What you need to know before buying a new sofa.

Buying a new sofa? You need to read this first!

Buying a new sofa is a big investment. You want it to look good, and you want it to last. It’s a focal point and a feature but also a place where you’ll chill out and snuggle up by yourself or with family, friends and possibly pets for many years to come. As the New Year approaches, there will be some cracking deals appearing in the sales (at least they may appear to be great deals on first inspection).

But before you take the plunge, I’m here to help you avoid some of the most common sofa-buying mistakes and figure out how to choose a sofa that will last.

What you need to know before buying a new sofa.

Make it last forever

You may be seduced by the latest shape or style of a sofa right now, but before you finalise your
decision, ask yourself, is the design timeless, or will you get bored of it? A simple, classic choice never goes out of fashion and will give you years of lasting value. I’m always nervous when people are looking for a quick-fix solution or a piece to fill a space fast. An impulse purchase that hits the budget but misses the point could be something you love today but probably not next year.

A client's old Bluebell sofa showing cushion sagging and worn fabric.
Bluebell sofa reupholstered in velvet from Warwick Fabrics - colour petal.

A client’s Bluebell sofa from Sofa.com, reupholstered in Plush velvet (Petal) from Warwick Fabrics.

The advantage of spending a bit more on a quality piece in the first place is that when the time comes to switch things up or refresh, you can add extra life with re-upholstery. The saying that when you buy cheap, you buy twice is true. Most people drawn in by a price tag will be thinking of replacing their ‘bargain’ sofa even before the interest-free deal runs out. If you buy well in the first place, there’s no reason why a good sofa won’t last forever.

How to pick the best fabric for your sofa

There are two big considerations here – your lifestyle and your look.

You may think you just need to fall in love with a fabric. But unless it’s practical and suits your lifestyle, you could be making a big mistake. Sadly, most run-of-the-mill manufacturers offer a very limited choice when it comes to fabric. And don’t assume the fabric will be fit for purpose either.

“I’ve had good quality sofas brought to me for upholstery within a couple of years of purchase either because the fabric hasn’t lasted or there wasn’t enough choice in the first place so the customer ended up being bored with their bland decision.”

Old Duresta sofa in brown leather showing signs of age and wear.
Duresta sofa reupholstered in Linwood Omega fabric.

A 9-year-old leather Duresta sofa recovered for a client in Omega from Linwood Fabrics.

Some practical fabric tips…

  1. If you have pets, avoid a coarse weave, which is likely to get little claws snagged in it. Velvets are a surprisingly durable choice, and I’d opt for a synthetic composition (such as polyester velvet) so that you can wipe up stains and spills.
  2. Rub count is vital! This technical detail can make or break your newly upholstered piece of furniture. Rub count measures a fabric’s durability and resistance to abrasion. Think carefully about the level of use you’re expecting, and be sure to question what rub count you’re getting.
  3. Some manufacturers now offer fully wipeable fabrics, which is a godsend for busy households. Protection from kids, pets or clumsy house guests; stains can be easily removed with just water.
  4. I know I’m bound to say it, but upholstery on an existing piece allows you 100% freedom with colour and pattern. Why be limited by a narrow choice when you can pick from literally anything you can think of when you choose upholstery rather than ‘off-the-shelf’?
  5. People love the idea of cotton – it’s a great natural fabric, but a few words of caution… Any areas of lightness in the print will show wear, it will easily absorb dyes and spills, lighter weaves can stretch and deteriorate, and direct sunlight can fade cotton fabrics. If you love cotton, a cotton mix is often a better choice.

    Size matters

    Playing around with proportions can work – an oversized sofa in a small room, for instance, can feel very cosy. But it is important to measure up your space very carefully and consider where you want your sofa to sit. If you have a number of options for where to put it, drafting a template out of old newspapers can be helpful. Assess how much room it leaves you to work around, and where it sits in relation to other features of the room, including windows, doors, fireplaces, TVs and plug sockets. There’s no point getting your ideal piece of furniture only to find it doesn’t fit – or make sense – in your space.

    Consider comfort

    You’ll be spending plenty of hours sitting, lounging and relaxing on your sofa. Even if you like a more structured look, it’s worth thinking about those times when you just want to flop into heavenly comfort. Is the sofa you’re eyeing fit for the job? It’s easy to focus on the look of a sofa, but for me, comfort is just as important.

    Multiyork loose cover sofa in mustard yellow.
    Better than new: Client's Multiyork sofa recovered in fabric from Prestigious Textiles - Botanist Ebony.

    A well-loved Multiyork sofa transformed with custom upholstery – fabric is Botanist Ebony from Prestigious Textiles.

    Personally, when it comes to cushions, I choose foam and hollowfibre over feather every time. Not just because I think it offers more support, foam is also more resilient against flopping and sagging. Do you really want to be plumping your cushions every single time you’ve sat on them?

    Don’t let the price fool you. Higher-priced and lower-priced sofas and chairs, can often have exactly the same issues. Scrimping on padding and good quality materials is a common theme regardless of price.
    You may find that even a sofa that looks dreamy is not such a dream to sit in after all.

    It’s what’s inside that counts

    Doing your research on the quality of the construction is crucial. If a brand new sofa comes with anything less than a three-year warranty, there’s a reason why. Check that the sofa uses high-quality, durable materials that can withstand years of use. I’ve seen supposedly good brands use lots of cardboard as part of their internal structure – I’m not kidding. Hardwood is preferable to plywood, and ideally, you want classic joinery holding your sofa together – not just glue and staples! It’s also important to check the quality of the stitching, the type of materials that have been used for fillings and the durability of the fabric too.

    Search beyond the high street

    Smaller manufacturers or custom-built sofas are worth looking into. You don’t have to settle for what’s out there on the high street.

    “My biggest piece of advice: consider pre-loved or vintage.”

    Construction is almost always superior in a good quality, older piece. And if you like the look of it, the possibilities of upholstery to make it meet your exact requirements are endless. As well as replacing the fabric, you can adjust legs, cushions, and almost every detail to get the sofa just how you want it.

    While it is not always cheaper to have an item reupholstered compared to buying new, you get more for your investment – an item that’s well produced, made to last and done 100% your way.

    Is buying a new sofa (or anything else) your best bet? Maybe take a look at what’s already out there before you get seduced by the prospect of the January sales.

    Ready to upgrade your sofa?

    Don’t settle for off-the-shelf.

    Create your dream sofa with me and enjoy it for years to come.

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