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With so many options out there, how can you find a couch that’s the perfect combination of stylish, comfortable, and sturdy enough to last for years to come? Understanding interior features and knowing what to look for will help guide you as you search for the best couch within your price range. But before you get bogged down with endless choices, start with advice from the pros — and remember the three Fs.
“There are three primary considerations when selecting upholstered furniture,” says Patricia Bowling, Vice President of the American Home Furnishings Alliance, a North Carolina-based association that represents hundreds of suppliers to the residential furniture industry. “Fabric, frame, and foundation — which includes cushion materials.”
What to look for when buying a couch
“The best fabric depends entirely on how you're going to use the furniture,” says Bowling. For instance, consider the room’s average traffic. For high-traffic areas, like a family living room or den, opt for tightly woven or “performance” fabrics. A tight weave is less likely to allow dirt or dust (or, gasp!, liquid) to penetrate the fabric, and should stand up to lots of traffic. Leather is also a durable choice for high-use areas, according to Bowling — but bear in mind that leather might have different cleaning and stain-removal requirements, depending on how it’s treated.
When it comes to feel, cotton, linen, or velvet might be good options, especially in a more formal setting. Note that cotton and linen must be tightly woven to be considered durable, otherwise they might pick and pill.
Pro tip: Before making any fabric decision, Bowling suggests ordering swatches. That will help you decide if you like the feel and color. “If you’re not ordering black, you’re going to have variability in whatever hue you choose, even if it’s ‘navy’ or ‘white,’” she warns.
Comfort, style, and price might be the first criteria that come to mind when you’re searching for a couch, but sturdy frames are equally important. No one wants to plop down on a comfy couch at the end of a long workday only to find it loose, wobbly, or creaky.
The most durable frames are constructed from dried hardwood—oak, alder, birch, or maple—or engineered wood, like hardwood plywood, according to the AHFA. Dried wood ensures that the frame won’t warp, and the hardwood types hold the construction hardware—pegs, screws, staples, and nails—in place over a long period of time.
Other materials may also perform well, like strand board (an engineered wood similar to particle board) or softwood plywood. Motion upholstery, like reclining sectionals, often have a steel base that incorporates the motion mechanisms.
The AHFA also recommends finding out if the underside corners are braced with “corner blocks”—reinforcements that are glued and screwed into place at critical joints and stress points, since this adds strength and stability.
Online listings should include a “construction” or “materials” section. If the site is vague, or materials aren’t easily findable, it’s probably best to move on. Also, read the customer reviews (often at the bottom of each listing with personal photos) to make sure the couch feels sturdy to those who’ve purchased it.
The frame style and the amount of support determine the foundation. “Eight-way, hand-tied, coil spring construction” is considered by some to be the hallmark of quality upholstery, according to the AHFA. In this type of foundation, each coil spring is placed in the seat by hand and tied into place with twine in interlocking knots.
Although that style indicates fine craftsmanship, other construction techniques, including steel sinuous springs, offer equal comfort and durability, according to the AHFA. The number of springs and how they are reinforced usually determines cost and quality.
Check the construction details for information about the foundation. Resilient items will contain steel spring construction in a coil, zigzag, or some other configuration.
Depending on the couch’s design, the back and seat cushions may include a combination of springs, cotton or polyester fiber, foam, or down. Most upholstery cushions are made from polyurethane foam.
Density is used to gauge the durability of foam, and, generally, the higher the density the more durable (and more expensive) the cushion will be. According to the AHFA, higher quality furniture uses foam with a density rating of 1.8 to 2.5. Use this information in your web searches.
For the eco-minded buyer, look for companies that have replaced foams containing polyurethane with a soy-based product and may use recycled fibers for padding.
Options for the color, pattern, and texture of your upholstery are pretty much unlimited, but cover components fall into just two basic categories: natural and synthetic. Natural components include cotton, linen, silk, wool, and leather. Synthetics include polyester, acetate, acrylic, nylon, rayon, and polypropylene. Many are constructed with a combination of natural and synthetic fibers.
When you’re searching, look for things like high percentages of durable fiber for strong wearability. Always review cleaning instructions to guide you on maintenance, which can provide insight into durability.
When it comes to finding the right size for the couch, Bowling says, “Measure twice. Then measure again. Measure the space where you intend to place your new upholstery and measure the doorways and stairwells it has to fit through.”
A good rule of thumb is to allow ideally 30 inches of space around furniture as clearance for walking and roughly 14 to 18 inches between the coffee table and the couch.
Bowling also recommends reviewing the dimensions of the piece you intend to buy and comparing them to pieces you already own. This will give you a clearer picture of how the new piece will look in your home.
Our top couch picks
Best splurge: Serena & Lily Spruce Street Sofa
California-based Serena & Lily brings sophisticated style with this timeless piece. But it’s what’s inside that we truly love: Along with the tailored look comes a high-quality construction, including dried hardwood frame and durable hand-tied steel coil springs, making this a long-lasting staple piece for any living space. Feeling stuck? Serena & Lily design associates are available for free to provide guidance. The only downside here is a turnaround time from purchase of eight to 10 weeks and, at just over $4,000, it’s on the pricey side.
Materials: The frame is constructed with kiln-dried solid hardwood with corner-blocking, making it solid and durable, and its eight-way hand-tied steel coil springs are top-of-the-line by industry standards. This couch is fully customizable with many signature colors and patterns available, or you can order it in a plain muslin if you already have your own fabric selected. Available in performance, linen, cotton, leather, or velvet.
Dimensions: 81 inches (width), 35 inches (depth), 34 inches (height), also available in 103 inch width.
Colors: Several colors, including a gorgeous emerald and sunny mustard are all options, plus dozens of patterns. All are available in swatches, if you want to take a look before you buy. The legs come in four colors, too, from dark brown to light gray.
Price: $4,078, on sale at time of publishing
Seat fill: Regenerated fiber-wrapped, soy-based foam core with downproof tickingPURCHASE
Best velvet couch: Lulu and Georgia Fabienne Sofa
This vintage-style velvet couch is a quality statement piece for any living space. A bench style seat and sleek back cushions give this couch a streamlined, clean look while leaving room for day-to-day comfort. It also comes with two throw pillows and four legs with casters or slides. Downsides: Custom pieces are not returnable and the turnaround time is 8 to10 weeks.
Materials: Solid kiln-dried hardwood with furniture-grade laminates, metal caster. Fabric is made of a polyester velvet. Sinuous under-construction.
Dimensions: 71 inches (width), 40 inches (depth), 34 inches (height); also available in 90 inch width.
Color: Available in a variety of colors, including a deep teal, moss green, and cognac.
Seat fill: Polyurethane foam core with polyester fiber feather down wrap.PURCHASE
Best couch for a custom look: Ballard Designs Maggie Apartment Sofa
The tailored look and quality construction of this two-seat sofa make it a solid choice for any room. Plus, it’s made in North Carolina with durable, sturdy materials. Customizable options, including 350 fabrics and five finishes for the hardwood feet, mean customers can make it work with any design style.
Materials: The certified sustainable engineered hardwood frame is kiln-dried to resist warping and cracking. Reinforced joinery is glued, doweled, and screwed for added strength and corner-blocking adds stability. Hardwood feet come in a variety of finishes.
Dimensions: 71 inches (width), 39 ¼ inches (depth), 35 inches (height)
Colors: Dozens of patterns, solids, and florals give the customer options.
Price: $2,319.20 to $3,611.20, on sale at time of publishing
Seat fill: Polyurethane foam wrapped in hypoallergenic down blend and fiber.PURCHASE
Best slipcovered couch: Buchanan Roll Arm Slipcovered Sofa
Classic and built for supported comfort, this roll-arm slipcover sofa is a safe bet for any family living space. Sturdy engineered wood frame and cushions constructed of steel springs make it a sturdy option, and at three varying lengths, it should fit it most spaces. Two- or three-seat cushion options are available as are dozens of custom fabrics. The only downside here is a six-week or longer wait for delivery.
Materials: Engineered wood frame with corner-block construction. Cushions are made of steel sinuous springs for quality support.
Dimensions: 79 inches (width), 39 inches (depth), 37 inches (height); also available in 87 inch- and 93 ½ inch-widths.
Colors: Variety of fabrics and colors available.
Price: $1,499 to $3,199PURCHASE
Best for small spaces: Mellow Adair 73 Square Arm Sofa
At 73 inches, Mellow’s sleek and modern square-arm Adair sofa is slightly larger than some loveseats but still works for most smaller spaces. The buttoned-up, upholstered back gives it a clean, polished look, and the squared-off arms make it feel modern. The smaller size means it’s a choice for offices, dorms, or smaller apartments, and matching loveseat, chair, and ottoman are all available. Customers report easy assembly.
Materials: Made with eucalyptus wood, which is strong, durable and sustainable. Linen blend fabric. Pocket-spring seat construction.
Dimensions: 73 inches (width), 29 inches (depth), 30 inches (height)
Colors: Four different colors are available, running from a creamy white to a dark gray, including a blue/denim in a linen blend.
Seat fill: FoamPURCHASE
Best budget couch: IKEA UPPLAND Sofa
Not everyone can throw down thousands on the highest-quality made furniture. If you’re looking for a decent-quality couch on a tighter budget, the Ikea UPPLAND sofa fits the bill. Though the construction includes particleboard, it’s a blend with solid wood and comes with a 10-year limited warranty. Another perk? The slipcover is washable.
Material: The seat and backrest frame is a blend of particleboard, plywood, solid wood, polyurethane foam (1.2 lb./cu.ft.), laminated veneer lumber, and fiberboard.
Dimensions: 88 ¼ inches (width), 36 ¼ inches (depth), 36 ¼ inches (height),
Colors: This couch offers several washable and swappable covers, ranging from white and beige to dark gray and red floral.
Seat fill: Polyurethane foam (2 pounds/cubic foot), polyurethane foam (cold foam) (2.2 pounds/cubic foot), felt liner, polyester fiber balls
Best leather couch: Stevens Leather Sofa, Room & Board
Room & Board’s Stevens Leather Sofa combines a modern look with sink-in comfort, without looking worn or frumpy. The construction offers a slightly taller seat height, which gives it more of an upright feel. The legs can be made with metal or wood, giving the consumer options. It’s also made in the United States—specifically, in North Carolina, a state with a longstanding history in the furniture industry. Customers report that it’s durable enough for households with pets and children.
Material: This staple piece has a hardwood frame with sinuous coil suspension.
Dimensions: 91 inches (width), 37 inches (depth), 34 inches (height, with cushion); also available in 71- and 81-inch width options.
Price: The price is a splurge, ranging from $5,899 to $6,299.
Color: Order one or several of the 15 color swatches available and test out the look and feel before you go all-in. Leg materials come in six different options, including sturdy maple and walnut.
Seat fill: Cushions are filled with down and should soften and settle slightly over time.
Best sectional couch: Bassett Oliver Large L-Shaped Sectional
Bassett’s customizable pieces are versatile and a solid quality for the price. The Oliver line offers a polished look with a comfortable feel, great for any family room. The bench-style seat complements a modern profile. Sloped, narrow arms and wood-block legs are sleek. Based on your location, free design appointments are available.
Dimensions: 120 inches (width), 39 inches (depth), 36 inches (height)
Color: Customizable in dozens of colors and patterns. Swatches available.
Price: $3,249 at time of publishing
Seat fill: Cushions are foam and come in your choice of two firmness levels.
Best sleeper couch: Joybird Briar Sleeper Sofa
California-based Joybird blends good quality construction with comfort and practicality with its Briar Sleeper Sofa. Customers rave about its coziness and say it’s ideal for a transitional space like a guest room/office.
Materials: The bench is assembled engineered wood reinforced with corner blocking and kiln-dried, solid-wood spring rails for warping prevention. Fabric choice is custom in pet-friendly, sustainable, safeguard options.
Dimensions: 79 inches (width), 36 inches (depth), 35 inches (height)
Colors: A variety of colors are available.
Price: $2,569 on sale at time of publishing
Seat fill: The mattress is a blend of 3-inch density foam with 2-inch memory foam on foam, wrapped in white polyester ticking.
Best reclining couch: Steelside Whitney 88” Upholstered Reclining Sofa
Looking for a couch you can kick back on without the overstuffed, frumpy feel? This recliner blends relaxation and a sleek, tailored look. Made in the U.S., the sofa is customizable to fit any style of living space. Two USB ports are also a nice plus, and two toss pillows are included. (Note that the footrests recline; the back does not.)
Materials: Constructed with kiln-dried solid and engineered wood. Fabrics choices vary and range from cotton and polyester blends to performance. Seat cushions are made with sinuous springs.
Dimensions: 88 inches (width), 38 inches (depth), 32 inches (height)
Colors: Over 50 fabric options available.
Seat fill: Foam and synthetic fiber
Frequently asked questions (FAQs)
What is the difference between a couch and a sofa?
While there doesn’t seem to be much of a difference in definition from sofa and couch, some sources say a couch is a more casual, comfortable item, while a sofa connotes a more formal place to sit.
How do you clean a leather couch?
Always check the care tag before cleaning. Vacuum often with a brush tool and/or use a microfiber cloth to remove dust and avoid scratching the leather surface. Use a leather cleaner, then conditioner, or combination product with a clean, soft cloth. Spray the cleaner into a cloth and gently cover the entire surface using slow circular motions. If instructed to, wipe it away with a damp cloth. Allow the leather to dry fully. Avoid harsh chemicals like alcohol, as these may damage the leather permanently.
How do you clean an upholstered couch?
Always check the care tag before cleaning. Some couches can stand solvent-based cleaners, while others can only withstand water-based cleaners. Still others are vacuum-only. Depending, use a vacuum cleaner upholstery tool to clean the full surface of the couch, including the arms. Use a crevice tool to clean hard-to-reach areas along seams, edges, corners, and buttons.
When do couches go on sale?
Shop in the months prior to spring and fall, when furniture makers tend to roll out new lines. Many sellers will work with customers on price, if asked. Always ask if there is an active sale or, if a holiday, such as Memorial Day, Labor Day, or Presidents Day, is around the corner or just passed, and ask if you can lock in a corresponding discount. Always ask for teacher, military, veteran, etc. discounts, as many stores will honor 5% off or more.
What kind of upholstery material is the most durable?
Tightly woven fabrics with durable fibers, like nylon and polyester, are among the most durable upholstery material for couches. Leather is also a popular choice.
How long should a couch last?
Most sources say a couch should last roughly seven to 15 years, but much depends on how often the couch is used, where it’s located in the home (high-traffic areas versus more formal spaces) and how it’s constructed. Many items, if made well and cared for, can last 30-plus years.
How do you determine the best size couch for your space?
Use your existing furniture to gauge the best size for the room. Consider your own height and how many people will use it for length. Vaulted ceilings may call for a higher profile. Consider space around the sides of the couch and allow for at least 30 inches of walkspace. Be sure to leave 14 to 18 inches of room between couches and coffee tables. Some designers recommend a sectional complemented by a statement chair for smaller spaces.
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