A Helpful Pocket Guide to Join You on the Adventure Known as Buying a Living Room Sofa

Chances are, whether you live in a house, apartment, or loft, you either own a sofa or are looking to buy one. It's a workhorse item with a multitasking ability that is often taken for granted. After all, it serves not only as a spot for family and friends to gather, but occasionally functions as makeshift sleeping quarters for spontaneous overnight visitors. The humble couch is generally the largest single piece of furniture in a room, making it both a focal point and an investment. All of this is to say that you want to take time to consider the functions that you'll be asking your sofa to take on.

Before you run out and make a hasty purchase, there are a few things to consider about your lifestyle that will help narrow down your selection. For example, do you have a large family and/or invite the neighborhood over for back-to-back Sunday football games? If so, a sectional with durable and easy to clean fabric will be your best friend. Or do you live alone and rarely entertain? Meet the loveseat. If you're stumped by an awkward shaped living room or feel pigeon-holed by existing walls, sofas can be built-in, resulting in beautiful space-saving perches. There's so much more than meets the eye when it comes to sofa shopping, so read on to learn more.

Intro to Sofa Shopping

Regardless of its size, a sofa anchors a room and is generally purchased before other pieces of furniture. When looking for something new, you want to consider the space it will live in. Are you buying for a traditional living room or a casual, open-plan family room? Living rooms tend to have couches with more formal silhouettes and tighter cushions, while a sofa in a family room would be roomier and more relaxed.

Measure.

If you're replacing an existing sofa, you'll have a good idea of what size you're looking for. However, if you're in the market for a new shape or are buying for a new space, it's important to mark the size of potential purchases with blue painter's tape to fully understand how it'll look. If the sofa is going against a wall, measure the wall. And don't forget to ensure doorways, staircases, and elevators are wide enough so that your new buy will make it into the room.

What's your budget?

It's true: Budgets are bummers. Unfortunately, they are also reality. The good news is that there are almost as many sofa styles as there are price points, so don't be intimidated if you initially can't find anything within your budget. If you have sticker shock when doing your research, take a deep breath and remember that your couch, while a big investment, will be one of the most utilized pieces of furniture in your home. Buy the best one you can afford and you'll have it for years to come.

How big should your sofa be?

Sectionals are the ideal companion for large gatherings around a TV or fireplace, but scaled down versions can also work in smaller rooms. They're perfect for families or those who like to entertain a lot. Because this sofa will see a lot of use, go for comfort and durability here. Think washable fabrics that will hold up to spills and pets. Generally a sectional is a more casual choice built for comfort so something deep and forgiving is a natural match. They come in sections (thus the name) and can either be left-arm facing or right-arm facing depending on what side the chaise or "lounge" part is on when you look at the sofa. If you need to fill a particularly large room, you can consider a double sectional with two chaises (one on either side).

What about those cushions?

As if narrowing down the shape and size of your sofa weren't challenging enough, you also need to think about what goes inside the actual cushions. Those come with options as well. It's a good idea to visit a handful of retailers and sit on a variety of sofas to really get a feeling for seat depth, as well as the different fillings.

Foam

Foam is the most common type of filling and ranges from high- to low-density. High-density, as the name suggests, is pretty dense and therefore firm (maybe too firm for some), but retains its shape and is more durable than low-density foam, which usually has a soft or medium firmness. There's more: Cushions made from memory foam, like those mattress commercials tout, support and conform to your body, making foam a great choice for those with muscle and joint pain. Cushions filled with a high-resilient density foam or HR are resistant to wear and sagging and can last up to 14 years.

Feathers and Down

If you're longing for a sofa you can really sink into, a filling made from feathers or down is for you. Both have pros and cons. You'll pay more for down-filled cushions, however, they can get lumpy over time unless the down is sewn into pockets or baffles. On the other hand, feathers are more affordable but can't get wet (think children and spills). Waterproof covers can provide protection. You can also combine feathers and down with foam for a firmer, but still cushy feeling.

Polyester

Polyester is often used in budget-friendly sofas due to its affordability. It's available in several densities and while it's a good choice for those watching their wallets, it does come with some drawbacks that are worth considering. Polyester easily flattens out and doesn't always bounce back. To combat this tendency, look for cluster-polyester filling, which contains tiny balls of fiber. It's one of the most durable and shape-holding polyester options.

Batting

Batting is generally used in conjunction with foam cushions for smoothness and to prevent slipping. It's available in 25.5 ounces and 42.4 ounces and can be made of cotton, wool, or polyester.

Go big.

A double chaise, or "U" shaped sectional, maximizes seating for the largest get-togethers. Kate Marker creates a balanced space by doubling down on furniture and accessories for a monochromatic look that's calm, soothing, and welcoming. Black steel framed windows add contrast and give the space a bit of industrial edge.

Make it leather.

leather living room sectional with throw pillows and leather lounge chairs
credit: Leanne Ford

A roomy living room sectional and matching chairs are a family-friendly choice for this boho-inspired space that says "stay a while." Leanne Ford adds texture through organic elements like leather upholstery and plenty of wood, and she uses her trademark mix of vintage furniture and accessories for a character-filled, one-of-a-kind refuge.

Loveseat

A loveseat is a petite living room couch idea perfect for people who are looking to maximize seating options, but are spatially constrained, or for those who want the flexible seating a sofa offers but don't entertain THAT much. They come in a range of styles from formal to casual, making them a natural match for virtually any interior design style.

Small but mighty.

living room couch with large area rug and woven side chairs with brass side table
credit: CB2

What this sofa lacks in size, it more than makes up for in style. A low-slung loveseat by CB2 features a deep profile for maximum comfort, while the absence of arms makes it suitable for smaller spaces. Natural materials seen in the woven leather lounge chairs and wood coffee table add plenty of warmth, while a sculptural side table is pure elegance.

Built-ins

If you're short on space or are dealing with an awkward setup, consider going with a built-in sofa or living room sectional. Not only does it free up precious real estate, but because it's integrated into its surroundings, it looks like an original part of the home. A built-in can't be purchased off-the-shelf and needs to be custom-made by a professional.

Make the most of a small space.

Jessica Helgerson designs a cozy L-shaped built-in living room sectional and pairs it with a trio of petite tables (rather than one larger piece) to match the scale of this small and timeless space. A dose of greenery and streamlined accessories work together for a restrained Scandi vibe.

Where to shop?

Now that you are armed with the all of the sofa buying know-how you need, here are a few of our favorite retailers to shop.


Jaclyn Schatzow

Jaclyn Schatzow

Jaclyn Schatzow is a freelance writer living in Santa Monica, CA