How To Buy A Sofa

One of the questions I am most often asked is how to buy a sofa?  By which I mean, it’s not just about finding the right shape and colour and working out if it will fit through the door, but also about understanding the different components. Do you need hard or softwood? Do you want foam cushions or feather? Velvet or Linen? And just what is all that guff about springs and coils?

The sofa is the most important element of the sitting room (no, it isn’t the telly, be quiet). It’s also one of the most expensive things you will buy (along with the bed and the kitchen table) and, the chances are, that you will be sitting on it for about 10 years so you need to get it right.

Tallulah Chaise in Designers Guild Velvet from Love Your Home

I have teamed up with Leigh Harmer, of Love Your Home  to give you the definitive guide to How To Buy A Sofa. And, Leigh, who used to run a luxury furniture company and interior design business set up his company with Abi, a former style editor at Elle Decoration so the pair of them know of what they speak. Here, then, is their guide to


It might sound like a statement of the bleedin’ obvious, but get the size right. One of the most common mistakes is to put a small sofa in a small space. It’s much better to choose something oversized as this will trick the eye into thinking there is more space than there actually  is and sets the visual tone of the room. Also, it’s not called a sitting room for nothing. You do need to be able to sit comfortably. However, if you are pushed for space choose a sofa with slender arms as this will give you more sitting space.

grey velvet bed with storage from love your home

Choosing the right fabric is essential to the look and longevity of your sofa. The UK’s best selling fabric is a brushed cotton/linen but this fades very badly in direct sunlight and also looks very tired if used heavily. It also wears thin and then rips if confronted by too many rivets on jeans. It might sound counter intuitive, but consider velvet or leather (which is basically wipe clean).

New technology now means you can buy a man-made velvet that looks like a matt cotton version but, crucially, it won’t bruise or mark. In addition, many have an inbuilt stain guard which results in a very hard wearing fabric that will stand the test of time (and the toddlers) as well as the daily wear and tear.

pink velvet armchair

Ask about the Martindale Rub count – this is the fabric industry standard for fabric durability. The higher the number the more durable the material.

Finally, it’s very important to see your choice of fabric in your room in both natural light and artificial light as they will look very different. A good company will loan you a larger “feeler” piece to help you make the decision. There are an awful lot of  cheap looking man-made fabrics on the market. Take your time to choose the right one for you and your needs.

charcoal velvet sofa

And, while many companies are cutting overheads and prices by not having showrooms, never buy online without viewing the fabric sample first as it will look very different in reality.

Next up – obvious statement number two: Will it fit? You would be amazed how often people don’t think this one through. Check access carefully – is that radiator in the way? Don’t forget to allow for door frames and skirting boards and turns on the stairs by the half landings.

modern chesterfield sofa in orange

Use masking tape to mark out your chosen sofa, then work back through the access points to check it will fit.  If in doubt, speak to the sofa company who should be able to help you. The more detail you give – supported with snaps on your phone – the better they can help you avoid possible disappointment on delivery day. They can also advise what models come with removable arms etc to ease access.

Many companies (including Love Your Home) will tweak the styles on offer so you can have a sofa made slightly shorter (or longer) a little narrower or a touch wider. This can help with both access and in the room itself.

chalk white linen sofa

Now for the frame. Is it made from hardwood? Is there chipboard in there for the box sections (not a strong long standing quality material)? Is it bolted together (good) or screwed (not so good). What is the guarantee (expect at least 5 to 10 years)?  Is it interlined (a frame covering under the chosen fabric)? Many companies cut corners by not interlining. A quality focused company will interline as standard as the finished fabric sits better on the frame. A good quality frame will also be heavy. Try lifting a corner for weight and to make sure there is little flex in the frame. If you lift one corner the other should lift too. If it stays on the floor the frame is bending and isn’t rigid enough.

What about those cushions? We have done hundreds of tweaks to create the best seating arrangements. However, everybody has different comfort factors. We find the best and most popular option is feather wrapped foam seat cushions and back cushions of 100 per cent feather with the feathers held in cells so they do not collapse and will hold their shape better. For those allergic to feathers we recommend memory foam or silicone.

black and white patterned headboard
black and white patterned headboard

The legs play a very important part in the look, feel and style of a sofa. Too low and they can be hard to get out of. Metal creates a more contemporary look whilst a wooden sleigh leg is modern and different. A leg also allows you to see more floor which also creates the illusion of a bigger room since the more floor you can see, the bigger you think the space is.

So there you have the technical advice. I would add to that only a few thoughts of my own. Do you want two smaller sofas facing each other for a chatting room? Or an L-shaped beast that one person can have a kip on the whole family can lie on? If you have a knock through sitting room that is long and thin, consider dividing the spaces with a chaise longue that is visually less imposing than a sofa.


The last choice you will make is the colour. Now, be honest, when you started this you were all about the colour and it’s true, that is often the starting point for a room. But, when it comes to buying a sofa, you need to get all these other decisions made first. After all, the colour is the one thing you can easily change. Now, I know you are spending a lot of money so you want it to last but instead of a sensible, practical neutral, consider a colour that you love. A colour that makes your heart sing. You can always tone it down with a throw, a neutral wall, two plain armchairs.

Most of use choose a plain sofa and a riot of cushions. Why not consider the other way round? It’s your room. Have fun but read this guide first.

I hope you have found this helpful. Do let me know if you have any questions and either Leigh or I will try and help.

Tags : framehardwoodhow to buy a sofaleatherupholsteredvelvet
Kate Watson-Smyth

The author Kate Watson-Smyth

I’m a journalist who writes about interiors mainly for The Financial Times but I have also written regularly for The Independent and The Daily Mail. My house has been in Living Etc, HeartHome and featured in The Wall Street Journal & Corriere della Sera. I also run an interior styling consultancy Mad About Your House. Welcome to my Mad House.


  1. And one more important (for me, it’s the most important) factor … sit on it before buying. The difficulty with all these no-showroom options is that you have to buy before you try. One of the current big names now has a showroom (making a nonsense of its raison d’être – no showrooms, lower costs) so off I went with a friend, both of us looking for new sofas. Not one was even the slightest bit comfortable. It was torture (no back support, too hard, a strange shape calling for a strange posture) or embarrassing (too deep or too high making our short legs swing like those of bored boisterous boys) or uncertain (one sofa was soft and enveloping, which is what I wanted, but the salesperson we asked admitted that it was probably softer as it had had a lot of use – how long would it take to reach comfort level and how soon after that would it begin to deteriorate and offer no support and no comfort?).

    On another note, having just painted my bedroom in a deep dark teal blue, I was delighted to see that my idea of having an orange chair is going to look delicious. Wonderful photos, as always and thank you.

  2. Terrific, informative post.
    I wish I had read this before I bought a terrible, uncomfortable sofa in a not-great color.
    A color in a small swatch, it turns out, looks very different on a large sofa.
    Another gripe is constantly having to push the cushions back into place. There must be some fix for that (aside from not slouching…)

    Although the measuring is fine here: the (Japanese) company I use created a model from cardboard and tested it through the doors/stair for fit!

  3. Most informative! In fact the most helpful guide to sofa buying I’ve read. I would buy that modern chesterfield in an orange hot second if I weren’t poor & living in the back of beyond in Northern California.

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