How to buy a sofa: step-by-step
Buying a sofa takes time and consideration. You need to pick a style that suits your living space, a colour you love, a material that lasts and – after all that – it has to actually fit through the front door.
Get to grips with the various sizes, fillings and finishes before you part with your cash. A new sofa doesn’t have to be expensive, but while there are some things you can skimp on, there are other areas in which it will pay to splash out.
This back-to-basics guide focuses on:
Ordering sofa swatches
Before you decide on a colour and fabric, order several swatches of a variety of fabrics you’re interested in. More than half of all Which? members surveyed owned their previous sofas for more than 10 years, so it's definitely worth taking the time to choose a colour you like.
Swatches are usually free, so it's best to get hold of a range of different options. Seeing a picture of your chosen fabric just isn't the same as touching it yourself and looking at it in different lights.
Live with the swatches for at least a few days. Look at them in natural and artificial light, to see how they'll look at different times of day. You could even splash some food or drink onto them to see how well they clean up. And, if you're worried about pet scratches – particularly cats – let them claw at the swatches to see how the fabric holds up.
Choosing a sofa fabric
Whether you go for soft leather or a relaxed-look linen, the fabric your sofa is upholstered in will set the tone for your living room.
For everyday seating in a room you use a lot, you might prefer a hard-wearing man-made fabric with stain protection treatment. Good-quality leather is also a durable choice.
Man-made fibres tend to be the most durable – textured flat weaves in particular are among the most hard-wearing and family friendly, as they’re more forgiving of stains and less likely to snag.
Popular sofa fabrics
Here are Which? members' top five sofa fabrics, according to more than 1,800 who took part in our survey.
- Leather (32%)
- Cotton blend (18%)
- Cotton/linen (11%)
- Wool blend (7%)
- Synthetic (7%)
We've summarised the key pros and cons of these and other popular sofa fabric types below. Or if you need a little inspiration, head to our guide to to take a quiz on which sofa style would suit you best.
Choosing a sofa shape – from corner sofas to sofa beds
Once you've ordered a few samples and narrowed down your fabrics. It's time to work out what size and shape sofa will fit and suit your space.
From elegant chaises longues to practical sofabeds, sofas come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Whether you get to enjoy your sofa all to yourself, have to fight for the best spot with a large household or share it with a beloved pet, how you use it will influence the size you choose.
But to get it looking just right in your room, you'll need to be realistic about the space available,too. A small sofa looks out of place in a large room, while a large sofa squashed into a tight space will feel claustrophobic.
Think about how you prefer to sit when you're relaxing. If there are two of you and you both like to have your legs up, then make sure the sofa is deep enough to accommodate you both. If not, you might need a sofa with chaise end or a reclining sofa.
If you like to lie down on your sofa, measure up to make sure it is long enough for you to stretch out. And, if you're tall, a sofa with a higher back will give extra support so that you're not forced to slouch.
It might seem obvious, but always measure the space where your sofa is going to go carefully. There’s nothing more annoying that going through the process of choosing a sofa, having it delivered and then finding it doesn't fit. If it's being delivered pre-assembled, make sure you measure up your door frames too, and allow for any tight angles. If it doesn't fit through the front door, you'll be heading back to the drawing board.
A quarter of our survey respondents who had sofa delivery problems had trouble getting their sofa through the front door. So measure, measure and measure again!
Sofa measuring tips
- Mark out the sofa’s dimensions on the floor using newspaper, or mark your floor with masking tape to get a more realistic feel of how much space it will take up.
- Leave yourself enough room to walk around the sofa comfortably, and make sure the arms won't get in the way of anything, such as a door opening.
- If you're buying an extendable sofa, make sure you measure your space at the full extended size before you buy, as well as its standard position.
- Ensure furniture will fit through doors and hallways when it's being delivered. If it looks like it will be a tight fit, choose an option that’s partial or full assembly or that has removable arms.
- If you think your delivery van might struggle to find a parking space in front of your house, consider asking neighbours whether they’d mind moving their cars that day.
Consider the filling
The stuffing of a sofa is often overlooked in favour of shape and size when it comes to buying a new sofa. Picking colours, patterns and shapes is far more fun than thinking about what's inside!
However, it's very important to think about the filling. Ultimately, you'll be sitting on your sofa for many hours, days and years to come, so getting the filling just right will impact how comfy you find your sofa to snuggle up on.
The main three sofa fillings are fibre, foam and feathers.
Try before you buy
With more of us shopping online for anything from groceries to holidays, it might seem natural to buy a sofa online too. However, it’s still worth testing the sofa out for comfort and quality in store before you type in your credit card details.
As beautiful as a sofa might look, if the arms are too low or the sofa cushions are too firm, you’ll regret your purchase. Spend time trying different sofas out, even designs you might not obviously like, as you might be surprised by what you find comfortable.