Sofa Buying Guide: Everything You Need to Know

Buying a new sofa is a major investment for anyone. You want something that hits the perfect balance between affordability, style, comfort and durability but it’s a task trying to cut through the industry lingo and understand what you’re really getting for your money.

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We don’t know about you but we find that often sofa buying guides tend to be self serving, with a lot of emphasis on their own products. In this guide, we’ll cover absolutely everything you need to know when buying your sofa – from the upholstery and material, to maintenance and accessories.

Types of Upholstery: Fabric

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Linen

Type: Natural
Source: Flax plant
Clean: Professional

Description: Linen is a gorgeous, comfortable material that is best suited for formal livings rooms. It won’t stand heavy wear and tends to soil and wrinkle easily.

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Cotton

Type: Natural
Source: Cotton plant
Clean: Easy

Description: Cotton is soft, durable and easy to maintain. It has a good resistance to wear, fading and pilling but it less resistant to soil and wrinkling. Cotton can also be flammable.

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Wool

Type: Natural
Source: Animal hair
Clean: Professional

Description: Wool is naturally springy, sturdy and durable. It has good resistance to pilling, fading, wrinkling and soil but tends to attract moths.

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Silk

Type: Natural
Source: Silkworm cocoon
Clean: Professional

Description: Silk is considered a luxurious and comfortable fabric, perfect for formal areas. The most fragile of all, strong light will tend to discolour this fabric and will require extensive care and protection.

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Vinyl

Type: Synthetic
Clean: Easy

Description: Vinyl is an affordable alternative to leather. Easy to care for and perfect for family living and dining rooms. Not particularly durable and heavily responsive to changes in temperature which can make it uncomfortable to sit on in the colder months.

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Acrylic

Type: Synthetic
Clean: Easy

Description: Developed as imitation wool, Acrylic resistant to wear, wrinkling, soiling and fading. Lower quality acrylic can pill excessively in areas that receive high degrees of abrasion. It also soaks up oils and sweat.

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Nylon

Type: Synthetic
Clean: Easy

Description: Nylon is usually blended with other fibres to make a very resilient sofa fabric. It does a great job of resisting mildew and is often used to create velvets. Nylon will often fade with prolonged sun exposure and tends to hold odour.

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Olefin

Type: Synthetic
Clean: Easy

Advantages: Olefin is inexpensive and very resistant to stains – great choice for a sofa that will receive heavy wear. However, Olefin tends to attract oils and grease which can be difficult to remove.

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Polyester

Type: Synthetic
Clean: Easy

Advantages: Another fabric that is rarely used alone, but rather blended with other fibres to add resistance. Polyester is easy to clean and also takes vibrant colours well. This fabric is easy to clean, but will retain oils as well as collect static electricity.

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Rayon

Type: Natural
Clean: Professional

Advantages: A great inexpensive alternative to linen or silk, Rayon is resistant to fading and mildew, but does tend to age quickly and this will show over time.


Types of Upholstery: Leather

Leather Cuts: Top-Grain Leather vs Split Hides

An animal hide is thick, so what you see on your final product whether it’s a pair of boots or a new sofa is actually a layer of the complete hide.

The layer closest to the surface is called the top-grain and is used for the most durable and expensive leather products.

The split hide is everything that has been cut from the inner layer of the hide. They are 100% leather, but are significantly less durable and for this reason, tend to get used in more affordable leather products or the outside pieces of furniture such as the back.

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Leather Finishes: From Aniline to Nubuck

Every single hide is as unique as your own skin – the colour, the texture, even the markings. It isn’t unusual for the appearance of each hide to vary significantly and so there are many different finishes available that can alter the final look and feel of your leather.

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Pigment / Protected / Painted

Pigmented leather is the most durable and stain resistant of the finished listed. It’s the least natural finish that involves the use of an opaque colouring which coats the grain of leather consistently. The leather is also usually buffed to remove imperfections. This has the effect of producing a sofa that’s easier to clean, but the texture tends to be colder to touch and the colours less vibrant and rich.

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Semi-Aniline

Semi-aniline leather is still a fairly natural finish. The aniline dye still penetrates throughout the hide, however, a protective coating is then applied (often including a pigment) that enhances the leather’s resistance. This has the effect of creating a more uniform coloured leather, with some natural marking still prevalent.

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Aniline

Aniline is a transparent, organic stain that is used to penetrate throughout the hide. Aniline leather doesn’t have a pigment colour or protective coating meaning that there will be natural variations in colour throughout the hide’s surface. Pure aniline leather also has the effect of maintaining the leather’s natural feel – luxuriously soft, warm to the touch, but slightly more susceptible to stains and soiling.

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Nubuck

Nubuck leather is pure aniline finished, then distressed or buffed to create a velvety feel and a suede-like appearance. This leather is – like other aniline leathers – more susceptible to stains, yet often considered the most luxuriously soft of all.

Full Grain Leather vs. Corrected Grain

Full grain leather is simply a type of top grain leather that has been left in it’s natural state – no buffing it’s surface to remove imperfections and no embossing to add special effects or faux grains.

Corrected grain leather on the other hand is lightly buffed to remove imperfections and often embossed to improve consistency.

Neither is a better option than the other and this largely falls down to preference.


Types of Upholstery: Cushions

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Fibre Cushion Sofas

Fibre is a synthetic filling that offers light to medium support. The filling is made from polyester hollow strands that are pumped full of air and then placed inside a cushion casing to give a plump appearance. The fibres compress under pressure providing a much softer feel, shaping itself around the body. Over time however, air is expelled from the casing and so the cushions will need to be plumped regularly to prevent them from losing their shape.

Feather Cushion Sofas

Feather filling offers the lightest support of all cushion fillings, but provide the softest feel. Feather filled sofas tend to have a less rigid look than foam, offering great give and comfort for their owners. The downfall of this is that they don’t have the same level of durability as foam and fibre cushions, so they need regular plumping to prevent loss of shape.

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Foam Cushion Sofas

Foam is considered the firmest of all cushion fillings – ideal for those that want a supportive seat. Foam tends to be very durable, keeping shape well and requiring little maintenance. Whilst the density of the foam in combination with the type of seating will determine how firm your sofa feels, foam sofas can be very comfortable.

Hybrid Cushion Sofas

Of course, cushion feelings can be combined to offer a blend of comfort and durability that will suit your requirements. A combination of fibre and feather is increasingly being used in higher quality sofas as a way of providing a resilient core with a softer, more comfortable feel.

Types of Upholstery: Seating

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Coil Sprung

A coil sprung sofa is filled with hourglass shaped springs which are then linked tightly together by a border rod of wire. This arrangement helps the sofa retain its shape, providing excellent support by ensuring an even distribution of weight. Coil sprung sofas are durable, but not as robust as alternative support and can be known to dip after prolonged use.

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Serpentine Sprung

Serpentine sprung sofas are made from steel wire shaped into a continuous zig-zag. The are often considered a step up from the traditional coil spring, providing a greater level of reinforcement across the frame. The zig-zag shape offers a better distribution of weight, making your sofa that little bit more durable.

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Pocket Sprung

A pocket sprung seat makes use of individually housed springs in their own fabric pockets. By isolating each spring from its neighbour, you ensure that each spring works independently to support the sofa. This helps to prevent that roll-together feeling when two individuals of different weights sit down. The result is an extremely durable, yet comfortable sofa.


Types of Upholstery: Frames

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Kiln-dried Hardwood

Hardwood is wood from broadleaved trees such as Birch, Maple, Oak, Ash and Teak and is typically used in high quality furniture. The wood is dried in a kiln, removing roughly 90-95% of the moisture. This helps to strengthen the frames, prevent warping and bowing. These frames are often secured by doweled and glued joints, as well as screws rather than staples. A strong frame can help to greatly increase the lifespan of your sofa!

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Plywood

Plywood is manufactured from multiple thin layers wood veneer that are glued together under high pressure. It can be strong and stable, but this is heavily dependant on the grade and quality. Plywood is typically found in less expensive sofas, however, with interlocking joints and plywood frame can be a very sturdy choice.

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Particleboard

Particleboard is made from wood chips and fibres that are glued, then compressed together. These types of frames are significantly weaker and are typically used in the lowest quality sofas.


Types of arms

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Types of Cushions

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Types of backs

Loose backs have cushions that are unattached, which allows them to be turned and rotated, while semi-attached backs have cushions that appear to be unattached, but are actually attached meaning you don’t have to work so hard to keep it looking tidy.

Tight back sofas have cushions that are completely integrated into the back of the sofa, which will give a firmer feel.

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Types of bases

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The A-Z of Sofa Types & Styles

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Step-By-Step: Buying Your Sofa

1. Find your trusty measuring tape

Start by opening your door to it’s widest point and then measure the distance between the inner edges of your door frame. Comparing the width of your doorframe with the height of your sofa will help determine if it will fit with ease, or if things are going to be a bit of a squeeze.

Once you’ve noted that down, measure the height of the door from the floor to the uppermost edge. If the width of your door happened to be a bit too narrow, then our next best bet is bringing the sofa through upright. If the width of the sofa you’re looking at is less than the height of the door then it’s a good fit.

Door height ………..
Door width …………

 

2. Scope your halls and stairwells

Getting the sofa through the front door is the first step, but it’s important to keep an eye out for any fixtures, fitting or tight hallways and staircases that might make things a squeeze.

Narrowest doorway width ………….
Narrowest hallway width …………
Staircase width ……….

 

3. Do you need a lift to reach your floor?

If you need to use a lift to reach your floor, then it’s a good idea to measure those dimensions too – just to be double sure.

Total lift width …………….
Total lift depth ……………
Total lift height ……………

 

4. Compare your measurements to your sofa

When you find a sofa that you love, you’ll want to start by comparing it to the entrance measurements in the previous steps. Bringing a sofa into your room of choice can be a bit of an obstacle if things are a tight squeeze.

Equally important is making sure that your sofa will sit well in your room. Once your heart is set on a sofa, use string to mark the sofa’s outline on the floor, this way you can be sure it’s going to fit the space you have allocated.

 

5. Ask questions about quality

Before you go ahead with your purchase, you will want to make sure that you’re getting a sofa that is going to last.

It needs to be made from quality materials, so use the industry lingo we spoke about above to identify exactly what it is you’re purchasing. Perhaps even more importantly you should investigate the brand and their reviews online.

Find out what people have to say about their products and services, their warranty and support.

 

6. What’s the purpose?

Start by considering who you’re purchasing for. Are you a lone wolf or a large family? Does the thought of a stained sofa make you cringe or is it a sign of a lived in home? Do you like to lounge or are you an upright, good posture kind of person?

The answer to these questions can be used as a filter to identify what you are looking for – whether it be in style, size or upholstery.

 

7. A sturdy frame is important

The frame of your sofa is a big talking point so keep these points in the back of your mind.

  • Kiln-dried wood is generally used in the best quality sofa.
  • Frames should be secured by dowels and nails – staples tend to be used in lower quality sofas.
  • Metal may be used in the frame on sofas with a large span to provide extra strength.
  • You want your sofa to feel heavy, not hollow. Lift up the front left leg of your sofa around 10 cm above the ground. Look across at the front right leg, if it’s still touching the ground the frame isn’t secured very well.

 

8. Identify the sofa’s seating support

If you want your sofa to last the test of time then you need to consider the type of support that’s used.

Pocket sprung seating is one of the highest level of support offered and will isolate each coil preventing that rollover feeling when two people sit down. The independence of the coils also has the benefit of limiting wear, as the coils are compressed only when they are directly compressed.

 

9. Fillings can be a trade off

Without a doubt feather filled cushions are the softest available (the most expensive too), but they are not perfect for all sofas. They require a heck of a lot of fluffing to keep their shape and will often lump together over time.

Foam is extremely durable and can be very comfortable, especially if used in combination with other fillings. The are the most firm of all fillings, however, so not always the best fit for the type that wants to sink into your sofa and allow it to envelope you. A good option is to use a foam wrapped in another filling, such as fibre.

 

10. Choose the right fabric

Start by asking the store you are purchasing from for a swatch to take home. This way you can check to see what the fabric looks light against the lighting in your room.

You also want to make sure you use the information on fabrics and leather at the top of this guide to make an informed decision based on your requirements. Hard-wearing fabrics such as cotton tend to have a long lifespan, and genuine leather when cared for correctly is known to get better with age.

 

11. Complement the colour of your room

I would always suggest playing it on the safe side when it comes to the colour of your sofa. It’s a big investment and colours trends change, so will the look of your room. If you want to buy a sofa that will last then stick to a neutral tone.

If you room follows a warmer palette then consider purchasing a beige, tan or cream. For a cooler colour palette consider grey, charcoal or white tones. You can then introduce an accent colour through cushions, throws, rugs and lamps that decorate your living room area.


Easy ways to maintain your sofa

Start with the basics – regularly fluff

Regardless of your cushion filling, over time they will lose shape. You can combat this very easily with regular fluffing – punch, prop, poke and push. Do whatever you feel is necessary to pull air back into the casing and realign the filling. Try to incorporate this into your weekly cleaning routine.

Flip your cushions over

If you have loose cushions, be sure to flip them over every few months so that they wear more evenly. This will help them maintain their shape. This can usually still be achieved even with attached back cushions by undoing the zip that can be found around the edge and turning the inner filling around.

Vacuum the corners and creases

The “Out of sight, out of mind” attitude will limit the lifespan of your sofa. Make sure you regularly remove the cushions and hoover within the creases of your sofa. Dust can often sink down into the fibres and act like sandpaper, slowly wearing away at the material.

Avoid direct sunlight like the plague

Direct sunlight is the bitter enemy of your new sofa. Ultraviolet rays will gradually degrade the material covering your sofa, and although some fabrics are more resistant than others it’s always a good idea to invest in some high quality protection.

Clean leather regularly with a dry cloth

The simplest step of them all. The most common mistake that people make is using an excessive amount of water and soap to clean their leather sofa. This will gradually disintegrate the surface and speed up the rate at which the sofa will begin to crack. Ideally, if you come across a stain or dirt, clean with a barely damp cloth and immediately dry off with a soft paper towel.

Use a very mild leather conditioner once every 6 months

High quality leather should be cherished and protected, but unfortunately many of us are duped into thinking that our sofas need to be smothered every month to improve its longevity. The problem is most conditioners are super strong and can actually do more harm than good. Find a high quality, but extremely mild leather conditioner and use it every 6 months or so.

Buff those scratches away

Over time, you will notice that your favourite seat in the house will begin to wear – small scratches and marks will show and if you’re anything like me they will bother you to no end. Wear is inevitable but you can take a small microfibre cloth and gently buff them until their appearance begins to fade.

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5 Steps to Accessorising Your Sofa

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Make use of an accent colour that fits your palette

Most of your personality should shine through your sofa accessories. Start by identifying a contrasting colour – for example if your sofa was a darker colour, you might consider a lighter accent colour.

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Is there anything better than a footstool?

There are few things better than kicking your shoes off, and extending the chill-factor of your sofa with a footstool. The great thing is that they don’t have to be bought as a matching part of your sofa set. If you’re are clever with your accessory purchases you can very easily use your accent colour to make a footstool work.

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Throw some cushions into the mix

Scatter cushions are a super easy way of dressing up your sofa and are available in a huge number of shades, shapes and sizes. The great thing about cushions is that the compliment a sofas level of comfort, but can be interchanged regularly to suit changing tastes or themes such as the season.

If you have multiple cushions, consider positioning the smaller ones at the front to create balance. Finally, current trends tend to lean towards varying textures to create contrast with a solid coloured fabric or leather.

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Drape some throws

Throw blankets are often a massively overlooked way to transform the appearance of a sofa. Once again they can be used to add greater comfort or as an aesthetic enhancement – it’s your choice.

You can experiment by folding them, and change moods by literally ‘throwing’ or formally placing over a corner. Consider experimenting with the use of statement pieces, but try to work those in so that they compliment your cushion choice.

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Don’t be shy of the Scandinavian look

I tend to think that we all gravitate towards minimalism and neutral colours. It’s provides balance and symmetry, neither straining our eyes with bold colours or boring us to death with how bland the design is. It’s just tranquil…

Don’t be shy of letting your sofa do that talking and going naked. If it’s capable of acting as a statement piece then it may be worth resisting the urge to heavily accessorize.


To Conclude...

I get it, believe me. Buying a sofa is a big decision that you want to get right, but with the information above you should be a little closer to making an informed decision.

If you know somebody that will find this handy, please do share it with them!

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Sources

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