Like old friends, many of us can mark our years by the couches on which we have spent time.
Remember the sofa that your parents had, and how it felt so warm and safe to snuggle on it while you watched Saturday morning cartoons? How about the hand-me-down one that you tried to work with by adding a slipcover and some throw pillows when you first got married? Or the couch that you purchased on impulse in that lovely buttery yellow color that swallowed up the entire living room once you got it home? Yes, those “friends” provide us with memories, whether they be fond or painful ones.
My most recent couch-tastrophe was having our decadently comfortable sofa reupholstered in a perky, durable denim fabric only to find out that the piece of furniture would not make the turn into our bonus room. Yikes! That couch has now taken up residence in the basement. I have a feeling that I am not alone in my blunders, and what is it about couches that many of us have made costly mistakes with them? It is about time to unravel this mystery and become “forever friends” with the sofa.
Measure, Assess and Place
The first and most important step in finding the perfect couch is measure, measure, measure! Do not head out to the store without performing this crucial task, or you may fall in love with a couch that literally does not fit the room. Tom Feazell, Store Decorator for Grand Home Furnishings in Roanoke, advises, “Have an idea of the size [couch] you need, and measure the room. You need to have measurements or you are going to be lost when you go shopping.” It is very important to know not only the space that you are working with, but to know the route that the piece will have to get through in order to be placed in the room. “Measure hallways, stair angles and door frames,” he adds. “That is why God made yardsticks!”
Also, sketching out a simple floor plan of the room and knowing what existing pieces will be used enables a salesperson to point you in the right direction. Experts suggest taking along a simple drawing of the layout of your room, photographs of anything you want to keep in the room and any fabric samples when you go shopping. Feazell elaborates: “It is worthwhile to do a floor plan. Draw your room, and place the sofa in the plan… just sketch and play around.” He also suggests having a starting point in your room for inspiration, say the floor or the wall color.
Matthew Clements of Sofas Unlimited suggests taking furniture store fabric samples home to look at them. “Take the fabric home and view the colors in your own light. Fluorescents are different than natural light, and colors will look different at home versus in the store.” Clements relayed a story about how a blue couch in the showroom turned green in the homeowner’s natural light.
When it comes to couch placement, there is the age-old question of whether the sofa should be allowed to “float” in a room or be placed against a wall. Placement depends on the room size and shape as well as traffic flow. If a room is long and thin, the only choice may be to line the couch along a wall; rooms with open floor plans allow for couches to “float.” Placement can influence the choice of couch construction. Clements says, “Get a solid back if the couch is floating. It will have a piece of wood to make a solid back. Hollow backs only have fabric on the back, which is best for [sofas placed] against a wall. You can tell the quality of a sofa if it is a solid or hollow backed sofa.”
Once you have assessed what your needs are, it is time to go shopping! With prices ranging from a few hundred up into the thousands, knowing what you are getting for your money is of the utmost importance. Most experts agree that you get what you pay for when it comes to purchasing a sofa.
“One of the biggest things that we stress with our clients is to know what you are buying. You can have two couches that look exactly the same on the outside, yet they are very different on the inside. You need to feel comfortable that your salesperson has enough knowledge to let you know what you are getting, such as the springs, frames, cushions and construction. If the salesperson does not know that, you should probably go somewhere else,” says Walton Beeker of Henderson Furniture, whose showroom has cutaway chairs on display so the inner construction can be viewed.
When purchasing a couch, the unseen is as important as what is seen. The weight of a sofa comes into play and is often a good indicator of quality. A quality piece will be made of hardwoods with a tightly-assembled frame and a good spring system, which will result in a heftier piece of furniture.
Feazell suggests, “Price is a consideration, so have a budget in mind. Do you want it to last years, or do you redecorate often? There are so many choices for the consumer at different price points, although there is a huge middle range of quality furniture that is well made.” Shoppers also seem to be more knowledgeable about the products that they are purchasing nowadays, making the process easier on both the consumer and the salesperson.
When choosing his own couch, Feazell said, “There were things I wanted to find in my own sofa no matter what. I wanted a sofa that would last 15–20 years, be eight-way hand-tied, have down cushions and be bench made, not manufactured on an assembly line.” Bench made pieces are only touched by one or two craftsmen, unlike pieces that are made on an assembly line.
With upholstered pieces, the cost lies in the construction, and experts advise consumers to purchase the best quality that they can afford. Purchasing a couch with a style that will stand the test of time will allow for the piece to be recovered without looking dated, which is wise in an investment piece.
Fabric and style choices are where personal tastes can shine through. Beeker says that the neutral colors are most popular. With a neutral sofa all it takes is a few quick changes of throw pillows and drapes, and your home can have a whole new look. Other issues to consider are comfort, construction, and value of your sofa. Beeker says, “[Your couch] should be comfortable, and you should enjoy sitting in it. Know how it is built, and be sure that the store has a good level of service. We stress the value of the piece. Do you want to make a $2100 sofa mistake? You can buy three or four junky ones or just buy one and keep it. Many people do not want to make the investment in a high-end sofa.” Beeker described this as the “investment mentality vs. the throwaway mentality”, and buying a higher-end couch is worthwhile over time.
Feazell adds, “You can keep the price down by buying a sofa as is, but some customers want more options. Custom fabrics [make] the price go up.” Fabrics are available at different price points, and purchasing additional pillows and adding trims to the sofa increase the price. Also consider the room the couch will be placed in and the amount of wear and tear to which it will be subjected.
There are also decisions to be made as to whether a couch is more contemporary and clean-lined or more casual and comfortable looking. Arm style and whether a sofa has exposed legs or a skirt is left up to individual taste and design aesthetic. When it comes to choices such as these, sometimes a store will offer the services of an interior designer to enable customers to make the best choices.
Just as a companion can make or break a party, your couch can have a positive or negative influence on a room. Tom Feazell put it perfectly when he said, “A couch sets the mood. If you have a gorgeous couch, all of a sudden the room is beautiful, but if you have an ugly sofa, people will not notice anything else. It makes or breaks the room.” Sounds like that old friend analogy again, doesn’t it?