Welcome to Sofa Sagas—stories about the circuitous search for a very important and occasionally fraught piece of furniture.
After 13 years of living in the same railroad apartment—and somehow surviving the pandemic with my relationship intact—I recently found myself in the fortunate but perplexing predicament of moving to a much larger apartment. To make it a home I not only needed a sofa for the living room, but also a sleeper sofa for an office that doubles as my in-laws' bedroom, where they are meant to stay a few times a month after the long drive into lower Manhattan from JFK-adjacent Queens.
In the old apartment, we spent eight years living semi-comfortably with a performance velvet sleeper sofa in a shade of eggplant I never loved, purchased for $900 from Craigslist. It allegedly originated at West Elm, but I always had my doubts due to its bulbousness and general lack of refinement, not to mention the proliferation of throw pillows that accompanied it. The sofa was long enough to fit three medium-to-small people, and wide enough to practice what my boyfriend termed "dual lie-down," which is the practice of removing every back pillow so that we could simultaneously lay supine while watching TV. Yet we were never fully comfortable. The wooden frame of the Craigslist couch would dig into our shoulder blades by the time the queens of Drag Race hit the runway.
Still, after months of scouring storefronts and web stores, I was able to find at least one sofa I truly fell in love with. The second is still a giant question mark on my boyfriend's parents ability to crash in our new crib. This is my story.
Gray sofas are boring!
The new sofa needed to be at least as big as the old one, preferably with space for five or six, since our new great room was large but couldn’t accommodate an accent chair if we also wanted to have a kitchen table. It needed to be comfortable but firm enough to last, and we wanted to spend under $1,500 if possible. Most importantly to me, it must be colorful and exciting, as I prefer my home to look bright right up to the point of absurdity. One of the most existential problems I encountered was that many sofas come only in gray, or shades of it, which is my most hated hue for furniture in that it reminds me of death and ennui. Clearly there is a demand for the gray sofa, and I can see it for practical reasons: it’s a neutral shade that’s easier to clean than white, less imposing than black but still versatile enough for various modern design schemes, and it blends in with a white wall to disguise the sofa’s imposition in a smaller room. But for those of us who require multiple colors to make us happy, and want our living space to reflect that—yet are on the kind of budget that precludes a special order of, say, the $14,000 Roche Bobois Hans Hopfer Mah Jong couch of our, and apparently Gigi Hadid's, dreams—what recourse do we have?
Color is hard to come by
For the new living room couch, we spent weeks scouring furniture shops, new and used, across the greater New York City area. I also lived my life in the YouTube search bar, hoarding every moment of free time to watch sofa review videos. My boyfriend, who is Indian American, got racially profiled in a Manhattan Pottery Barn while looking at fabric swatches. West Elm and CB2 were generally outside our price range, though I appreciated the seeming hordes of elderly women in expensive-looking coats who walk their tiny designer dogs into such stores as though they own the place. (They might!) Reddit threads chaotically told me the couches I liked most were the best things they’d ever sat upon, and also a colossal rip-off, do not buy. I cleared my brain of noise and focused on color and fabric as my top priorities, since my general decor scheme—based on the hues and traditions of Mexico and India, to reflect my and my boyfriends’ upbringing and heritage—is not exactly de rigueur in the mid-range design space.
The perfect sofa for me
My friend and editor, Dwell’s Megan Reynolds, swore by her velvet Albany Park sofa’s comfort and ease of cleaning messes which resemble mine (cat hair, cat puke). And so, buoyed by a personal recommendation and a sale price, I purchased the luxurious Park Sectional in rust velvet, a sepia tone that’s my kind of neutral, and have not regretted it for a second.
It’s the centerpiece of my entire apartment, majestic and substantial atop a vintage Moroccan rug in lavender and fuchsia, and its chaise is a perfect reading nook on which I like to dramatically flounce. It arrived in several large boxes that would have been a nightmare were it not for my building’s elevator, and I was a little scared about buying a couch online—if I had to, for some reason, send it back, I would have been responsible for shipping and attempting to rebox its massive body. After a brief meltdown when I erroneously thought I had ordered the wrong orientation for my living room (I was reading the directions wrong), I was able to put it together myself in about an hour and a half. In the two months I’ve owned the Park Sectional, it remains especially comfortable and soft, durable and easy to clean (even cat hair, with an assist from a lint brush and then the truly miraculous Chom Chom Roller), and my boyfriend and I can do "dual lie-down" or each extend fully without ever touching each other, which feels like the height of luxury.
The perfect sofa for other people...
That is settled; the second couch remains a scourge on my being. The sleeper sofa, which as mentioned is primarily for my boyfriend’s septuagenarian parents, has a small litany of requirements beyond beauty and comfort. First: it must not be gray. (Preferably, it will not clash with our other vintage Moroccan rug, in bright blue with baby pink accents.) Ideally: its sleeping area will match the size of a queen or full mattress, or at least close to it, which is a lot harder to find than you might think. (Before you ask: an actual bed is not an option, as the space must also function as a home office for two.)
Additionally: the mattress must be elevated, since the number of steel knee joints between my in-laws makes it difficult to climb down onto a floor mattress. Also: the mattress should be firm enough to support their various aching bones, but not so firm that they feel like they’re on a futon in someone’s dorm. Finally: a convertible sofa is preferable, since the last sleeper sofa (the eggplant-probably-not-really West Elm) had a big metal bar that vivisected my mother-in-law’s poor back. Yes, we could get a better mattress and a support board to fix that, but if we are theoretically already spending upwards of a thousand dollars, why should we have to? Also, we are on a budget, and most New York apartments do not, you may have heard, have an abundance of storage space for sofa bed accoutrements. My browser tabs are a hot mess. I refresh Kaiyo virtually every second.
...is impossible to find!
For the sleeper sofa, we prefer to buy second-hand due to cost and this little thing called the environment, but haven’t yet found even one that fits our numerous specifications in the depths of Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace, et al. I have uncovered a few new contenders, the top one being Coddle’s Switch Sleeper Sofa, which is sleek and fulfills every requirement except the fact that, for $1,599—a bit of a stretch for us—I cannot quite commit to a muted shade of navy, nor do I desire to own two orange-hued couches.
Sealy’s Barletta TruFit Sleeper seems like an absolute dream when it comes to comfort and size, but again—I fear spending $1,000 on a sofa residing in my office, where I spend the most time, on a couch whose lines remind me of my childhood in the 1980s. (Plus, it only comes in "Heavenly Midnight," which is cowpoke brown and a big no for a former Wyomingite, and "Heavenly Cream," an off-white which looks like a welcoming receptacle for cat barf.)
I also quite like Burrow’s handsome Shift Sleeper Sofa ($1,799), whose whole reason for existence is "a sofa you’d be proud to have your parents sleep on." Yet its fatal flaw of a ground-level mattress cannot be overcome when paired with the fact that it’s only available in two colors, one of which is, yes, gray.
If I had my way, we’d just cop the flop of Pottery Barn Teen’s Flip Floor Sleeper in Light Pool, whose cat-puke-factor does not scare me because it’s for teens—like, come on, this performance velvet fabric has got to be formulated to withstand bong water and Cheeto dust. But imagine explaining to two respected elders they have to sleep on what is essentially a gamer couch. Too small and too low, anyway. I’m wasting away in exasperation and practicality; send help. The in-laws want to come over soon. They’ll reluctantly sleep on an air mattress, just this once.
Illustration by Inma Hortas
We love the products we feature and hope you do, too. If you buy something through a link on the site, we may earn an affiliate commission.
Get the Shop Newsletter
Smart shopping for the design obsessed. Find what you love in our expertly curated selection of finely crafted home, office, travel, and lifestyle products.