December 12, 2018

Is an IKEA Sofa for You?

I have a confession to make. I own an IKEA sofa. 

When I disclose this little tidbit of information, people think I’m kidding. IKEA is great for bookcases and office furniture, but there is still a stigma attached to IKEA’s more substantial furniture pieces, like beds and sofas. So when I was in the market for a new sofa sectional a few months ago, I initially did not consider anything from IKEA. 

The new sofa I was buying was replacing an old sofa from Z Gallerie that was on its last legs. The upholstery was shot. And because the cushion was attached to the frame, I couldn’t just replace the cushion; the entire sofa needed to be reupholstered. 

From my experience with the Z Gallerie sofa, I knew the one most important feature I wanted in my new sofa — removable covers. Reupholstering a sofa often costs more than buying a new one. Slipcovered sofas made sense for me, but I did not like the style of traditional slipcovered sofas I was seeing in stores. I’m just not a shabby chic kind of person. If only I could find a modern sofa with removable, replaceable slipcovers.

That’s when a nagging voice in my head kept telling me (in a Swedish accent) to think about IKEA. Because IKEA offers its sofas in a variety of colors, yet aims to keep inventory and its signature “flatpacking” manageable, most of its sofas come with removable covers. Eureka! But how’s the quality? The comfort? The style?

Knowing you can’t judge a sofa by an online photo, I ventured to the IKEA store in Carson to give it the old Goldilocks, trying every sofa to see which one — if any — felt just right.

At the top of my list was the Friheten. It is a thoughtfully designed, compact sectional that folds out into a bed, and best of all, is available in hot pink. Hot pink, people! There’s even a hidden storage compartment under one of the cushions. I was ready to buy it … until I sat on it. The cushions are so stiff I could not imagine lounging on the Friheten for more than a few minutes. In a way, it would be ideal for out-of-town guests because it would make them want to leave.

Next, I tried the Ektorp, which was actually quite comfortable. I could picture it in a cozy Scandinavian farmhouse. But comfortable as it was, the traditional style did not go with my modern décor. 

Then I sat on the Karlstad. Now this was more like it. Here was a sofa that had clean, contemporary lines. The cushions had just the right amount of give. And it had a wide selection of cushion-cover fabrics. I really loved that these cushion covers were form-fitting and did not look at all like slipcovers. The one minus of the Karlstad was the ugly legs. They are rectangular light-wood blocks that scream “cheap.” Fortunately, IKEA sells modern aluminum legs that go with the Karlstad for only $20 per set of four. 

So, after more bouncing up and down on the showroom pieces, I purchased my first IKEA sofa — the Karlstad chaise/loveseat combination. I selected the Isunda Gray fabric, which is a beautiful tweed that seemed very durable. And the retail price of my configuration was just $829.

I was warned that assembly was required on the sofa, but I figured that meant I would just have to screw in the legs and put on the cushion covers. Oh no, was I mistaken. When the delivery people dropped off the multiple boxes in my house (I recall there were at least seven different boxes I had to take apart), I realized I would have to basically assemble the whole frame, connecting the seat, back and arms. Fun.

But you know what? It wasn’t that hard to put together. It did take me almost three hours, because we’re talking four separate assembly manuals totaling 64 pages, but each individual step was easy. And I’m not that handy.

So how is the sofa holding up? Sofa, so good. The cushions are holding their shape quite nicely, and the fabric still looks new. It has not pilled, even with the dogs’ occasional scratching. I am actually not that worried, because worst-case scenario, if the upholstery is destroyed, I can buy replacement covers at IKEA for about $200. 

Is an IKEA sofa for everyone? Of course not. But if you keep an open mind, there are several benefits to an IKEA sofa that you won’t find with other brands. I find it interesting that while there is a perception that IKEA furniture does not last, the ability to change out the upholstery in many of its sofas actually gives the furniture a longevity lacking in more expensive options. 

And one more nugget of information: I wrote this column sitting on the Karlstad, using one of the sofa arms as my laptop table. Like I said before, IKEA’s always been great for office furniture. 

Jonathan Fong is the author of “Walls That Wow,” ”Flowers That Wow” and “Parties That Wow,” and host of “Style With a Smile” on YouTube. You can see more of his do-it-yourself projects on