PAVILION CORNER SOFA BED COMFY SOFA BED LOAF
BenchMade Modern offers a free, true-to-size printout of your exact sofa to roll out across the floor; if you’re considering another brand, create a footprint of the sofa using newspaper, cardboard, or recycled paper taped together. If that sounds a bit old fashioned, augmented-reality apps like IKEA Place and Wayfair’s Shop All Things Home will show life-sized versions of furniture in any space. AR apps also lessen the guesswork of if a sofa “works” with the interior paint and nearby decorative or architectural features. Unfortunately, not all sofa manufacturers offer this option yet. Pick the right sofa for your lifestyle
Are the stitching and piping neat? Inspect stitching and piping sewn across cushions to check if they align consistently. Poor alignment can be a visible indication that more serious issues exist hidden from view. Similarly, if the front of a sofa’s cushions are wavy, avoid purchasing that sofa.
When shopping for a sofa in person, or even if you’re trying one that you’ve ordered online, use the following guidelines to help assess how comfortable you’ll find it over time and how well it’s made.
A diagram of a Camelback sofa: one or two humps at the center of the backrest, and four or six exposed wooden legs Illustration: Sarah MacReading
Beyond style, cushions are the most subjective element in picking out a sofa. Some people will want nap-friendly cushions they can sink into, while others will want more structured, firmer seating. Generally, you’ll find four cushion options:
Most frames are made of some kind of engineered wood, but our experts advised avoiding MDF or particleboard, which do not hold staples, glue, or nails well over time. Instead, look for those made of furniture-grade plywood, engineered hardwood, or solid wood. The most durable sofas are made from traditional mortise-and-tenon joints, which require less staples and glue to hold the frame together. When testing out a sofa, the frame should feel solid. Any swaying is a sign that the frame isn’t strong. Suspensions
Accurately measure the sofa Measure the width, height, and depth of the sofa; taking additional measurements can also prove useful for ordering custom upholstery or for packing/moving individual pieces later. Although measurements are almost always listed online or in catalogs, we recommend bringing a tape measure to stores to verify dimensions in person. Ask sales representatives if the sofa ships with sections/parts disassembled or if they can be removed easily. Some newer online-only furniture brands like Burrow and Campaign ship their sofas in multiple pieces for an easier delivery process.
Settee: A small upright sofa with two arms distinguished by its dimensions for two, the settee is the original name for the love seat. Styles can range from traditional to contemporary detailing.
I’ve written about design, architecture, and décor at Design Milk for over four years, and for seven years was the managing editor at home decor and lifestyle site, Apartment Therapy. I’ve designed furniture for children, and have several years of experience as an industrial designer, affording me an understanding about how things are designed and manufactured (including the corners cut to make things affordable). Decide what type of sofa you want
Diagrams of eight sofa styles: mid-century modern, Lawson, English roll arm, chaise, settee, Tuxedo, Chesterfield, and Camelback Illustration: Sarah MacReading
Retailers offer a wide range of upholstery fabrics at different prices. The cheapest fabrics are generally more susceptible to stretching and staining. Upholstery fabrics usually have a rub-count rating, which indicates their longevity. Consider a 50,000 count standard, 80,000 premium, and 100,000 as high performance. Residential rub counts above 25,000 are usually considered fine, but if you have a family or pets we’d recommend leaning toward 50,000, because the amount of friction across the fabric surface will add up.
January and July are the two best months to find sofas at discount, because the furniture industry ships new inventory to retail locations biannually in February and August. If you’re buying from a retailer with an as-is section, like IKEA, returned sofas offer an opportunity to discover potential weak points and structural issues of specific models. If you see a multitude of a certain style, it’s probably best to avoid that type. Sofa-buying checklist
When mulling over your fabric options, request samples larger than the usual swatch to observe what they look like under sunlight and illuminated by interior lights. Try to take a nap with the fabric against your face, and apply it against the neck, arms, and back to determine if it’s truly comfortable, something near impossible to determine using a small swatch and your fingertips. How much to spend and when to buy
Mid-century modern: The hallmarks of the mid-century aesthetic are a clean and minimalist structure sitting low atop unadorned metal or wooden legs. A style originally established between 1947 to 1957, the mid-century aesthetic became ubiquitous again in the late 1990s and early 2000s, eventually commercialized by the likes of West Elm and Crate and Barrel into contemporized forms that remain popular today. Mid-century modern mixes well into a variety of spaces, but especially in rooms with low ceilings. Our pick
A diagram of the English roll arm design: a high, cushioned back with low contoured arms that lean outward Illustration: Sarah MacReading
Regardless of how well a sofa is made, you won’t be happy with it if you don’t also love the way it looks. Narrow your search to the styles that appeal to you, and that will complement your home’s decor. Following are the eight most common styles sold today. Mid-century modern
Is it easy to get out of? If you find the couch uncomfortable to get up from, you might want to try a higher seat level and supportive, firm cushions. Seating you sink into is more difficult to get up from, so people with pain or mobility issues should avoid overly soft materials like down or memory foam.
Think through how many people will regularly sit on the sofa, but also how they like to sit. For example, if one person likes to sit upright while the other likes to lie across with their head on an arm, that’s how they should test out a sofa for comfortable width. Larger families or households that regularly host guests will be naturally drawn to sectionals, but also consider using two different-sized sofas positioned into an L shape or a pair of loveseats facing one another to produce a more dynamic and flexible seating arrangement. Do you have kids or pets?
English roll arm: The cushioned, yet firm high-back sofa is distinguished by its low contoured arms leaning outward. This style looks best in traditional and transitional decorated spaces with enough room to not cramp its size.
Is it the right height? Your feet should lay perfectly and comfortably flat on the floor while in a seated position. If you’re shorter than 5-foot-3, look for sofas with an inside seat depth of 19 to 21 inches (measured from the edge of the front of the seat to the front of the back cushion). People 6 feet and taller or those who lie down regularly should look for sofas with deeper seating depth.
An underside shot of a sofa's squiggly metal springs The quality of the frame, supports (like the sinuous springs shown here), the cushions, and upholstery all play a part in how long a sofa will last. Photo: Jeremy Pavia
Is it comfortable to sit or lie on? It should gently yield to your body weight, and shouldn’t feel noticeably hard or soft. Test any sofa without extra pillows; they may hide back-cushioning issues. Bring and read a magazine from cover to cover while seated and/or laying down. If you feel aches after only a few minutes, consider a different style or size.
BenchMade Modern Kaden Loveseat Tuxedo
A diagram of the Lawson sofa design: body profile, with cushions separate from the frame Illustration: Sarah MacReading
A diagram illustrating proper measuring technique: width, height, arm height, and depth all need to be measured, as well as your entryways' width, height, and corners Double-check the manufacturer’s listed measurements by taking your own, and carefully measure the path of delivery. Illustration: Sarah MacReading
We’ve all heard the horror stories of someone who purchased the sofa of their dreams only to discover it would not fit through a doorway, navigate a stairway, or fit inside the room. The carpenter’s adage of “measure twice, cut once” proves similarly true while dropping hundreds, if not thousands of well-earned dollars for a sofa. Follow these precautionary steps to ensure that you don’t become a cautionary tale for future generations of sofa shoppers.
Crate and Barrel Montclair 3-Seat Roll Arm Sofa Chaise
Measure your entryways Survey the easiest points of entry into your home, together with any obstacles that could complicate delivery. A steep stairway, narrow corridor, low overhanging fixture, or a small elevator can all present insurmountable challenges even before a delivery makes it to the front door. We found Room & Board’s “How to Prepare for Furniture Delivery” video particularly insightful for identifying and visualizing obstacles that can get in the way of delivery. Habitat UK’s six-step sofa-fit checklist (PDF) is another excellent resource that can help you determine if the sofa will fit through doors and hallways, up a flight of stairs (including those with a landing), or into an elevator.
Test out the footprint Before pulling the trigger, make sure your potential upholstered roommate fits where you intend it to live.
Does wood grain match? Examine the consistency of any grain or stain across wood pieces. Look out for mismatched or poorly matched color and grain.
Is it still comfortable with two or three people? Note if there’s a lot of “motion transfer” when a second or third person sits down on the sofa. Sofas built with spring supports will have more motion transfer than those with poly-webbing supports. You’ll likely want a sofa that offers some resistance and that won’t let you sink too much.
A diagram of a Chesterfield couch: it has rolled arms and a tufted back, which are even in height Illustration: Sarah MacReading
If you have delicate wood floors, carefully consider the legs of your sofa. From experience, we know that hairpin legs can scrape wood floors. As a last resort, a well-placed area rug can keep sofa feet from damaging a floor. How to check for quality construction
Lawson: The “comfy jeans” of sofas, the laidback Lawson is practically synonymous with what we think of as the quintessential couch where spare change is to be discovered. Designed originally for Boston financier Thomas Lawson in the early 20th century, the tailored and boxy profile features a pitched back accessorized with cushioned seats and back separate from the frame. The Lawson has been interpreted in so many variations that there’s a style suited for practically any space and preference.
Standard sofa/couch: These generally measure between 72 and 84 inches, comfortably seating three to four people. Loveseat: Similar to a sofa, but intended for two people, these range from 48 and 72 inches wide. Sectional: A larger modular sofa consisting of two or more pieces arranged in an L- or U-shaped configuration. Apartment-size sectionals are about the same size as a standard sofa, but larger sizes can seat five or more people. Sofa bed/daybed: A sofa bed transforms to lay out flat, offering a mattress-like surface to rest. A daybed is essentially a sofa with more depth intended for lounging comfortably stretched across its length.
Less commonly, you’ll find a few other styles. The cabriole is ornate, identified by its exposed wooden frame and elegant bowed legs. The davenport is a boxy, high-backed sleeper sofa suited for a smaller space where you might need an occasional guest bed. The divan, a precursor to the daybed, is a tufted sofa without a back, intended to be placed against a wall. You may find modern interpretations of these three styles made by higher-end brands, or available in antique shops. Make sure the sofa fits in your home
Blu Dot New Standard English roll arm
Room & Board Macalester Sofa Chesterfield
Never underestimate a dog, cat, or child’s ability to destroy your furniture. Microfiber and leather upholstered sofas are the easiest to clean and maintain. And because both are smoother, they’re less likely to be scratched into remnants by a pet’s claws. Otherwise, stick with upholstery fabrics with high stain protection and a higher rub count (Room & Board has a great guide to pet- and family-friendly fabrics). You may also want to consider a sofa with a slipcover for an added layer of protection. Unattached seat and back cushions will make for easier individual cleaning. If your kids jump on the sofa, stick with a frame with sinuous springs or poly-webbing supports rather than more delicate hand-tied springs. For families with young kids, avoid down-filled cushions, because little feet will likely deform the malleable filling every day. It’s also a good idea to avoid decorative detailing, like tufting buttons or frilly trim; pulling and picking at these will prove irresistible for some kids. Do your floors easily scratch?
Tuxedo: Boxy dimensions, tufting along the back and arms, and arms of equal height to the back are what distinguish this style. A more modern cousin of the Chesterfield (see below), a tuxedo sofa looks best floating in an open space where the tufting can accentuate the length of the sofa.
Sofas/couches come in many shapes and sizes. The right one for you will depend on how much space you have, how many people you want to seat, and whether you plan to use the sofa for napping or hosting overnight guests. These are the four types you’ll generally find:
Article Ceni Sofa Lawson
Camelback: The aristocratic profile of the camelback (also called a humpback sofa) is unsurprisingly attributed to the hump at the center of the backrest. Sometimes there are two humps, and the sofa usually sits atop four to eight exposed wood legs. The style looks great from all angles in the middle of a room, against the backdrop of a large window, or against a contrasting-colored wall. Currently, only high-end brands make this sofa style, but you can find more affordable options in vintage/antique shops to reupholster.
Although a designer may take offense if you call their sofa a couch, in everyday use there’s no difference. Both describe a cushioned piece of furniture with a back intended to seat more than one person. But a formal distinction does exist. The word “couch” originates from the French word “couche”—a piece of furniture without arms and intended for lying down, while “sofa” evolved from “suffah,” the Arabic word for a bench covered in cushions and fabric. “Sofa” has always implied a more formal seating arrangement for entertaining guests (and the design/retail industry favors the term), and “couch” connotes the relaxed comforts of seating intended to welcome any and all. In simpler terms, think of a couch for Friends, and a sofa for your esteemed guests at Downton Abbey. Choose a sofa style
Hem Palo Chaise Settee
Because of its petite proportions, the settee works well in smaller apartments, in pairs facing one another, or placed within unexpected spaces like bedrooms, offices, or even hallways. Our pick
A pile of upholstery swatches on a table You can always order fabric samples from companies, such as these from Joybird (left) and BenchMade Modern (right). Pro tip: Once you’ve pinpointed your favorites, ask for larger samples to more closely scrutinize. Photo: Michael Hession
To learn how quality sofas are made, we visited three furniture factories: Los Angeles–based BSC Furniture, which at the time was manufacturing Benchmade Modern’s line of upholstered seating (the companies have since parted ways); the facility for Modernica, the modernist furniture manufacturer, also based in Los Angeles; and the Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams factory in Taylorsville, North Carolina. We spoke with Svenja Diekmann, lead designer at Swedish furniture company HEM, at the company’s pop-up showroom during the LA Design Festival. We also chatted with salespeople on the floor of retailers such as IKEA, Crate and Barrel, and West Elm, and read thousands of online reviews and editorial recommendations listed online at HGTV, Architectural Digest, Curbed, Apartment Therapy, Houzz, and Elle Décor.
After a mattress, a sofa is likely the most-used piece of furniture in a home. The quality of the frame, supports, cushions, and upholstery impact how long a sofa will last, which we elaborate on in our companion piece about sofa buying advice from the people who design and make them. In brief, this is what to look for: Frame
Chesterfield: Identified by its quilted or tufted low back, and high arms, this British design is classically upholstered in leather. The style is often attributed to Lord Philip Stanhope, fourth Earl of Chesterfield, who supposedly commissioned a sofa in the 18th century for a “gentleman to sit upright in the utmost of comfort allowing sitting without wrinkling the garment.” But the company currently in ownership of the Chesterfield patent has been unable to find any supportive evidence of this historical claim. A Chesterfield sofa looks best in traditionally decorated homes, but also looks striking as a contrasting focal point within contemporary spaces. Camelback
More than cushioning, the suspensions in a sofa are what make it comfortable. Quality sofas are often made with sinuous springs (S-shaped springs stretched across the skeleton of the wood frame). Some sofas are supported by poly-webbing, which can be even more durable than sinuous springs, depending on the quality. But webbing won’t give the sofa as much bounce. Very high-end sofas are made with eight-way hand-tied springs, which can do a better job at warding off sagging and squeaking. When testing out a sofa, listen for squeaks or creaks. That’s a sign that the springs are improperly installed or possibly broken. Cushioning
Be honest with yourself about how you’ll sit on the sofa. In retail stores, we’ve seen shoppers sitting on sofas like upright mannequins, which is likely not the way they would sit or lie on them at home. If you tend to slouch, a daybed or sectional with a chaise will prove more comfortable and won’t disfigure cushions (over time, slouching presses the front of seat cushions outward). If you’re a couch napper, avoid multi-cushion sofas, because they’re prone to buckle and dip between each cushion. If you prefer to sit upright while reading, knitting, or using a mobile device, the tailored and firmer structure of a mid-century modern-style sofa or seating with an upright back will feel more comfortable. How many people will sit on the sofa?
A diagram of a Tuxedo couch: it has a tufted back, squared-off arms, and a back that's even in height with the arms. Illustration: Sarah MacReading
Poly-wrapped foam: Made of high-resiliency foam wrapped in polyester, this is the most commonly found cushion style. You won’t need to fluff the cushions, and the foam generally provides good support. Goose/duck down: Filled either with 100 percent down (plush) or a down-blend encasing a foam core (slightly firmer) with a layer of down-proof ticking. This is the most luxurious cushion style, but just like a down bed pillow it requires regular fluffing. Innerspring core: Similar to a mattress, this cushion style has individually pocketed coils wrapped in a layer of foam. The cushions have more bounce than other styles. Memory foam: You’ll find memory foam cushions primarily on sleeper sofas. The high density of memory foam ensures durability, but not everyone will like its form-fitting properties.
A small tester jumps up and down on a two-seater gray sofa A little human tests sofa jump-ability (and durability) at Wirecutter’s LA office. Photo: Jeremy Pavia
A diagram of a settee: a shallow seat that seats two, often with a high back Illustration: Sarah MacReading
Does the frame feel sturdy? The sofa shouldn’t squeak or creak when you sit on it. Use this test: lift the front corner or leg of the sofa about six inches from the floor. The other front leg should eventually lift with it. If the opposing corner remains touching the floor, the frame is flexing too much. Note if the frame bows in the center when two or more people sit on it, which likely means the frame should be reinforced. This is particularly important for extra-long sofas. Depending on the length, the sofa may require an extra set of legs.
A diagram of the mid-century modern design: clean, minimalist structure, unadorned legs, and sits close to the ground Illustration: Sarah MacReading
Once you’ve narrowed your search by style and size, give some thought to your personal sofa seating habits. A pet owner or a family with young kids may have very different needs than a fastidious couple. Think through the following questions to help determine what best serves your lifestyle: How will you use the sofa?
Luxury designer sofas aren’t necessarily built to a higher standard than more modestly priced equivalents. Like fashion, sometimes you’re paying a premium for the branding. From our research and experience testing, we think about $1,200 is the minimum you’ll need to spend to get a three-seater sofa made with quality materials. Past $3,000 and you’re probably paying more for branding.
Chaise: Imagine the seat of an upholstered chair stretched out and you have the chaise. Traditionally this sofa features one side with an arm and the other side without (aka a méridienne sofa or fainting couch), but many chaise designs forgo arms altogether. Sigmund Freud’s cozy couch is perhaps the most famous chaise of all time. A chaise looks best against the wall or diagonally from a corner.
A diagram of a chaise lounge: an elongated seat with one arm (sometimes none) Illustration: Sarah MacReading