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During one of my many career paths over the years, I sold furniture. I found, though, that most people have NO IDEA what to look for in purchasing a quality sofa. Oh, also that they’re too afraid to ask the salesperson because they don’t want to be taken advantage of. Additionally, there is a lot of sticker-shock during furniture shopping, so people tend to want to spend as little as possible on their stuff. Totally legit reasoning. Here’s the thing, though… some of the best-made furniture will be a little more pricey than you may have originally intended to spend. BUT, and here’s the big but, the stuff will last you 40+ years. How many times have you bought lesser-quality stuff just to replace it a couple years later? In the long run, by spending a little more today, you are actually saving a LOT of money.
But where to start? Here’s a little insider info to help get you started on your way:
What to look for when buying a sofa
I don’t know about you, but I know I spend a ton of time on my sofa. It’s kind of a central piece in the house… from TV time, to entertaining, to taking naps… it’s in use all. the. time. Have you ever sat on an old sofa with a piece of plywood between the frame and the seat cushion because it sags horribly? Or, even worse, sat on a sofa with such flat seats that it kinda feels like you’re sitting on the floor? Buying a sofa is almost like buying a car for your living room. If what’s under the hood is really well-built, you’ve got something that’s going to last a long time. If you want your sofa to last, you need to ask for:
Kiln-dried hardwood frame
This is all about strength, baby. Seriously, this is built to last.
8-way hand-tied suspension
Instead of the suspension being wavy metal bands, this system is individual hard-core springs that are connected to each other with heavy-duty bands in eight different places. There is the classic hand-tied method (can you imagine the muscle this took?) or a newer method that uses machines for this. Either are awesome. Most stores that offer this type of suspension system will have a demonstration model that is basically a sofa cut in half to show how it works. Trust me. Trust the salesperson you’re working with. This is what you want. This is what is going to last for YEARS.
Cushions with AT LEAST a 0.8 density foam core
Basically, the higher the density, the firmer the cushion. Anything less than a 0.8 density, though, and it will break down to become a “pancake cushion” with use.
Now that you’ve got the basics covered, it’s time to cover that sofa! Here, you have a few options… this should help to simplify things just a bit for you:
If you choose to go the fabric-route on your new sofa, you will want to make sure that the fabric is NOT 100% cotton. Why? A couple of reasons, actually. 1) Cotton, although amazing in clothing, tends to shrink and pill over time, and 2) Cotton also tends to fade with repeated use or in direct light. Kind of like your favorite pair of jeans… wear them enough, and you can tell EXACTLY where the ahem heavy use spots are.
Basically, you want to make sure that the fabric has a good balance of both man-made and natural fibers in it. Oh, and don’t get too overwhelmed if you’re presented with a wall of fabrics to choose from to customize your new sofa. The lower the grade of fabric does not mean it’s lower quality. Let me repeat that for the back of the room: the lower the grade does not mean the lower the quality. Got it? Basically, the lower the grade actually means that it’s a heavier-duty fabric that’s going to last a lot longer. I totally recommend picking one of the lower grades for covering the sofa in, and if you happen to get a wild hair up your butt, choose one of the higher grades in a corresponding color for things like throw pillows. (You save a LOT of money that way, too…).
Ok, here’s the thing about leather: there’s a LOT of different choices that can be made when choosing a leather sofa. Period. And, quite frankly, many options really depend upon your personal lifestyle. These four basic options should get you started on the right foot…
This leather looks as natural as possible. The leather is tanned, and that’s about it. You can see all the skin imperfections in it, and that’s actually a cool feature of it. It looks rustic… like something you’d see in a cowboy’s house. Here’s the thing, though… because it’s unprotected, it will need to be conditioned a lot. If you have no problem with breaking out the leather conditioner once a month or so, no worries… but if you don’t? Well, it’s gonna seek oil where it can get it. Ya know how your head, hands, and backside touch the sofa a LOT? And how those things have a lot of natural oils in them? Yeah. Your sofa is going to get dark spots in those places. Some people like this. Some don’t. Just something to keep in mind.
This is the kind of leather that looks kind of shiny. Most of the time, protected leather is dyed and coated with several layers of protective covering to keep it looking as good today as it will in 20 years. That said, protected leather will still need conditioning from time to time (not as often as unprotected, but still…). Also, one of the things to know about both types of furniture leather is that it does get softer and more supple with age. Just something to keep in mind.
This is pretty self-explanatory, but the entire sofa is covered in leather.
This sofa will only have leather where the body touches. So, basically, the seat, back, and arms. Everywhere else (back, sides, and bottom) will have a manmade material on it. Now, this has both positive and negatives that you’ll have to decide upon. The good is that this saves you money. The less leather, the less money, basically. The negative is that leather and manmade materials wear at different levels, and have different resiliency levels. So, the softness & suppleness of leather will not cross over to the parts of the sofa that the body doesn’t touch. Also, manmade materials tend not to have as much strength as leather. If a small tear happens (moving through doorways, pets, kids… hey, life happens…) it’s a thinner material than leather. Just something to keep in mind.
Did you enjoy this article? Be sure to check out my articles about furniture shopping & modern-day adulting!