Choosing the Perfect Sofa

Furniture should fit your lifestyle. Here's how to enhance your living room design with the right living room sofa.


Living room with couches and track ceiling lighting

With all the styles and colors of furniture available, the task of buying a living room sofa or couch can be daunting. This guide will help you choose a living room couch that will be just right for your needs and lifestyle.

Some living rooms are formal spaces, while others are fairly casual, multipurpose rooms where we watch television, entertain, read, relax in front of the fireplace or take a nap on a Sunday afternoon. No matter how your living room will be used, your furniture should fit your lifestyle -- and above all it should comfortable.

Style

Here are just a handful of the more popular living room furniture styles available today:

  • Contemporary or modern furniture has sleek, clean lines, bold colors and prints. Think uncluttered and sophisticated.
  • Casual furniture looks comfortable, friendly, cozy—checks, plaids, small prints and family-friendly solids. Think pine wood floors and handmade quilts.
  • Traditional is classic, elegant, refined—white, ivory or rich colors, fabrics can be a bit formal, rolled arms skirted bottoms. Think French doors and tall windows.
  • Old World combines French, Spanish and Italian styles-- heavy, rich earthy colors, leather, nubby textures, and natural but at the same time elegant. This furniture tends to be large so not always appropriate for small spaces. Think rustic, hand-crafted, antique.

  • The style you choose will depend on the style of your home, the size of your room, your lifestyle, and your budget.

    Several couches in open living room with celing lights

    Furniture for the living room is primarily made up of seating, tables and storage. Measure your seating area so you know how much room you have. It’s very hard to guess if a particular sofa or couch will fit in your living room. Consider using graph paper to sketch out a scale drawing of your room to visualize how potential furniture pieces will fit.

    Selecting Your New Sofa

    Don’t be so taken with a sofa's color, texture and style that you forget construction. When choosing a sofa look for durable fabrics and comfortable cushions that will keep their shape, as well as a strong, well-made frame.

    Cushions

    Some sofas have seats with no cushions at all, but most have two or three. Sectional sofas can have more than that. Seat cushions are generally loose. The back cushions can be loose or they may be attached.

    Attached cushions stay where they belong and always look uniform. Seat cushions should not be unyielding but they should be firm enough to keep their shape. Zippered cushion covers can be removed and dry cleaned. They also allow you to replace the foam cushions with new ones of the same size and shape.

    Grey couch with accent pillows

    "Density is used to gauge the durability of foam, and, generally, the higher the density the more durable (and more expensive) the cushion will be," says Jackie Hirschhaut, Vice President of Public Relations and Marketing for the American Home Furnishings Alliance. "Better quality upholstered furniture uses foam with a density rating of at least 1.8 to 2.5 pounds per cubic foot."


    Grey sofa in front of carpet

    The cushions should be made from wrapped foam. Sometimes the cushions are filled with down, but be forewarned, down breaks down and does not wear well.

    The cushions are supported by springs. Be sure to ask about the spring construction. The best, and most expensive, are 8-way hand tied. Serpentine, sometimes called “sinuous” springs are less expensive, but if well-made are comfortable and durable. Steer clear of mesh support.

    Frame Construction

    The sofa that will stand the test of time will be made from kiln-dried hardwood—oak or maple. Pine is soft and less durable. Good quality sofas and loveseat frames are joined with screws and will have mortise and tenon joints. Cheaply made furniture is stapled.

    According to the experts at Good Housekeeping, test the strength of the fame by lifting one leg 6 inches off the floor, if the other leg hasn’t risen as well, the frame is weak.

    Fabric

    "The upholstery of a piece of furniture determines a great deal about how it looks and how it feels," explains Mary Elizabeth of the Home Institute. "To a large extent, it determines the cost. It determines whether the furniture feels--firm or soft. The type and quality of the upholstery also determines how it will last."

    Look for a tight weave fabric. If you have children and stains are a concern look for microfiber or leather. Leather is not always the best choice if you have pets however. “Cotton and linen can be treated for stain resistance, but even then they aren't as easy to clean, or as durable,” says Kathleen Huddy, textiles, paper, and plastics director for the Good Housekeeping Research Institute. And the most expensive upholstery is not always the best.

    Long sofa with coffee tables in front and pictures on the wall behind

    Arms

    Sofa arms come in several styles. One is really no better than another; it’s a matter of personal taste. If you are a sofa napper there are some that are more comfortable. It may also depend how you prefer to rest your own arm when seated. The basic arm styles are:

  • An English arm is narrow and dips slightly in the middle.
  • Roll arms or Traditional Rounded arms can be large and have a more country look or smaller, which are usually more traditional or formal.
  • Square arsm give a more modern or contemporary look. These are good for small spaces.
  • Tuxedo arms are contemporaty-looking. These arms are about the same height as the sofa back and can appear very square.

  • Remember, the width of the arm will affect the actual size of the sofa. A 90” sofa may seem large but if the arms are wide the seating area may be something like 66” wide. On the other hand, if the arms are relatively narrow you would have more seating area. If you have a rather small room, go for the sofas with less arm and more seating.

    Base

    At the bottom your choices are wood “feet,” a wood base or a skirt. A footed sofa is easier to clean under, but it’s mainly a matter of visual appeal.

    Shape

    Sofas can be curved, straight or sectional. Curved sofas are not for nappers but can be great for unusually-shaped rooms or to fit in with other curvilinear features in a room. Sectionals come in sections that can be arranged in various ways. Be sure to do your measuring before purchasing a sectional! Many a family has created a cramped room by overbuying a sectional for inadequate space.

    Curved and circular couches in morning-lit room