A sofa is one of the most expensive pieces of furniture that most people purchase, and we encourage you to try them out in person, or to buy from online companies that have generous return policies. We hope that after you read this guide, you’ll feel comfortable purchasing a sofa that will be an investment in your current and future home.
Finding the right sofa for your space and budget begins with deciding what type and style you want. Just as important, you’ll need to determine what size sofa will fit in your home (including through doorways, down hallways, and up stairs, among other exterior and interior obstructions).
Then consider how many people you want to seat and what you should avoid (and invest in) if pets or kids will regularly use the sofa. We tell you how to check for quality construction, how much you should expect to spend, and when you can get the best deals. We’ve also put together a buying checklist that you can consult while you’re shopping to help you remember the most important details.
Type of sofas
Sofas and couches come in many shapes and sizes. The right one for you will depend on how much space you have, how many people you want to seat, and whether you plan to use the sofa for napping or hosting overnight guests. These are the four types you’ll generally find:
These generally measure between 72 and 84 inches, comfortably seating three to four people.
Similar to a sofa, but intended for two people, these range from 48 inches to 72 inches wide.
A larger modular sofa consisting of two or more pieces arranged in an L- or U-shaped configuration. Apartment-size sectionals are about the same size as a standard sofa, but larger sizes can seat five or more people.
A sofa bed transforms to lay out flat, offering a mattress-like surface to rest on. A daybed is essentially a sofa with more depth, and is intended for lounging comfortably stretched across its length.
Regardless of how well a sofa is made, you won’t be happy with it if you don’t also love the way it looks. Narrow your search to the styles that appeal to you and that will complement your home’s decor. Below are the eight most common styles sold today.
The hallmarks of the mid-century aesthetic are a clean and minimalist structure sitting low to the floor atop unadorned metal or wooden legs.
The “comfy jeans” of sofas, the laidback Lawson is practically synonymous with what we think of as the quintessential couch where spare change gets discovered.
- English roll arm
The cushioned yet firm high-back sofa is distinguished by its low contoured arms leaning outward. This style looks best in traditional and transitional decorated spaces that have enough room not to cramp its size.
Imagine the seat of an upholstered chair stretched out and you have the chaise. Traditionally this sofa features one side with an arm and the other side without (aka a méridienne sofa or fainting couch), but many chaise designs forgo arms altogether.
A small upright sofa that’s distinguished by its seating for two, the settee is the original name for the love seat. Styles can range from traditional to contemporary detailing. Because of its petite proportions, the settee works well in smaller apartments, in a pair facing each other, or placed within unexpected spaces like bedrooms, offices, or even hallways.
Boxy dimensions, tufting along the back and arms, and arms of equal height to the back are what distinguish this style.
Identified by its quilted or tufted low back and its high arms, this British design is classically upholstered in leather.
The aristocratic profile of the camelback (also called a humpback sofa) is unsurprisingly attributed to the hump at the center of the backrest. Sometimes there are two humps, and the sofa usually sits atop four to eight exposed wood legs.
Accurately Measure the Sofa
We’ve all heard the horror stories about someone who purchased the sofa of their dreams only to discover it would not fit through a doorway, navigate a stairway, or fit inside the room. The carpenter’s adage of “measure twice, cut once” proves similarly true when you’re dropping hundreds—if not thousands—of well-earned dollars on a sofa. Follow these steps to ensure that you don’t become a cautionary tale for future generations of sofa shoppers.
Depending on the type and style, sofa sizes can vary from sofa to sofa. Below, we go over the standard sofa dimensions and where they fall on the sofa size spectrum.
- Sofa Length
Though sofas can be anywhere between 70″ and 96″ long, standard three-person sofas tend to be between 70″ and 87″ long, and the most common length is 84″. If you’re looking for sofas with ample seating, opt for a long sofa with a length of 87″ – 100″, or consider an extra-long sofa that is over 100″ in length.
- Sofa Depth
Standard sofa depth (from the very front to the very back) is 35″, but most sofas are 32″ – 40″ in depth.
- Sofa Height
Sofa height, or the distance from the floor to the very top of the sofa back, ranges from 26″ to 36″ high. Low-back sofas tend to be sleek and modern, while high-back sofas tend to lean more traditional.
- Seat Depth
Sofa seat depth, or the measurement from the front edge of the seat to the back edge of the seat (or to the front of the sofa back), can be 20″ – 25″. Seat depths of 21″ and 22″ are standard for those of average height, while shorter or longer depths are better suited for shorter and taller individuals. Deep-seat sofas have seats between 28″ and 35″ in depth and extra-deep-seat sofas have seats over 35″ deep.
- Seat Height
The distance from the floor to the top of a sofa’s seat cushion ranges from 15″ to 20″, with most sofa seats between 17″ and 18″ off of the floor.
Measure Your Space for a Sofa
Buying a sofa online can feel daunting, especially if you’re not sure what size sofa your space can fit. Below, we outline a quick and easy strategy for measuring your space for a sofa.
Step 1: Measure Your Space
To get a feel for the sofa sizes your space can accommodate, take note of the length and width of your room. If your room is large with high ceilings, it’s a good idea to look for sofas on the larger side with higher backs – the open space will complement the sofa and make it look poised and grand. If you have less space available or lower ceilings, think about purchasing a shorter sofa or a compact loveseat that won’t overwhelm the room.
Also be sure to measure the widths and height of all entry doorways and hallways that your sofa will have to be carried through upon delivery – you’ll want your new sofa to fit through the door!
Step 2: Tape the Area
Decide on the spot where you’d like to place your new sofa. Allow for 30″ of walking room in front of the sofa to preserve the natural flow of traffic through the space. If you are planning on pairing your sofa with a coffee table, ensure there is at least 12″ – 18″ between the two pieces of furniture.
Using masking tape, make a rough rectangle on the floor where you’d like to place your sofa. As long as you’re conscious of general sofa dimensions, precision isn’t necessary here – you’re looking to create a rough guideline, not the perfect outline of a sofa.
Step 3: Measure the Taped Area
Once your tape is positioned nicely and you’re happy with the size of the rectangle you’ve created, measure its width and length.
How to check the Quality of a Sofa
Different parts of the sofa—the frame, seating support, and filling—determine not only your sofa’s level of comfort but also its ability to retain its shape and stability in the years to come.
How long a sofa will last and retain its shape depends largely on the frame, and a high-quality sofa always has a strong, sturdy one. When looking at the frame of a sofa this is what you should consider:
The best frame is made out of kiln-dried hardwood. The process of kiln drying removes all moisture from the wood, enabling it to retain its shape and stability over a long period of time. Frames made of green wood can shrink or crack as it dries. Softwood can bend and break easily, while knotted wood is prone to cracks.
In a good-quality frame, the joints get special attention. They are glued, dowelled, and screwed. The corners are further strengthened by the addition of reinforcing blocks for extra support and strength.
Generally speaking, plywood and particleboard frames are inferior, especially if they are held together with staples. Additional layers of plywood can help reinforce the frame, so as you can see, construction matters as much as material. If you must choose a sofa with a plywood frame, make sure it has at least 11 to 13 layers of plywood.
- Seating Support
The seating support is also an important component in determining the quality of a sofa. It works in tandem with the frame and the filling. A sturdy frame provides an anchor for good seating support and filling augments it. You should always test the quality of seating support by sitting on a sofa before you buy it. It shouldn’t sag, and it should provide good support in the seat and in the back. The three most common seating support options are:
The eight-way hand-tied springs system is one of the best support systems. The craftsman connects each spring to the adjoining one with strong twine. The twine passes front to back, side to side and then diagonally in both directions, thus tying each spring securely.
Another method is the sinuous spring construction. Sinuous springs are “S”-shaped and run from the front of the seat to the back. These springs are supported by additional wires that cross from side to side. This also makes for a strong seat, and it might be the preferred option in a sleeker style or smaller frame because it requires less space.
The third option is web suspension, in which bands of webbing lie across the seat and back. These are then attached to the frame to make a platform for the cushions. Webbing can be made of either natural or man-made fibers, and if it is used alone doesn’t make for very strong support. In better-quality sofas, it is used with a tensioner that fastens the webbing securely to the frame. The web suspension is the least preferable of the seating support options.
- Cushion Filling
Now that you have considered the frame and seating support, it is time to look at what kind of filling is used for the cushions.
The most common filling is high-density polyurethane. The higher the density, the firmer the cushion will be. Foam can be wrapped in softer material or cotton to make it softer. Dacron-wrapped foam is the cheapest option, but it won’t last as long.
Make sure that you are getting high-density foam because lesser-quality foam can start breaking down pretty quickly, causing sags, and the fabric does not stay taut when that happens.
If you want a really soft seat, consider down cushions. These are considered to be the premium choice, and as you might imagine they are also among the most expensive. High-quality cushions have down-proof ticking under the upholstery fabric to prevent feathers from poking through. Cushions filled just with down are high-maintenance and can need daily attention.
Down used in combination with other materials is also a good option but also another expensive option. Pads made out of a Dacron polyester fiber and down, known as Blendown pads, are wrapped around high-density foam.
These pads can also be used with springs that have been wrapped up in foam. High-density foam surrounds the springs, which are then wrapped in down pads. The result is a soft surface with strong, resilient support inside. This is a good option because the cushions do not lose their shape easily.
All in all the quality doesn’t come cheap, but a good-quality sofa will stay more comfortable and retain its looks for a long time. Consider buying the best quality that you can afford.