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Choosing the perfect couch for any room

Aside from your bed, your couch is likely the piece of furniture you spend the most time on. So, it’s well worth the cost and effort to get a good one. But what makes a “good” couch, anyway? Read on for all the tips you need to choose the perfect couch for your home by professional interior designer, Lisa Moody.

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Lisa Moody, Interior Designer, sitting on a couch

What is a sofa or couch?

Blue fabric couch

You can picture a couch easily enough: a long piece of furniture, upholstered, with room for at least two people to sit on.

There are many terms for this furniture item: couch, sofa, chesterfield… is there any difference between these?

The answer is no, there’s no real difference between a sofa and a couch.

“Sofa” is the more common term in most parts of the world, while North Americans are more likely to say “couch”—though you’ll hear both terms interchangeably in most places. “Chesterfield” as a term for couch is mostly limited to Canada.

Couch is derived from the old French word coucher, meaning “to lie down.” Sofa comes from the Arabic “suffah,” a descriptor of a type of wooden bench covered in cushions.

Couch is a more informal term, while designers or furniture industry folk are more likely to use the term sofa.

Consider the space

The first step to choosing the perfect couch for your home is to think about the space it’s going to occupy. That means considering the room, how big it is, and how you use it. Your couch may end up being the largest piece of furniture in the room, so be mindful about how it fits into the space.

Fancy beige sofa in a modern room

Here’s what to consider when it comes to the size and shape of your couch:

Size of the couch

You may be aiming for the largest couch you can afford, simply because it’s more comfortable. But your couch should be in balance with the rest of the room. Consider these points when deciding what size of couch to buy:

  1. Your couch shouldn’t block any doors or windows. This is probably obvious (at least the doors part). But, if you plan to set your couch under a window, make sure that it doesn’t block the lower portion of that window; the couch’s height should be below the windowsill.
  2. An L-shaped sectional couch should be less than half the width of the space. If you’re buying a sectional couch for a small room, make sure the “leg” of the L-shape doesn’t extend past the half-way point of the room.
  3. The couch should be shorter than the room’s walls. It shouldn’t occupy the entire length of the wall it runs along; there should be at least 18 inches of free space on either side.
  4. Keep it in harmony with the rest of your décor. If your room is full of large, heavy-looking furniture, a thin-framed tiny couch would look out of place. Or, in a small apartment with small furniture, a hulking sectional would dominate. If you have a gallery wall, will it fit underneath? Will it match your hardwood flooring design? It’s best to match the size of your couch to the relative size of the furniture with which it shares the room.
Dark blue old leather couch

Shape of the couch

Shape is one of the easier decisions to make when you’re buying a new couch: it’s either going to be straight, L-shaped, or roughly U-shaped (if you want a truly massive couch).

Before you decide what shape to buy, you’ll need to decide where the couch will sit. Then, match the shape to the position. A couch against the wall in a narrow room should be straight; an L-shape could intrude awkwardly into the center of the room. A large sectional in an open floor plan can act as a border between zones.

Cozy cabin with dark sectional couch

Consider its use

Just as important as the couch’s location is what you plan to use it for. There are two main uses for couches: entertaining or watching TV.

Entertaining guests

If you plan to use your new couch mostly as a place for guests to sit and converse, you may want to avoid a sectional. With the L-shaped design, guests aren’t situated in each other’s eyelines, which is less than ideal for socializing. Instead, a pair of smaller couches (or a couch and a few chairs) would be a better choice.

That way, you can arrange your seating in such a way that guests can sit across from each other. Though, make sure the seats aren’t too far apart; that makes the room feel awkward and unwelcoming.

With such an arrangement, there’s typically going to be some manner of coffee table in the centre. The seating should be set on either side of the table, at a distance of at least 14 inches to allow enough legroom.

Modern and open living room with two white couches

Finally, try to plan your layout to direct foot traffic around the outside rather than through the centre. That way, guests aren’t awkwardly walking through the centre of the conversation as they come and go.

Watching TV

Watching television, playing video games, or just generally lounging around… the quintessential couch-based activities.

To maximize your downtime, choose a couch shape that allows each seating position to see the television comfortably. Think about where the TV will be, then imagine where you’d like to be while you sit and watch it.

Brown sectional couch in the living room

Make sure your new couch has enough room for everyone in your household to sit comfortably—with extra room if anyone prefers to lie down.

On the same note, consider a couch with reclining seats. They’ll add to the cost but add an extra level of comfort without taking up extra space.

The way you like to sit also helps determine how soft your couch should be, and what type of material it should be made of—more on that in a bit.

If you aren’t much of a TV watcher, you can still apply some of this thinking to a couch meant for lounging. Choose a different focal point, like a fireplace or a large window with a view and orient your couch around that.

Consider its comfort level

There’s no point in buying a couch that’s uncomfortable to sit on, no matter how perfectly it matches your décor.

Comfort will come down to two main factors: how soft the cushioning is, and the shape of the seat and back support.

Softness is purely a matter of personal preference; some prefer firm cushions that support good sitting posture, and some prefer to sink into their couch like a quicksand pit.

Soft white sofa couch

Seat shape and back support, meanwhile, are a little more technical. There are several measurements you might see as you’re couch shopping, which can help you compare the size of different couches more effectively.

Knowing these measurements will also be helpful if you’re buying a couch online.

Common couch measurements

First, there are measurements for the total size of the couch:

  • Couch depth: The distance from the front of the couch to the very back. Typically ranges from 80 – 100 cm.
  • Couch height: The distance from the floor to the top of the couch’s backrest. Typically ranges from 65 – 90 cm.
  • Couch length: The total length of the couch along the longest side. Varies widely depending on if you’re looking at a loveseat, 3-seat couch, bench couch, etc.

Then, there are the measurements of the seat area. These are the metrics to look at as you’re deciding how to find a couch that’s comfortable for you:

  • Seat depth: The distance from the front of the seat to the back support. Typically ranges from 50 – 65 cm. A shorter seat depth makes for a more upright seating position, while a longer seat depth will appeal to people who really like to lounge.
  • Seat height: The distance from the floor to the top of the seating cushions. Typically ranges from 40 – 50 cm. A taller seat height can make it easier to stand up from a seated position.
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Couch fabric considerations

The material with which your couch is upholstered will affect both its appearance and durability—so choosing the right upholstery fabric is key.

Close up of a long fabric couch

What you’re looking for is the material’s durability and stain-resistance.

Durability

You want to have a fabric that’s sturdy enough to stand up to wear and tear. Of course, the amount of abuse your couch will suffer depends on your lifestyle.

The durability of couch fabric is measured in double rubs. To figure out double rub measurements, manufacturers use a device that rubs a sample of the fabric repeatedly, back and forth. Each back-and-forth cycle is one double rub. The process continues until the fabric starts to show signs of wear, which usually takes thousands of double rubs.

  • Material rated at less than 10,000 double rubs is low durability. That’s not to say it’s bad, it just won’t stand up to as much wear and tear, so avoid it if you live in a high-traffic household.
  • Material rated from 10-15,000 double rubs is medium-duty and will accordingly stand up to an average amount of abrasion.
  • At 15,000+ double rubs, you’re looking at heavy-duty material. This is what you want if you’ll have a large family or pets making use of your new couch.

Stain resistance

The Achilles heel of even the most durable upholstery is staining. Wine, food, muddy pets, and who-knows-what-else can ruin your new couch in the blink of an eye.

There are two ways you can help your couch defend itself against stains: fabric colour and stain-resistant coating.

Oil being poured onto stain resistant fabric
  • Choosing the right fabric colour and pattern won’t magically repel stains, but it can hide them. If you know people are going to be eating or drinking on your new couch—who doesn’t occasionally eat in front of the TV?—choose darker colours or busy patterns. These will ensure that stains won’t appear too vividly.
  • Bold patterns won’t magically repel stains, but stain-resistant fabric coatings Modern technology has blessed us with material like Crypton or Revolution, which repel stains like a raincoat repels water.

Consider your budget

Last, but certainly not least, the amount of money you wish to spend will affect your couch choices as well.

One note on price: you can often find furniture at deep discounts. If you’re not in urgent need of a new couch, it pays to shop around and be patient. You might get lucky and snag an expensive couch at a great price from a blowout sale.

The main factors that influence the price of a couch (other than size—bigger costs more) are quality of construction, and the cushions and upholstery material.

Quality of construction

Your couch’s frame determines how long the physical structure survives before it starts breaking down and sagging.

High-quality couches have frames made of hardwood. Hardwood frame couches will hold their shape and stability for a long while. Of course, they also carry a higher price tag. Softwood frames are somewhere in the middle, being less expensive but also less durable.

The lowest-priced couches—like many from everyone’s favourite Swedish furniture retailer—are built from materials such as particleboard or plywood. While they certainly are more affordable, couches of this type are prone to deformation.

The other factor in couch construction is the joints. High-quality couches typically have joints that are dowelled and screwed, whereas less-expensive models may have nothing but staples holding them together.

Cushions and material

The couch’s fabric is a big part of the price, as is the stuff that fills the cushions.

When it comes to fabric (or non-fabric coverings like leather), you have plenty of options. First, there are natural fabrics like cotton, linen, wool, or even silk. These are durable, though can be prone to moisture damage. Cotton is also one of the more affordable coverings.

Then, you have synthetic upholstery like polyester, acrylic, or nylon. Synthetic materials are more stain-resistant than natural ones, so pet owners or couch-diners may prefer these. You’ll also find couches upholstered in blended materials, which weave together several types.

Cozy small apartment living room with small couch

And finally, there are specialty materials like the stain-repellant options we mentioned above, or leather—all of which will add a hefty sum to the price tag.

Then, there are the cushions. Many couch cushions are filled with foam, which comes in varying densities. High-density foam is firmer, and more likely to hold its shape over time compared to low-density foam. There’s also memory foam, which conforms to the shape of the sitter’s body.

Feather- or down-filled cushions are also common. They’re a good fit if softness is what you desire above all else. Feather cushions can be inexpensive, but cheap versions may quickly become lumpy. Down cushions, meanwhile, are even softer—though accordingly more expensive.

Some couches also have polyester-filled cushions. Some are stuffed with tiny polyester balls, which are durable but not necessarily soft. You can also find faux-down cushions, filled with polyester that’s crafted to mimic the softness of down. These are a desirable choice if you’re sensitive to real feathers or down.

What’s the average price for a couch?

Inexpensive couches—the particle board or plywood varieties—go for under $1,000. Mid-range coaches run from $1,000 – $2,000, and a high-end couch is going to set you back $2,000 at the very least.

On average, a low-to-mid-range couch should cost around $1,000.

Couches and home insurance

Fortunately, there aren’t many special considerations when it comes to couches and home insurance. They’re part of your coverage for personal property (a.k.a. contents).

If you’re buying a new couch, though, make sure that your contents limit is high enough to cover it. Upgrading from a plywood loveseat to a genuine-leather sectional with recliners will add a lot of value to your personal property.

Your home insurance will insure your couch against the usual perils, like fire or theft. But many policies will also insure it against accidental damage, say, from spilled red wine. If you’re investing thousands in a new couch, that type of protection may be useful indeed (though you’d still need to pay your deductible before your insurance replaces your couch).

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