furniture 101: sofas

Furniture 101: Sofas

If you are in the market for your first “good” sofa, or are looking to upgrade from your current one, read this article first. We’ve covered everything from classic sofa styles to what’s on the inside to make it easier for you to make your decision.

When to Replace Your Sofa
We’ve all seen those sad, saggy sofas on the curb with broken frames and torn cushions, but you shouldn’t wait until your sofa is in that state before replacing it. After all, life’s just too short to sit on an ugly or uncomfortable sofa.

Here are some signs that your sofa’s days are numbered:

  • It has started to make strange sounds. Squeaks, creaks, mysterious thuds, and cracking sounds are all indicators of spring and/or frame failure. Once a frame has failed or the springs go, there’s little that can be done to fix it.
  • The cushions are flat. Flat, sagging cushions are not only unsightly, they’re uncomfortable. In some cases, it’s possible to have the cushions re-stuffed, however that can add up to several hundred dollars at the upholstery shop, plus the inconvenience of being without your sofa cushions for days or weeks.
  • The fabric is stained, faded, or torn. While your first thought might be to replace or cover up the offending fabric, keep in mind that reupholstering or having a slipcover made can cost as much as a new sofa.
  • It’s dated or doesn’t fit the space. If your sofa still looks and feels ok, but no longer suits your needs, why not sell it or donate it while you still can?


Get to Know These Six Classic Sofa Styles

Shopping for a “good” sofa is just like shopping for staple pieces for your wardrobe—choose a classic style in a neutral or basic colour and let your accessories follow the trends. Trust us, toss cushions are a lot easier and more economical to replace when you get bored or when your taste evolves.

The good news is, “classic” doesn’t have to be boring. It just means an enduring style that has proven itself to be trend-proof, like these timeless shapes:

Clean, streamlined, and low-profile, this contemporary sofa with matching bolster cushions has a simple silhouette and a modern, but timeless look.

Mid-Century Modern
A blast from the past, this style has made a big comeback, thanks to its sleek, minimalist look. This quintessentially mid-century sofa has crisp, tight tailoring, menswear-inspired fabric with subtle button tufting, and flared peg legs.

The tight, shaped back, rolled arms, and piped box cushions are hallmarks of the traditional style. A versatile design that works well in a variety of settings, this sofa style can be dressed up or dressed down depending on the fabric chosen to cover it.

Casual Comfort
Comfy padded arms and a plush pillow back make this an inviting sofa for watching TV, napping, and casual hangouts. Perfect for family rooms, media rooms, and informal living rooms.

Modern Farmhouse
A casual take on a traditional silhouette, this rolled-arm sofa features a mix of patterns and textures for an inspired, eclectic look.


What to Look for When Buying Your New Sofa

There’s plenty to keep in mind when shopping for your new sofa, but here are some key things to pay attention to: the components (fabric, frame, springs, etc.) and the quality of the construction. Remember—what’s under the upholstery is just as important as how your new sofa looks, so don’t be afraid to ask your salesperson lots of questions.

Cottons, linens, and silks may be beautiful, but they are prone to wear and staining, especially the lighter shades. Look for stain-resistant synthetics that have been engineered to stand up to wear and ask about the fabric’s “double rub count,” a test that is used to gauge how many “rubs” a piece of fabric will take before it becomes threadbare. In a busy household, a double rub count of around 20,000 is suitable for a sofa or sectional that gets daily use—durable, but still soft and comfortable. Save the more delicate or decorative fabrics for accent pieces like chairs and ottomans that get less day-to-day use, or accessories like curtains and toss cushions.

Warm and luxurious, leather is virtually kid-proof and a great choice if there are allergies in the house—dust and pet hair wipe right off with a barely-damp cloth. And, although it may cost you more than a fabric covered sofa, a high quality leather sofa will last up to three times as long and get better with age. When investing in a leather sofa look for aniline or semi-aniline (or protected aniline) leathers for the richest colour and softness, and keep it in top condition with regular cleaning and maintenance.  

When it comes to frames, hardwood is always best—softwood frames will break, split, or warp with time. Although other kinds of wood or engineered wood may be used in a secondary role, the main part of the frame and seat/back spring rails should be kiln- or air-dried hardwood. Watch, too, for the term “corner blocked” or “corner block reinforced”—that means a hardwood block has been screwed into the corners of the frame to prevent it from twisting and separating.

Although considered the gold-standard of sofa suspension, 8-way hand-tied springs are now only found on very high-end custom or refurbished antique pieces. Sinuous (or “zig zag”) springs are what you will find on most pieces now, with a just a few exceptions—webbing for chair seats or support platforms on specialty or converting pieces, for example. When considering a sofa with sinuous springs, ensure the springs are made from heavy gauge wire and have two or more perpendicular tie-wires clipped to each spring to prevent side-to-side movement.

Foam is the most common filling material for sofa cushions, but not all foams are created equally. Although they may feel good in the showroom, cheaper foams will degrade, causing a loss in comfort and a misshapen appearance. Instead, look for HR or “high-resiliency” foams wrapped in polyester batting for longer longevity. Pillow backs are often filled with feathers, down, or batting for a plush look and feel, but make sure that they include a foam core for support and to prevent sagging and flattening over time.

How to Spot a Quality Piece
A good-quality sofa should feel solid and appropriately heavy for its size. To test the frame for weakness or twisting, reach down and lift one of the front corners—the other corner should quickly lift, too. While you're there, check to make sure the legs are either screwed on or integral to the frame, and not just glued on, and the bottom is neatly finished with a taught dust cover.

Sit on the sofa and listen for odd sounds or squeaks coming from inside. Lean against the arms—they shouldn’t move or wiggle. You should also feel around the padded areas of the sofa itself, especially the tops of the arms, to make sure it is well-cushioned and you can't feel the edges of the frame. Another indicator of a quality piece is self-decking—ie the fabric under the seat cushions matches the rest of the sofa. Not only does it look better, it helps to keep your sofa cushions in place and protects them from wear.

Checking the Fit
Pay attention to fit of the sofa, as well, to make sure it’s appropriate for your size and long enough to stretch out on if you plan to use it for laying down or napping. When sitting on the sofa facing forward, your thighs should be fully supported and your feet should touch the floor with both knees at a 90-degree angle. If you are shopping for a sofa to fit a taller-than-average person, choose one with a deeper seat, then add a couple toss cushions to accommodate shorter family members and visitors.

If you are purchasing a sofa with a chaise, make sure the orientation is correct for the room and won’t block any doorways or traffic paths. Be sure to have your doorway and hall measurements on hand, as well, to ensure your new sofa can be placed in your room of choice. (Your sales specialist can help with this.)

Make your Sofa Dreams Come True

When you can’t seem to find the exact sofa you’re looking for, consider going custom. Creating a one-of-a-kind piece of furniture is easier and more affordable than you might think. Just look at all of the styles available to customize. 

Once you have decided on a style, your sales specialist will work with you to choose the fabric, legs, design details, size, and configuration to suit your taste and space. Several weeks later, you’ll be sitting on your dream sofa (and wondering why you didn’t do it sooner).


A Little Final Advice

Buying a sofa is pretty big deal. As the biggest piece of furniture in the room, it has to look good, but it also has to FEEL good and, if you are making the investment, you’ll want it to enjoy it for as long as possible.

How long should a sofa last? On average, a good sofa should last around seven to 15 years—just imagine how many “cheap” sofas you’d buy in that time. Our best advice is to buy the highest-quality sofa that your budget will allow and take good care of it. It will definitely pay off in the long run.


To start your custom journey or shop from our wide selection of stylish, comfortable sofas, book your appointment today.