Meet Our Experts
Regan Baker leads Regan Baker Design, an interior design firm based in San Francisco. She believes design should be comfortable, modern, and personal.
Jessica Helgerson runs Jessica Helgerson Interior Design in Portland, Oregon. Her design process is pragmatic as well as creative/conceptual.
Sarah-Hamlin Hastings is an interior designer who founded The Fritz Porter Design Collective in 2015, a high-end fabric, furniture, and design showroom in Charleston.
What Should You Consider When Shopping for a Sofa or Couch?
Pay Attention to Scale
"Understand what scale and proportions you’re looking at and the relationships in the room," says Baker. If you have high ceilings you may want something large and substantial, or if you have a small room, something lower but lifted off the floor will provide more dimension, she says.
Don’t forget to measure, says Hastings. "Not just the length of the wall that it’s going on, but the depth and how high the back is too." She recommends taping it out on the floor and wall to get a real feel for how it will fit in your room.
Give it the "Sit" Test
All our experts agree you need to sit on your sofa before you buy it. "Sit test it, even if you have to fly, because when you’re investing in something like this, you need to know it’s going to be comfortable," says Baker.
Don’t Skimp on Style
"We’re seeing more statement, sculptural pieces—round curves and lower backs as opposed to the standard, boxy cushions," says Baker. "Sculptural details, such as the use of wood and creating a frame around the sofa, are big, alongside more decorative details—piping, gaps in the back, textural fabrics, and more graphics and patterns."
Helgerson agrees: "In this era of renewed maximalism, we are seeing more color, more prints, and even fringe!" But ultimately, she says the choice is as simple as answering these questions: Do you love it? Is it comfortable? Is it beautiful (to you?). "There are certain characteristics that many better quality sofas share: hand-tied springs, kiln-dried wood frames," she says. "But honestly, if it feels comfortable and looks beautiful to you, I’d say go for it."
What Are the Important Features of a Sofa?
"How the sofa is crafted is key for me," says Hastings. "We’re in a day and age of a lot of throwaway furniture, which is fine for certain things but not for something like a sofa, which is often an investment piece." She recommends opting for eight-way, hand-tied spring construction, and good quality hardwood—such as alder, poplar, maple, teak, or walnut—that’s not going to warp or splinter. Avoid MDF at all costs.
Helgerson takes a broader approach. "Sofa manufacturing has really changed, and there are tons of new construction methods that can make sofas pretty sturdy at a variety of price points," she says. "I would advise balancing what you personally find beautiful and comfortable, what fits your lifestyle, what fits your house, with what will not put you in debt."
How plush you like your couch is a personal preference. For super soft, opt for 100% down. If you like strong and firm, all-foam is an option, but down-wrapped foam core is the most popular—and it’s Hastings’ go-to for an affordable, comfortable, and low-maintenance choice.
Fabric selection is largely led by personal taste, but an important feature is durability. Whether you opt for less expensive, manmade fabrics such as polyester and rayon; more mid-range cotton, wool, and linen; or higher-end options such as velvet, leather, and high-performance solution-dyed acrylic fabrics (also known as polypropylene), factor in how it will hold up to the type of wear and tear you anticipate.
"Polypropylene indoor/outdoor fabric is just fabulous," says Hastings, who recommends the Sien + Co line. "It has really come on over the last few years; it looks just like luxurious woven wool. It’s expensive, but it’s going to last." Whatever material you choose, a woven fabric is a good option as the texture is more forgiving and won’t show wear as much.
What Do You Get if You Save, Spend, or Splurge?
A good quality, inexpensive sofa should cost between $1,500 to $3,000.
"If you have one piece of furniture to put in, and it’s a sofa, you want to splurge because it’s going to make a statement," says Baker. "But if you’re trying to hit a budget where you need more furniture in the room, go for a less expensive sofa and splurge on a chair that can create a statement."
That’s the approach she took in a Pacific Heights project where the family needed two sofas. She selected two Blu Dot Paramount 95 sofas in Stanford Ceramic, a polyester/acrylic blend. "The Eames chair was more of the splurge for them, and as the more sculptural item that created the interest here," she says.
A very contemporary retail line, Blu Dot carries a selection of great, high-end looking sofas for a lower price point—the Paramount range starts at $2,199. Baker recommends Blu Dot in particular because it offers a wide integrated fabric selection. "So while you can’t choose custom fabrics, you’re likely to find a good fit," she says.
Save on Sofas
A semi-custom, bench-built, high-quality sofa with the option of your own fabric should cost between $5,000 and $10,000, depending on size.
Spending more gets you a better overall quality of construction (think bench-built and mortise-and-tenon joinery rather than outside assembly and glue and staples) as well as semi-customization.
For this Noe Valley project, Baker chose an Artless Up Three-Seater that had customization options, as her clients needed a bigger width and size. "We wanted it to feel midcentury with low proportions because of the flow and orientation of the furniture, and so as to not block the view," says Baker.
Artless, a Californian craft furniture company, offers semi-customizable sofas. "You can make their sofas narrower or taller, choose the legs, choose the fill, and even bring your own material," says Baker, which they did here, using Perennials’ In the Rough, Pumice acrylic fabric, a mildew- and mold-resistant, bleach-cleanable and easily maintained fabric, perfect for a couple expecting their first child.
At the higher end of this price range you can get a fully-customized, made-to-order couch, says Hastings. "If you go fully custom, then you are literally starting from scratch and someone is building this whole piece just for you and for your specifications," she says. This option is worth considering if you have a unique space to fit. "We just did a large, custom sectional that needed to fit exactly in the corner of a room, just below the window sill. It ended up costing over $12,000—it was a huge piece of furniture, but it fit like a glove."
Spend on Sofas
For $20,000 and beyond, splurge on a vintage sofa upholstered in a custom fabric and be fabulous.
While Helgerson points out that you could find an adorable vintage sofa and reupholster it for under $2,000, for a serious statement piece, you may want to splurge on a fabulous vintage couch.
For this project, Baker worked with a vintage Knoll sectional from Coup d’Etat. "We reupholstered it in a Holland & Sherry fabric and added the piping detail, pairing it with a Madeline Weinrib rug, and two Marco Zanus Lady Chairs reupholstered in a reversed Hermes fabric," she says.
Beyond vintage, at this price point you can essentially design your own sofa, says Baker. "You can have complete customization, change the seat depth seat height, fabric choice, also the fill—you have the flexibility to coordinate your interior with the rest of your space and also elevate the sofa, adding more detail to make it more unique."
Splurge on Sofas
The Bottom Line
This one is a "spend." According to our panel, a living room sofa is an investment piece you’ll have for many years. You can save on the couch in the den or the playroom, but for the centerpiece of your living space, consider spending as much as you can.
Design-wise, it’s also a good foundation for setting the mood and direction of your home, says Baker. "Sofas are an investment: they’re usually the anchor, as they’re the largest piece in the room," says Hastings. "You won’t have to buy another one for two decades."
And if you just have to have that vintage Knoll sofa, or really need that bullet-proof fabric, go ahead and splurge.
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