December 18, 2018

Buying guide: The perfect sofa

Are you in the market for a new sofa? My sympathies. Sofa shopping is stressful. Not only is it a high-ticket item, but you’re going to be sitting on it — and looking at it — every single day. For years.  

But the good news is that finding the right sofa is a lot easier if you know what to look for. So, before you begin your quest, become a sofa ninja with this checklist of things you’ll want to consider.

The style of the arms

The back and seat cushions

After you’ve decided on the type of arm that’s best for you, think about the back and seat cushions. There are two main ways to go: loose cushions or a tight back and seat. A sofa with loose cushions is typically more comfortable — you can really sink into it. It’s also easier to maintain because you can clean or replace individual cushions, and you can flip the cushions to extend their life. However, they can look sloppy if you don’t keep the cushions plumped up. You also have to be OK with the reality that the cushions won’t be lined up perfectly level at all times.

The type of fabric

Typically, when you’re buying a sofa from a furniture store, you’ll be given a choice of one or two fabrics that the sofa is stocked in, but with the option of selecting a custom fabric if you’re willing to pay more and wait longer for delivery. 

What fabric is right for you? If the sofa is going to get a lot of use, and if there will be food and kids in the picture, make sure the fabric is easy to clean. Synthetics or cotton and wool blends are easier to maintain than silks. Velvets and microsuedes are wonderfully soft, but you have to deal with the nap — when the fabric fibers lie in a particular direction, depending on how you touch it. I like to do a scratch test on the fabric to see how it holds up. Go ahead and dig in there with your nails — whatever you choose is going to get a lot more wear and tear than that at home. 

And if you’re shopping for a sofa online, always ask for a swatch of the fabric you’re interested in so you can see the true color and actually feel it.

Test drive it

It should be a given that you should always try sitting on any sofa you’re considering — even lie down on it — but too many people buy based on a photo without even sitting on the sofa. Don’t do that. 

Here’s my cautionary tale: There is a particular furniture store in Los Angeles (that will remain nameless) that offers many inexpensive, stylish sofas that look beautiful in the advertisements. When I went into the store to kill some time before a movie started, I decided to sit on all the sofas to see how comfortable they were. To my dismay, they did not seem to be designed for people with normal bodies. The proportions were all off. I felt like Goldilocks trying to find one that wasn’t too shallow or too deep. 

In addition to sitting on the sofa, try lifting it at a corner to see how sturdy it is. If it’s very light and you can lift it like you’re Superman, the wood frame is probably not strong hardwood. Don’t hesitate to jiggle it around, too, to make sure it doesn’t sag or make creaking noises.

Choosing the right size

Measure ahead of time so you know what size sofa your room will accommodate. Use masking tape to map out where the sofa will be positioned, and check whether any pathways will be blocked and if coffee and accent tables will still fit the room.

Make sure, too, that your new sofa will fit through your front door. I found out the hard way how important it is to premeasure your doorframe: I once bought a sofa for a client that, when it was delivered, would not fit through the front door. The sofa hadn’t looked so big in the store. I was sweating buckets until the delivery guy suggested removing the legs. Fortunately, its legs screwed off and the sofa was able to squeeze through.

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 at