5 Expensive Mistakes to Avoid When Buying a Sofa

Your sofa will likely the one of the most expensive — and most well-used — piece of furniture that you buy for your home.  It’s someplace that you’ll sit with your family or friends for hours at a time, so it needs to be comfortable!  But it also needs to be stylish, functional, durable, and long lasting. 

As an interior designer, we’ve received our fair share of SOS calls when people have purchased a sofa and are asking us for help to ensure they don’t make that big of a mistake again.  Here are the biggest and most expensive mistakes that we see on a regular basis: 

Kahn Sofa from Comfortable Dwelling
Available in over 10,000 fabrics

Mollie Sofa from Comfortable Dwelling
Available in over 10,000 fabrics

Graham Sofa from Comfortable Dwelling
Available in over 10,000 fabrics

Expensive Mistake #1:  Doing a “Sit Test”

Most people purchase a sofa after sitting on it in a showroom… only to get it home and discover that what you thought was the most comfortable option actually makes you feel twice your age!  Your hips hurt, your back hurts, your shoulder hurts… How could this happen?

Consider your typical Netflix and chill session.  A movie can be a couple of hours long, yet no one sits on a showroom sofa for hours at a time!  So while the sit test will tell you if your bum likes the seat cushions, it’s a really useless test for determining the comfort of that sofa for your body build, physical strains, or even the way you sit.

It actually doesn’t matter if you sit on the sofa or not (I know right?  GASP!

What matters is that you purchase it from someone who understands how foam density, fill, depth, arm height, and seat height will impact you physically based on the way you sit and your physical build.

For me, I’m short (about 5’3″) but with long legs.  I have hip and lower back problems from years of working at a desk with poor posture.  I’m a lounger — meaning I rarely sit with my feet on the ground.  Rather my legs are curled up under me.

On a sit test, I LOVE a plush fill.  Something that’s squishy and that I can sink right into.

But it’s a total disaster when I lounge on a soft seat for my back.  The only one who benefits from me having a plush sofa long term is my chiropractor.

What’s most comfortable for me long term is a high density firm foam that’s made of a memory foam.  Something that’s a bit higher up (so that I can get out of it on bad back days) and really deep since I often sit curled up with my legs tucked under me.  

The firm support isn’t my first instinct when I sit in it.  It feels harder than I’d like.  But just 20 minutes into a movie I’m oh-so-glad I’ve made that decision.

My husband, on the other hand, has shoulder issues from an injury many years back.  He’s about 6′ tall with a stocky build.  His sit test prefers a firmer sit.  But unlike me, he shouldn’t sit long term on a deep sofa because he sits with his legs up on an ottoman.  Therefore, it’s important for us to have removable back cushions.  That way I get the depth by removing mine and he gets a more shallow sit.  The seat height needs to match the ottoman that we use in place of a coffee table, otherwise it’ll cause back strain and discomfort long term.

Remember, furniture stores are set up for a Goldilocks moment — to quickly move you from too hard, too soft to just right so that they can make a quick commission and move on to the next.  If you never sit in the sofa at all, but consider your build, physiological factors, and the way you sit you’ll be far better off than had you participated in a sit test!

Tarik Sofa from Comfortable Dwelling
Available in over 10,000 fabrics

Megan Sofa from Comfortable Dwelling
Available in over 10,000 fabrics

Becka Sofa from Comfortable Dwelling
Available in over 10,000 fabrics

Expensive Mistake #2:  Not understanding fabrics

You walk into a furniture showroom or an interior design studio and are overwhelmed with the array of fabric options.  It can be challenging to pick just the right colour!  Certainly the colour is important as it will set the stage for the rest of your room.  But what’s equally as important are the 3W’s:  wear, weave, and washability.

Wear:  Because you and your family will be using the sofa frequently, it’s important to consider the wear of that piece.  Now, if you’re buying something to last just a few years, most light upholstery fabrics will do just fine.  However, a good quality sofa with a high wear fabric can last decades, and the frame will last a lifetime! 

The durability standard is a double rub test.  In North America, fabrics are tested for wear using the Wyzenbeek Test where a piece of heavy canvas is repeatedly rubbed back and forth over the fabric using a mechanized arm.  Each pass back and forth counts as one double rub.

This rubbing motion replicates the harsh effects of us sitting then standing and shifting around on our sofas.  3,000 double rubs is the equivalent of about one year of wear.  

For residential use, look for fabrics that are a minimum of 15,000 double rubs.  If you have kids or pets, consider even more.
For commercial use, the standards is a minimum of 30,000 double rubs.

Many of the fabrics you’ll find in our studio meets a minimum commercial standard and some exceed 200,000 rubs — meaning your sofa fabric will stay looking like new despite many years of abuse.

Weave:  The weave of the fabric will determine whether or not is stays tailored and taught for years to come or loosens to reveal a more casual look.  When you look at the fabric can you see each each fibre cross weaving through it?  If so, it’s likely a looser weave.  Expect looser weaves to stretch out over time and give a more wrinkled vibe.  There’s nothing wrong with this look — in fact, many prefer it!  It all comes down to personal choice.

If you prefer a more tailored expression, look for a fabric with a tight weave.

Washability: . In this day and age there is no sense worrying about kids or pets ruining your furnishings with stains because performance fabric technologies exist!

The other day in the studio we accidentally spilled an entire cup of coffee through one of our fabric books.  Of course, the white fabrics were hit the hardest. Facepalm.

Just a quick dab with a white paper towel took the stain right out.  You can’t even tell it happened!

Check out this video by Maxwell Fabrics demonstrating the magic of performance fabrics with a red wine spill:

Expensive Mistake #3:  Not buying the proper size sofa

If you want a room that looks like it cost $30,000 on a budget far less than that, then you must consider scale and placement of your main upholstery pieces.

Here are some guidelines to follow:

1.  You need about 30-36″ between all furniture pieces that you need to walk around.  Too much more than that and the space will feel cold and cavernous.  Any less than 30″ and your room will feel small and overcrowded.  

2.  Allow for 14-18″ between your sofa or chair and a coffee table.  This gives enough room to comfortably move into your seat and ensures the table isn’t too far to put a drink on.

3.  When considering the length of your sofa, leave 18″ on either side of the length of the wall.  Of course, you don’t want to push the sofa right against the wall, but consider which structure the sofa will run parallel to and base the length of your furniture arrangement off that. 

A standard sofa is approximately 84-90″.  Longer luxury sofas can be as long as 104″.  But don’t think that you’re limited.  Most of our sofas can be customized to suit the length you need either through modular pieces or a frame change where we can stretch it out. 

Clark Sofa from Comfortable Dwelling
Available in over 10,000 fabrics

Michael Sofa from Comfortable Dwelling
Available in over 10,000 fabrics

Edward Sofa from Comfortable Dwelling
Available in over 10,000 fabrics

Expensive Mistake #4:  Not knowing what makes a quality sofa

If you’re looking for a piece to last only through a transition for a few years, then quality may not matter.  But when you’re spending $1,800 or more on a sofa, you want it to last!

Here are the minimum requirements you’ll want to look for when it comes to the construction of your new sofa:

Frame:  Many marketing professionals will try to fool you into thinking your sofa is the best quality by focusing on the use of “sturdy” wood.  Pine is considered a sturdy wood, but it’s also a soft wood meaning that with heavy use your frame could begin to sag over time.

If your sofa has a sturdy kiln-dried frame, the joint construction is particularly important because these are points of weakness no matter how hard the wood.  In the joints, look that they are dowelled, glued or stapled, and screwed.  This three-part punch will ensure your sofa stays steady for years to come.

Fill:  If you’ve ever seen a sofa where the foam has sagged and squished over time, you’ll get how important it is to consider foam density.  Industry standard is a 1.5lb foam density.  While this will keep back cushions looking great, over time even an expensive sofa with this type of foam could look like you bought it at a discount store.

At a very minimum you’ll want to seek out a 1.9lb foam.  If you know that you’ll be sitting on your sofa for long periods, consider even a 2.5lb foam that will last for decades.  We offer foam upgrades on most of our sofas for a very reasonable cost.

The other option for your fill is a down or down alternative.  This makes for the most plush sit and feels incredibly luxe.  The great thing about down is that you never have to worry about foam replacement.  With a simple fluff each week your sofa will look and feel as good as the way it was made.

Cushion style:  Repeat after me:  “I will not buy a sofa with an attached cushion”.  That is, unless you’re okay with being the family with a ripped sofa… Many manufacturers save money on upholstery fabric by attaching back and seat cushions to the frame.  This allows them to use less fabric and sell the item at a cheaper cost.  The problem is that it’ll end up costing you more in the long run because this seam is extremely vulnerable to ripping and tearing.  

Just this week I’ve met with three people who said their sofa tore and they’ll need to replace it after just 3-5 years.  In every instance it happened right where the back or seat cushion connected to the frame.  

The other problem with attached cushions is that you cannot remove the cover to clean them.  This is likely to limit the life of your investment also.

Blair Sofa from Comfortable Dwelling
Available in over 10,000 fabrics

Hana Sofa from Comfortable Dwelling
Available in over 10,000 fabrics

Zane Sofa from Comfortable Dwelling
Available in over 10,000 fabrics

Expensive Mistake #5:  Buying something trendy

You know what I hear every week?  “I’m really tired of my room.  It’s boring and in need of some life”.

In almost every instance these are people who went “safe” and bought into a neutral that they didn’t love.

You know what I never hear?
That someone who bought a piece in their favourite colour they’ve loved since they were a kid now hates their sofa.

At the time of writing this I have an emerald green tuxedo sofa in our studio and a neutral set-up right behind it.  The vast majority of people gravitate towards the green.  They sit on it.  They touch and feel it.  And then they start to chicken out and move towards something they don’t love as much — the grey sofa sitting behind it.  They’re not excited about the grey sofa (granted some people are and will move there first).  It’s just feels like the safe choice.

If you buy something colourful, you’ll want to make sure that it’s because you love the colour — not because a magazine or Pinterest board told you it was in.  Otherwise you’ll end up with a forest green and burgandy equivalent that will haunt you for years.  But I’m telling you, no one who loves blue and opted for a blue sofa in the early 2000’s when beige and burgandy were all the rage regretted it.

The moral of this is to consider what you love.  See what stops your scroll online.  Don’t just pin images that look like every other modern farmhouse or California coastal photo on Instagram unless you truly dream of being in that room.  Don’t allow any salesperson to pressure you into buying something that’s popular or on their floor when it’s not just what you were looking for.

Where to Shop Quality Furnishings in Windsor-Essex or Chatham-Kent

We’d love to invite you in to our studio to explore our furnishings and help us find something that’s high quality, a good investment, and that truly reflects your style.

As a design studio we have access to hundreds of styles.  And if we can’t find exactly what you’re looking for, we can do up the drawings and have it created.  What’s great about this way of shopping is that we don’t have to stock many models on the floor because everything is made uniquely for you. 

You’ll still be able to test how something sits because we likely have a frame and cushion combination to match.  So yes, your buns will be happy.  But we’ll also ensure that your back, shoulders, neck, and knees are too by understanding how you sit and how you and your family members are built.

All of our upholstery is made right here in Ontario.

Come visit us in downtown Tilbury, we’re just a short 30-minute drive from Windsor and 20-minutes from Chatham.

Our hours are:
Wednesday: 10:30-6pm
Thursday:  10:30-6pm
Friday: 10:30-6pm
Saturday: 10am-1pm

Outside of these hours, call us to book an appointment with one of our designers at 226-996-8818.  

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