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Sofas Buying Guide – Sofa Basics

A good sofa is the heart of a home, from hours spent relaxing to evenings entertaining guests. You’ll truly appreciate the time and money you spend finding just the right one.


Sofa Basics

Consider Lifestyle, Comfort & Space

How Will Your Sofa Be Used?
It’s important to ask yourself how you intend on using a new sofa. Some styles, like ‘camelback’ sofas are designed more for limited formal use or to provide an aesthetic appeal than for long periods of rest. Others are designed for hours of TV watching (rolled arms, cushy pillows, etc.), higher traffic from children, pets and so on. Some sofas complement rustic and traditional motifs while others are suited to modern décor schemes.

Keep in mind special considerations for frequent users. Consider deep seating for taller people as they may otherwise have to slump to get comfortable in a low-backing sofa. For someone with knee issues, shallow seating, sturdy arm rests and a firm, supportive back might be features to consider.

Test for Comfort
If possible, it is a good idea to test out a sofa you’re interested in purchasing. Sit on it, lie on it, use it as you normally would at home. Is it long enough for you? Do the cushions and back meet your softness or firmness requirements? Have other members of your family tested the sofa? Everyone has different comfort needs and preferences. Features like the height of armrests, the shape of the back support and the firmness of cushions are details that future frequent users should ideally experience firsthand.

It is essential to know the measurements for both a sofa and the space it is intended for before you purchase any piece. You should also measure the doorways a sofa will pass through. Keep in mind that you will also need to know the measurements of a hidden mattress style sofa when it’s fully opened. Don’t forget to accommodate for a walking path and nearby furniture in your measurements.

Sofa Construction

A sturdy frame should not wobble or creak, and its corners and arms should be well padded. Frames made of metal, plastic and particle board may warp and crack, so consider avoiding these. Desirable frames are often constructed from furniture-grade plywood or a high quality hardwood such as oak or beech. Even if the frame is constructed with sturdy material it can still be poorly assembled, so make sure to look for signs of quality craftsmanship. Press down on the back rail and arms and try to wiggle them. You should not feel excessive movement. If possible and safe to do so, lift one front corner of the sofa off the floor. When it has been lifted six inches from the ground, the other front corner should have risen too. If it's still touching the floor, the frame has too much give and is weak.

Well-made sofas usually include eight-way, hand-tied coils. Most sofas have preassembled units of snaking wire. While supportive, they can press on the frame and over time can sag if the metal isn't sufficiently heavy. Hand-tied coils will last longer and keep your sofa comfortable longer. Feel the springs through the upholstery — they should be close together and firm. Sofas with no springs are uncomfortable and flimsy.

To test the installation of a sofa’s springs, sit down on a corner or its outside edge. If the sofa squeaks the springs might be incorrectly placed or hitting the frame.

The number of seat cushions a sofa has is often a marker of the number of adults it can comfortably seat. A quality cushion should regain its shape after use. Different fillings have varying advantages and disadvantages. Polyurethane foam is a low-cost, easy-care filling. High-density fillings are more durable and can feel firmer, while softer lower-density foam degrades faster with use. High resilient foam is slightly more expensive but is generally considered more comfortable and longer-lasting. Loose cushions promote increased longevity as they can be flipped over to hide stains and to restore loft.

Tightly woven fabrics and blends tend to last longer than finer or loosely woven fabric, which can wear out over time or snag onto clothing and other items, damaging the sofa. Natural and synthetic blends tend to pill (which refers to the unsightly loosening of woven fabric) faster. Textured fabrics show less wear and tear than smooth varieties. It’s a good idea to have a quick look at the fabric’s stitching – well-made seams should be straight. Listed below are some of the more common fabrics used to upholster sofas. For information on caring for and cleaning upholstered fabric click here.

Synthetic Microfiber: Well liked for its ability to mimic other fabrics, it’s ideal if you anticipate your sofa will see heavy use or is in a high traffic area where spills and dirt from kids, guests and pets are probable. This stain-resistant material is not only easy to clean but looks great as well.

Leather: A beautiful, rich look for a sofa. Durable and easy to care for leather is a more expensive upholstery material. Available in a variety of colours, not simply black and brown. See our Leather Furniture Buying Guide for more details.

Cotton/Linen: These fabrics are quite attractive and comfortable and can be treated for stain resistance, but can be challenging to maintain and clean. While they are less toxic materials to produce, they don’t they have the durability of leather or synthetic microfiber.

Additional Features

Look for a flammability or safety label that indicates a sofa’s compliance with industry standards for guarding against combustion from a lit cigarette.

Green Options
People are increasingly concerned about choosing products that have been produced using methods that are healthier for the environment. There are manufacturers that make cushions made from greener, resilient and biodegradable materials (e.g., soy, cotton, linen, natural latex and organic hemp) and hardwood frames using Forest Stewardship Council-certified resources. An increasing number of sofa beds are built using natural latex foam and organic cotton batting, while some are also finished with non-toxic glues and low-VOC (Volatile Organic Compound) wood stains. While many enjoy the convenience and quality construction synthetic and conventional materials provide there is a growing practise of replacing chemically derived fabrics like polyester, nylon, and viscose with fabrics such as those noted above. If buying green is a concern, research and seek out those companies that manufacture sofas using these and other eco-friendlier methods.