A First-Time Buyer’s Guide to Finding the Sofa of Your Dreams


So, you’re new to the sofa game. First order of business: don’t panic. Picking out a couch that’s simultaneously stylish, comfy and in-the-budget is totally doable, just as long as you know what to look for. If you’re patient and comfortable shopping for furniture online (which is way less risky than it seems, trust us), you’ll find a style that’s tailor-made to your space and personal needs with pretty much no compromises on your behalf. This first-time sofa buyer’s guide will help you determine exactly what you need and how to get it.

Consider Your Style

A piece of furniture might be budget-friendly and ridiculously comfortable, but if it doesn’t complement your personal style, it’s an automatic no-go. Therefore, the first thing you need to do is understand your style and the different types of sofas available. By and large, sofa styles are determined by their shape, size or any special feature that might place it in a category of its own. Here’s a quick cheat-sheet:

  • Sectional Sofas—Sectionals are made in sections (hence the name) that can be configured in various different ways to suit small or challenging spaces. They’re usually bigger than regular sofas and often feature built-in footrests.

  • Sleeper Sofas—An absolute must-have for your one-bedroom or studio apartment, the sleeper sofa acts as a comfy seating spot by day and an impromptu bed for guests at night.

  • Slipcovered Sofas—Slipcovered sofas are made with removable covers, so they’re easier to clean or swap out if you get bored. These are popular in homes with kids and pets, but they’re not a bad idea in spaces used for rousing parties, either.

  • Tufted Sofas—The super-stylish tufted sofa is marked by tufting on the back, usually with ornamental buttons at different intervals creating a unique texture.

  • Rolled Arm Sofas—As their name suggests, rolled arm sofas have…you guessed it…rolled arms. This simply means that the arms are rounded or cylindrical.

  • Modern Sofas—While there’s no all-encompassing definition for modern sofas, they’re usually significantly less ornate and detailed, with clean and crisp lines. You’ll be less likely to see tufting or rolled arms on modern styles.

Think About Material

Once you’ve decided on the style of your sofa, it’s time to nail down material. While this may seem inconsequential, in the grand scheme of things, the material is the thing that determines comfort and durability, so it’s definitely worth your consideration. A sofa’s material dictates how it looks and how it performs, and not all upholstery options are right for every scenario. Always shop with companies that can provide you with free swatches so you can see and feel the fabric in person. Here are some of the most common choices:

  • Leather—Leather is definitely the most luxurious and time-honored upholstery material out there. Perfect for posh, masculine, vintage and eclectic spaces, leather sofas definitely pack on the high-brow charm and durability. The downfall? Leather furniture can be significantly more expensive, which may not be best for the first-time buyer.

  • Microfiber—Microfiber is a fine soft fabric that brings big-time comfort to your space. Unlike leather, microfiber comes in literally thousands of colors and patterns, so it’s a good choice for unique and unconventional design styles. What’s more, microfiber can be amazingly easy to clean, especially if it’s treated with a stain repellent.

  • Velvet—A super-popular pick for dreamy vintage and mid-century modern spaces, velvet sofas bring big glamour and personality. Often paired with dramatic backs, tufting and rolled arms, velvet looks truly dreamy in more eclectic spaces. The touchy-feely fabric is a bit more challenging to clean than the other materials, so it’s not the best for high-traffic environments.

  • Linen—This lightweight, breezy and elegantly textured fabric is a favorite in nautical and beachy designs, but it tends to wrinkle and can be tough to clean. The key is to look for durable linens or linen alternatives (such as cobble cloth) so you get the same chic style and feel of linen with less worry.

Don’t Forget to Measure

Now for the formalities. One thing you must consider before entering your sofa-shopping endeavor at full speed is that even the most beautiful and perfect sofas just look off when they’re too big or too small for the space. Therefore, sizing is an important consideration. And, if you’ve already dipped your toes in the sofa-shopping pond, you know that furniture comes in a huge array of (sometimes really confusing) size options.

Our best piece of advice when choosing a sofa size is to measure the room and then use a room layout app to visualize how your pieces will look in the space before you commit. Make sure you take into consideration any windows, doors, radiators or permanent architectural features that might get in the way of your room layout. Another good thing to know is that you can always purchase apartment size sofas if you’re running low on usable square footage.

Know Where to Buy Sofas

After you hone in on a style, material and size, you’re just about ready to head into the great, big world of sofa shopping! With thousands of online furniture retailers out there, how do you know which ones are reputable and quality-focused? Thankfully, there are a few things you can look for to minimize your risk when shopping online and to ensure that your new sofa gets plenty of use well into the future.

Be sure that you’re shopping at a well-vetted retailer that offers a warranty, a satisfaction guarantee and a dedicated customer service team that can assist you should anything go wrong. Another thing to look for when vetting companies is how the furniture is made. If at all possible, buy from businesses that make furniture by hand in the U.S.—companies based in North Carolina or Vermont are good places to start!

If you keep all of these things in mind when purchasing your very first sofa, there’s a good chance that the one you buy will stay with you for years to come!  

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