12 Important Things to Know Before You Buy a Sofa
Buying a sofa is not a simple task – it is a long-time investment that might make or break a room. Your couch should be versatile enough to go with your décor scheme and classy enough to blend in yet stand out.
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Designers reveal what you must consider before making this major purchase.
When it comes to furniture, a sofa is likely to be one of the biggest investments you’ll make. Yet, with so many options, it’s so easy to go wrong. We spoke with our favorite designers to find out the secrets to making a confident decision.
1. Sofas are more “one-size-fits-all” than you think
“The perfect sofa is 40″ deep, 60″ long, and 36″ high with a 19″ seat height,” says Mary McDonald. From there, consider the arms. “For a traditional sofa, I like a scroll arm, and for modern one, I love a square arm, both with the same overall measurements.”
2. But there are circumstances in which you might want more length
“Most of my clients ask for sofas to be ‘long enough for a nap’ — so I make them at least 90″ long or even longer if the room allows,” says Ginger Barber. Even if you’re not going the custom route, make sure you can lie down comfortably.
3. Measure twice, buy once
Though it’s tempting to rush the purchase, taking the time to check how the sofa will fit into your room is worth it. “Cut a template from brown paper in the size of the sofa you’re considering, place it on the floor, and see how it looks before you buy,” recommends Chandos Dodson Epley.
4. And you have to measure doorways, hallways and ceilings, too
“Apartment dwellers, beware: Your sofa should never be longer than the ceiling height of your elevator,” says T.Keller Donovan.
5. Proportion counts, especially with a sectional
An L-shape sofa can often overwhelm a room. “On a sectional, always do a tight back instead of loose cushions. It will help keep the overall profile from becoming overwhelming,” says Madeline Stuart. “And keep the back fairly low — around 32″. This will make the sectional feel a little less imposing.”
6. The other elements in the room can offer color cues
You don’t always have to go neutral for a stylish look. “To establish calm, I upholster sofas in a solid that’s the same color as the walls and curtains,” says Barbara Barry.
7. The seat cushions determine how guests will use the sofa
“I never use two seat cushions, because then three people won’t sit on the sofa,” Rose Tarlow says. “I’ll use three seat cushions if a sofa is 7′ long or longer, and if it’s 6′ or less, I use just one cushion.”
8. If you’re buying online, you’ll have to call customer support for all the measurements
Product descriptions often miss key details, so check with the retailer to get the full scoop. “If you’re buying a sofa online, a good formula to ensure comfort is a combined seat height and depth of 40″ to 44″,” says James Howard. “If the sofa is 16″ high at the seat and 24″ deep, add them together and you get 40″. Or combine a 20″ seat height with a 24″ depth for a total of 44″. If you’re short-legged go with 40″; long-legged, 44″.”
9. You need to conside ceiling height
“If you have 8′ ceilings, you’ll want a low sofa, which gives the impression that the ceiling is taller than it is,” says David Easton. “In a room with a high ceiling, you want a high-back sofa to be a weighty presence that can hold up to the room.”
10. Don’t fall for the trends
Since a sofa is one of the key pieces of a room, it makes sense to keep the look as classic as possible. “I never use big patterns or trendy colors for large upholstered pieces,” says Tom Stringer. Yet, that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun. “The punch of pattern or hot splash of trendy color should come from the throw pillows so they can be easily substituted when you need change.”
11. Try this trick test how sound the structure is
“My dad taught me that to ensure the sofa you are buying is sturdy and well-built (he’s an engineer), you lift up one of the front legs 5″ to 7″ — the other front leg should lift as well. If it’s still touching the floor, the frame is weak,” says Katarina Rodman.
12. Practicality is often the best choice
When given the option for a skirt, opt for a practical color. “Always use dark fabric for skirts so heel scuffs are not visible,” says Jill Sharp Brinson.