Unless you're an avowed serial decorator, you’ll buy more cars than sofas in your lifetime. So how are you supposed to know if you're getting a good value for your money? A well-made sofa will survive for the long haul, weathering parties, pets and plenty of butts. That’s a lot of wear and tear. If you buy a couch from a store that listens to your needs and answers all your questions you can avoid a lot of pitfalls. They’re invested in making sure you get what you want. To get you started down the right path, here are our tips on how to buy a couch, whether you need a small sofa for a small space or a large sectional for a big living area. 

How to Buy a Couch or Sofa

First of all, let’s define “couch” versus “sofa”. You might be surprised to know that there’s old history in this topic. Go figure. Way back, a couch and sofa were different animals and the terms were used in different countries. The former comes from the French verb coucher, meaning “to lie down” and was used predominantly in Ireland, North America, South Africa and Australia, whereas sofa, originating from an Arabic word suffa, has traditionally been used in the United Kingdom. Nowadays, most designers and furniture makers use the terms interchangeably, but traditionally a sofa was an upholstered wooden bench with cushions or blankets, two arms, and plenty of space for people to sit. A couch, the lay-down version, typically had no arms and was smaller than a sofa.

Interesting history lesson over. On to the tips for how to buy a couch (or sofa).

Tip #1: Consider the Uses

This may sound obvious, but consider all the functionality of this crucial living room workhorse. Entertain a lot? If you have a lot of space and are looking to get more seats for your buck (7-8 versus 4-5), or if you have an odd-shaped room, choose a sectional sofa. It can be customized to fit wherever and it provides tons of sitting area. But before buying a sectional, be sure to measure the space and sketch out where you’d put all the elements. A customer-centric furniture store can also be a huge resource if you bring in pictures or a layout of your home. This may sound like a lot of work, but, trust us, it’s helpful.  Measure twice, cut once as the old adage goes.

Live by yourself or have a compact apartment? There are shorter couches that still allow you to stretch out an enjoy some binge-watching sessions. This Davis Apartment Sofa might be what you’re looking for. At 74 inches in length, it’s shorter than the average 84 inches and can fit many spaces. Finally, make sure the couch can fit through doorways, stairs and hallways. Restoration Hardware has a helpful guide for measuring furniture for delivery.  

Tip #2: Prioritize Quality

When buying a couch, you really do get what you pay for. If it’s mass production and under $1,000, you need to wonder where the quality corners were cut and how long it will last. The first question to ask is what’s inside the couch and will it hold up to frequent use? The materials and craftmanship are essential to the integrity of the couch. Make sure it’s 100% hardwood. Think oak, pine, etc. Avoid metal and pressed board. For couch filling, the standard is a resilient foam core with cotton or acrylic batting wrapped around it.  If you prefer a softer seat, a mix of down and feathers is a good option however will take more care and maintenance.   Ask your salesperson about the fills available.

Tip #3: Dress It Up with Pillows and Throws

Times change, and so does furniture fashion. So how to buy a couch that will stand the test of time? Look for one that you love, of course, but also that can fit anywhere. While a more vivid color or pattern may catch your eye, think about what is going to appeal to you in the long run. To add flair or color, dress it up with bright or printed pillows or throws.

Tip #4: When Buying Online, You Still Have Options

Giving a couch a sit test is ideal but sometimes in-store selections can be narrow. In the unlimited virtual space, you can browse to your heart’s content to find the perfect couch. But what you gain in selection, you lose in touch and feel. Did you know that most furniture stores will send swatch samples? You can touch the fabric or leather as well as see the color in its native habitat. Before you buy, check the store’s online customer service ratings to see how customers have felt about them in the past. If you purchase from a smaller furniture store, the price may be slightly higher but they’ll hold your hand from purchase to delivery. Also, be sure to read the returns policy.

Tip #5: Choose Upholstery Carefully

The big question: Leather or fabric? While leather is durable and can last a lifetime, the upfront cost can be intimidating.  There are many fabric options including some very high quality stain resistant materials these days.  Fabric and leather are graded by manufacturers with the higher grades typically costing more.  This does not necessarily indicate quality as much as the type of material, how much it costs them to begin with as well as how challenging it is for them to work with.

Tip #6: A Custom Couch Could Be the Answer

Nowadays, you can buy pretty much anything online. Even custom-made furniture. Have your heart set on that red sofa you’ve wanted since childhood? You might be the only one, so you’ll have to custom order your furniture fashion statement. It may take a few months to be delivered but you get to live your best life with awesome furniture.

Inspired by the simple elemental beauty of organic materials such as wood, metal, stone, and natural fibers, Maker & Moss is a destination for unique provisions for the home. It's an expression of owner Matt Bissinger's years of exploring, uncovering and gathering distinctive yet accessible furnishings. We’re here for all your questions on how to buy a couch or sofa.