How to Buy a Couch

Two Parts:Picking a StyleTesting and Choosing a Couch

Buying something as ordinary as a couch can look easy, but become more and more confusing when you feel overwhelmed by the choices out there. Often buyers will buy the wrong size, shape, or style couch, or they'll spend a lot of money on something they don't really love. Start with step 1, below, to make sure you buy the right couch for your personal style and needs.

Part 1
Picking a Style

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    Get an idea of what type you want. Couches and sofas come in many different styles. There are thousands of shapes, sizes, fabrics, materials, and prices. It is a good idea to have a sense for what you want. Try thinking about the size and colors of the room before buying the couch. You should also think about the look and feel of the couch. You can go shopping once you have a pretty good idea of what you want to buy.
    • There are many different kinds of sofas: sectional sofas, Chesterfields, chaise lounges, sleeper sofas, futons, daybeds, loveseats, and more. You don't necessarily need to know all these by name, but do some searching online and through magazines to get a sense of the styles you like and don't like. You can even save ads/pictures for sofas you like, or start a Pinterest board for the styles you're considering.
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    Consider how many people you need to seat. You're going to get a very different kind of sofa to frame the communal space of a family room with five kids from the one you'd get if you were setting up an intimate reading nook in a personal library. Most people don't want to squish up or sit on the crack between cushions; unless the sofa has a bench cushion, a good rule of thumb is one person per couch cushion. If you have many people to seat, consider a big sectional sofa with lots of options for spreading out or snuggling up.
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    Consider who will be sitting on the couch, too. If you've got kids, you probably don't want a pristine white couch in a fabric that's difficult to clean. Consider investing in a long-lasting, dark-colored leather option that'll be easy to wipe clean. If, however, you're picking a coach for an office or a formal living room and don't predict anyone spilling on it, you can go with something more delicate without wearing about so much wear and tear.
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    Shop in person, even if you plan to order online. A couch is a big investment, and ordering it sight unseen is a big risk. Unless you're particularly sure what you want, try to go to a store in person and "test" drive the couch you're interested in. Deciding whether it'll stand the test of time is much easier in person than by just looking at pictures online.
    • That being said, do also check out some reviews online. If the couch looks great now but is likely to start falling apart in 6 months, the reviews from other customers an clue you in, before you buy.

Part 2
Testing and Choosing a Couch

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    Try it out for comfort. This is an obvious one, but give it a whirl to see whether you actually like sitting in it, before you even get into testing the build and potential longevity. Different couches have different softness (see the steps below, on filling and springs), and factors like seat depth and armrest height make a difference, too. The best way to test is just to sit, and see how you feel.
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    Check the sturdiness of the frame. When you see a couch you like, check the framework. You can ask an associate for help if you need it. If the frame is made of soft wood like pine, it will cost less but it could also warp and wobble. If it is made of plastic or metal, the frame could crack or chip. A kiln-dried hard wood like beech, ash, or oak cost more but are less likely to get damaged. The legs of the couch should be attached to the frame by screws and pegs, not just glue alone. Sometimes the legs are part of the frame, but either way your frame is going to be sturdy.
    • The frame should be attached by strong materials and not just quick-fix solutions (such as glue, staples, or nails). Wooden dowels, wooden blocks, metal screws, and metal brackets should be the main joints on your sofa. Glue, staples, and nails are okay for extra reinforcement but should not be the main joinery on a good sofa. You should also ask the salesperson for manufacturer information on the joints.
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    Check the filling. Polyurethane foam is the most common filler because it is easy maintenance and costs less. Other high-density foams are budget friendly, but down/feather combos are the ultimate choice. Polyester flattens quickly, but costs less than the other fillings. Poly fiber blends cost even less but clump and get lumpy. A great blend is down mixed with HR foam. It is reasonably priced and very comfy.
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    Check the springs. Most sofas or couches have springs, but some are just made of webbing or mesh slings. Springs make for a sturdy and comfortable couch. There are two types of springs: sinuous or hand-tied. Sinuous (also called serpentine) springs are cheaper but can easily damage the framework if they are too heavy or sag if they are too light. Hand-tied springs are more expensive but don't sag or damage the framework. Some experts feel that there isn't much of a difference between the two. To test the springs, feel them through the upholstery. They should be tight and close together, but not feel like they are poking through the fabric.
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    Check the fabric. How a couch looks is one thing, but the strength of the fabric is a whole different story. Cotton and linen upholstery is reasonably priced and easy to clean. Microfiber blends can act like cotton and are stain resistant. Leather looks nice and lasts a long time, but is extremely expensive. Natural blends with polyester can snag and wear out overtime. Silk gives the couch a sleek look but is very hard to care for. Pick out the style and looks you like that will also be durable and worth the price.
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    Make a plan for the room, and make sure your couch choice fits in. You're not buying a couch for use in isolation, after all. You need to make sure it fits in its intended room, when it comes both to size and to layout. Measure the couch and make sure it'll fit, of course, but also consider the style and vibe of the room. If it's a large, dark unit in an otherwise light room, will it be overwhelming or feel out place? If it's much smaller than what you have now, will it make the room feel empty or leave you lacking seating options?
    • Try sketching out a floor plan or even moving furniture around to get an idea of how it'll fit; you can mark the size of the couch on the floor with masking tape if you really want to know exactly where it'll go.
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    Purchase your couch or sofa. Most couches sell for about $200-$2500, but designer couches can cost $10,000. Budgets are good, but give yourself a 10% cushion in case you see a couch you really like that's over your budget. A good couch is comfy, but not too squishy that you need help getting out of it. The couch should also compliment the space you are going to put it in. You don't want a couch that is the wrong color, shape, or size.


  • If you like patterns and prints, look for fabric with them woven into it. A printed pattern will fade and won't wear as well as a woven pattern/print.
  • Before buying a couch, as the salesperson for a swatch of the upholstery it has. Bring it home and look at it in the space you are going to put the couch in. You should also look at it in natural and artificial light. If you still like it after a few days, consider buying that couch.
  • Sit on the edges and corners of the couch. If you hear a squeak or creak, the springs are probably broken, incorrectly installed, or hitting the frame. Do not buy a couch that squeaks.
  • Go shopping at a store that let's you try out the couch before buying it. That way you can test the features of it. You can also ask an associate about the production of the sofa.
  • To test the strength of the frame, lift one side about 6 inches (15.2 cm) off the ground. The other leg should have risen on its own. If the leg on the other side is still touching the ground the frame is weak.
  • Some retailers will probably offer a mix-'n'-match made-to-order system. This offers you some degree of freedom, but always check the quality first.

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Categories: Couches and Sofas | Furniture and Cabinets