ask-yourself-this-first checklist.

First, meet our panel of interior design experts: Claire Staszak of Centered by Design (**Fun fact: Claire is currently competing in HGTV’s Faces of Design Awards), Lauren Svenstrup of Studio Sven and Alexandra Kaehler of AK Studio

On to the questions…

(Image credit: Restoration Hardware)

1. Does it serve the purpose I need it to?

Alexandra’s advice: I always first consider how well a large piece will work in terms of functionality. For a sofa, will it be comfortable for hours of relaxing in a cozy family room, will it seat enough people in your living room? It’s important to purchase furniture that works for you and meets the needs of your lifestyle.

2. Will it fit?

This seems obvious, but it’s easy to get caught up in the moment when you fall for the look of a piece of furniture and forget to consider whether the scale and shape of the frame will physically make sense in your space (or even fit through your hallway/door). Block out dimensions with measuring tape before sofa shopping. And remember that sofa styles often come in loveseat sizes, too!

3. Is it comfortable?

We tend to focus a lot on the aesthetics of a sofa, but comfort is equally important. We are not all built the same, and neither are sofas. Give sofas a test run (test sit?) before buying and think about how the cushions and frame make you feel. For instance, if you want an extra-deep sofa for ease of cuddling and binge watching, make sure it’s not so deep that you can’t comfortably sit forward for enjoying snacks or drinks off the coffee table.

(Image credit: Anthropologie)

4. Should I look beyond big retailers?

Claire’s advice: Don’t settle for what you see at the big box stores! If you aren’t seeing something you love, look at quality vintage or secondhand pieces (and recover it if you love the frame but not the fabric). Another idea is to consider smaller furniture makers or a custom sofa. I work for Interior Define, an online custom sofa retailer, and there are other companies out there trying to make quality products at good price points. Do some research and go into the purchase as an educated consumer and you’ll get a better product that you love the look of, but will last, too.

5. Is it good quality?

Claire’s advice: Think about the frame and fill, which are often the least thought about but the most important elements of your sofa in terms of comfort and durability. You want to look for frames made with hardwoods (not plywood) that have decent wood joinery (like dowels) holding the sofa together (sometimes with glue and staples as well). This ensures your frame will last and hold together over time and use. It’s nice to have high-density foam and/or down feathers in the sofa for comfortable and long-term wear also. It can be hard to determine what’s under the surface, so don’t be shy about calling and asking the company these types of questions directly. **EWG has a list of 5 sofas that do not contain fire retardants.

(Image credit: Brittany Purlee)

6. Does the sofa work in my room?

Similar to seeing a great dress online only to realize it doesn’t make you feel great when you’re wearing it, a sofa will translate differently in the unique context of your home. If it’s difficult for you to visualize how a sofa (or any piece of furniture) will look, try using a virtual interior design tool, which takes a lot of the guesswork out of designing and decorating a room.

7. What fabric should I choose?

Lauren’s advice: If you have pets with claws that will be on the sofa, make sure to select a fabric that will not snag. I usually recommend that clients with pets steer clear of woven fabrics, instead opt for something like a velvet (which is much more durable than most give it credit for). If you are going to eat on the sofa and generally live your life there, spills and messes will happen. A nice sofa is an investment, one that you can and should protect. When your new sofa is delivered, immediately hire a professional to apply stain protection to your new upholstery. Not a can of Scotch Guard, a professional…trust me, its worth it! (Note: Many interior designers opt for outdoor fabrics on indoor sofas for families with kids and messy pets. Something to consider!)

(Image credit: Amazon)

8. Do I want a statement piece?

A neutral sofa can play nicely as a supportive piece while a boldly colored or patterned sofa can play a powerful role as an anchor (check out this GIF magic post to see what an amazing difference color can make!). If you are interested in exploring a statement sofa, designer Reagan Hayes has helpful pointers, such as, “if everything is special, then nothing is special…If you’re trying to let one piece be a statement, keep other things smaller or less ornate.”

9. Do I know what I want?

If you are still learning what your personal style is (and for some of us, it’s ever-evolving), that is okay! Take some pressure off by looking at secondhand sofas or a smaller, less expensive piece. It will be a lot easier to invest in your dream sofa when you have a clearer idea of what you want.

10. Is a new sofa a smart investment right now?

A sofa, or any large piece of furniture, is also a major financial decision and, whether you’re paying upfront or entering into financing, it’s always a good idea to think critically about how a major purchase will impact you financially. If a brand new high-quality sofa isn’t financially feasible, there are thousands of people parting with their gently used, well-made sofas everyday, so check out secondhand shops and websites for a sofa that clicks with your style and budget.