Five Tips for Choosing the Right Couch

I think sofas are some of the most important things that you'll purchase for your home. Nobody wants an uncomfortable seat! And when you're talking about a large and sometimes pricey piece of furniture, nobody wants to make a mistake and have to replace it in a couple years. Since we just purchased a new sectional for our living room, I wanted to walk through some of the biggest things I considered before we decided:

1. Function

There are tons of beautiful sofas, chairs, and sectionals, but just as important as aesthetics (if not more) is the function of the piece. What room is the couch going to go in? Who is going to use it? Will people be lounging and watching tv, or sitting upright for conversation?


Number of seat cushions:

Depending on size, sofas can have 2 cushions, 3 cushions, or one long bench cushion on the seat. A bench cushion is great if you want to lay down, or if you want to seat multiple people so no one has to sit on the spot where the cushions meet. One long cushion can also be more difficult to fluff or get a little wrinkly (depending on fabric). Two cushions can make a sofa look longer (especially if it's a short sofa) and look more tailored than one long cushion. If you frequently have three people sitting on your sofa, three cushions works great.


Seat depth:

If this is a formal living room couch, you'll want something with a more shallow seat (around 20-22") and tailored lines so it feels polished and is comfortable for sitting upright with good back support. You'll also want to look at shorter depths if you and your family members are on the shorter side and want your feet to touch the floor.

If this is for a family room or you're on the taller side, you may want to consider a deeper seat (25"+) so that it's comfortable to curl up and watch movies.


We love to lay down and watch movies, so we decided on a deep-seated sectional with a chaise in our living room so we have enough space for two people to spread out comfortably. When we add additional seating to this room, we'll probably choose pieces that aren't quite as deep and have higher backs so that there are options when we have guests. Some people have a hard time getting up out of a low or deep sofa, or they just like to sit more upright, so that's something to consider if you frequently have guests.

Weird angle, but you can see here how deep the seat of our sofa is (the chaise isn't even that much longer than the seat!).

2. Longevity

How long do you hope this piece will last? Do you want to invest in something and keep it for 10 years, or are you okay if it goes out of style or is worn in 3-5 years? If you want to hold on to this piece for a while, look for something with a classic shape. Roll arms, track arms, camelbacks, slope arms, and English arms are all classic and will stand the test of time. Our sectional has simple lines and track arms, making it at home in classic as well as more contemporary spaces.

You can see the track arm (also called square arm) on the left.

3. Cushion fill

Depending on where you get your couch, you might have options for cushion fill, or you might be stuck with whatever the stock option is, but you'll want to know before you purchase. The most affordable will be some type of polyester foam, which is also firm and supportive. Unfortunately, it can also flatten, get lumpy, or lose shape over time (without the ability to be fluffed back into shape). Down or feather fill provides a really plush, sink-in seat, but they're not very supportive and will require fluffing to look tailored. For our living room sectional, we chose a foam cushion wrapped in down for a combination of support and plush comfort that will keep its shape and look tailored with minimal fluffing. For us, all down fill sank too much and didn't provide enough support, and all foam cushions felt too stiff and rigid.

Our old couch, which I bought (CHEAP) in college, had a classic shape with the roll arm, but I wasn't able to choose the fill or fabric. You can see how where the two back cushions meet the poly fill has lost shape and gotten lumpy. Also, please ignore the dog hair - the dogs use this more than us now :)

4. Fabric

There are lots of options for what to cover your couch in, from upholstery fabric to slipcovers to leather. Beyond looks, this comes down to function. How durable does your sofa need to be? Does it need to stand up to kids and dogs? Would your cat's claws ruin leather or would she just love to tear up a chunky woven fabric? Do you want to be able to throw a slipcover in the washing machine, or are you willing to pay extra for an indoor/outdoor fabric? I wanted light colored fabric for our sectional, but it had to be durable (have a high rub count) and be easy to clean. It also needed to be a really tight weave, because our cat just loves to dig her claws into anything woven. I definitely recommend if at all possible to compare a few fabric swatches before you purchase your sofa. Most of the time swatches are free, and you can take them home and scratch or stain them to see how easy they are to clean and how they'll hold up.


5. Measure

This should be a no-brainer, but please measure your space and the sofa before you purchase! Not only do you want the couch to fit, but you want it to be proportional. If you room is huge, don't get a tiny sofa! Make sure there's enough space to walk around the sofa or through the living space (around 36" is a good rule). Measure doorways, stairwells, and any tight corners that your sofa will need to pass through to get in the room.


These tips might specifically be for a couch, but hopefully they will help you next time you are looking for new seating for your home!

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