Sofa So Good: Tips For Buying A Great Couch

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mother son white couch

The couch is often a focal point to a room as well as a source of comfort and common meeting place at home. How do you choose the right couch? Here are some pointers to help you get your start on a stylish sofa.


I’m not alone in learning the hard way that a cheap sofa is too high a price to pay for your back health. It’s one of the places we sit the most, and many of us choose poorly.

The next time around, I invested wisely. I found a good deal on a high-quality sofa and chair that came with a lifetime frame warranty and sported top-grain leather. Later this year, I expect to sell them for a good sum, because they still look fantastic after seven years.

That’s the gift of buying quality leather seating with a good frame, and it’s exactly why it’s smart to invest when buying a sofa.

You get what you pay for

When I bought my fancy leather sofa for $2800, my friend bought an IKEA leather sofa for $699. Six months later, his had already broken in. A year later, it was losing support. Mine took nearly three years to break in. Years later, it’s still firm and comfortable for all.

There are a lot of great brands that sell with a “lifetime frame guarantee.” If they don’t, put your investment elsewhere. I have family members who’ve had the same brand sofa as me for 15, 20 years, and the leather’s still looking good. Reputation matters, so check around before you commit.

Buy neutral, timeless styles

Sure, maybe you “like change” and you want a new sofa every few years, but we have to stop thinking in those terms. We need to buy timeless styles and change the rooms around our furniture, because landfills just can’t handle this “buy a new thing every few years” culture of replacement we’ve adopted. This is why God invented paint, people.

I chose something that’s based on a very Mad Men era of design, the late ‘50s and the ‘60s. It’s a cream-color leather sofa made with top grain and the style, of course, is called “Sinatra.” It’s not boring. It’s just forever-cool.

The clean lines and timeless quality in design golden ages — like Art Deco, craftsmen style, minimalism, ‘60s mod — are all designs that have personality but can be blended with other eras/styles to great effect. These are the kinds of “lines” you should be seeking.

If you’re going for style with personality and lines that have a little oomph to them, then stick to a minimal approach with the upholstery. One color, no patterns, no crazy trim.

Choosing upholstery

Fabric can last for a long time — decades and centuries, in fact —  so pretending that cloth is somehow really frail next to leather is a silly notion. If you’re dealing with a quality showroom, you should be able to choose a really heavy-weighted fabric that is fade-resistant and durable. If it’s protected against stains, there’s no reason it shouldn’t last for a decade or more.

Leather can be a mixed bag, because a lot of people go into purchasing leather without enough knowledge on what they’re buying. A top-grain leather is expensive, durable, and will remain soft in the years to come, maybe even developing a beautiful patina of wear. Split grain, nubuck, these are among what not to look for. Good top-grain leather will need quality attention and maintenance, but with good leather soap and conditioner, you will protect that investment for literally decades to come.

red couch stylish living room

Leather’s downside is its cost, but if it lasts for two decades, you’re laughing. Mine’s eight years in, still looks good, still is soft, and has held up better than I could’ve dreamed. The trouble is it’s not awesome on bare skin as you can get stuck and have to pull yourself off. It’s also often cold in the winter (but can be cooling in the summer).

The upside to leather, though, is the investment return on a quality sofa. It’ll always sell for higher than the fabric comparison. It’s also easier to keep clean. For folks like me with allergies, there’s way less dust/dust mites to contend with. Ditto for people with animals who shed — they keep it clean with way less fuss.

The right proportions

Now here’s the part where folks overlook things, and often to their detriment. Measurements count, big-time. These days, style on sofas can really trump ergonomics, and we’re all paying for it.

If you’re sitting too low over too long a period for too many years, you’ll damage your back. Same if you’re sitting too high. And, yes, same if the back support is too deep for you to sit comfortably.

Deep, low sofas look cool but are helping chiropractors develop a booming business. You want your knees bent at close to 90-degrees and your back somewhat straight  when you’re sitting on the sofa, or else you want a good-supporting recliner that can help you reach a neutral position.

Do not choose style and upholstery at the cost of sofa design, or your back could pay for it for years to come. It’s partly how and why I suffered a massive back injury, and I cannot stress this point enough: Ensure your sofa is not just comfortable, but capable of letting you relax in a neutral, non-damaging way. Bring a book and be prepared to sit on the sofa in the showroom for half-an-hour. Don’t forget, that support will give way over time. Will it still be good enough? Be very choosy.

It’s worth your time & money

Stop looking at your sofa as just a piece of furniture in your living room. It’s where you spend a lot of your downtime, and the quality matters.

Focus on the fit, timeliness in design, and the quality of construction, rather than price and trendiness, and you may own a quality piece that’ll last you well over a decade while being the supportive piece you need.

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Steffani Cameron

Steffani Cameron is a Victoria BC-based writer on a variety of topics. Here on the BuildDirect blog, she specializes in writing about smaller, urban spaces. How do you make the most of your smaller space? How do you decorate it to suit you? And how do you wage the war against clutter and win? This is Steff’s specialty.