New baby, new couch. Bad idea?
December 17, 2009 6:06 AM   Subscribe

New baby, new couch. Bad idea?

So my wife and I are expecting a new bundle of joy and poop - our first - in May. In the mean time, Mrs. Brodiggitty has decided we need a new couch and possibly a matching chair. My question is: Do we go out and buy a good quality couch we would look at reupholstering before putting to the curb ($1,300 to $2,000) or should we buy a cheapy from Sears($400-$700)?

Money is not a huge issue, but I don’t want to buy something super nice if it’ll be totaled in 3 years time. I'm inclined to think if I buy something more expensive, it'll be sturdier with a better frame and will be more durable in the long run. But am I being naive? What is your experience with kids and furniture? I want to get at least 15-20 years out of a more expensive couch, reupholstering included.

Bonus questions – Our friends with 2 kids say leather is actually a good choice with kids because it’s easy to clean, and non-absorbent. But will it stand up to toys and toddlers? Can anyone back up their claim?

P.S. - We have a dog who is currently allowed on the couch, and unless I got leather, would probably continue to allow on the couch.
posted by Brodiggitty to Home & Garden (26 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
We have a dog, a cat, and a 7 month old, and we have leather couches. The dog gets on the couch - I was worried her nails would scratch the couch. They don't. The hair is easy to get off the couch. The spit-up is easy to wash off the couch. They're holding up great. Not sure about when the kid gets to be a toddler, but I have to believe that the ease of cleaning up spills on the leather is much easier than on fabric. I can't fathom that if the dog hasn't wrecked the leather, a toddler could be strong enough to puncture it, toys or not.
posted by dpx.mfx at 6:13 AM on December 17, 2009

This really depends on how you want to live with your kids. Some friends with really nice furniture keep it nice by having strict rules about no food in the living room, no kids wandering around with crayons, etc. They keep their kids playing in the playroom and the good furniture remains intact. In our house, though, children wander around with food, juice, crayons, sharpies...even a key in the hands of an inquisitive 3 year old can be as destructive as a scalpel. So now the house looks like shit except for the one chair that I love and protect with shrieks when it is approached by grubby paws. Decide beforehand if you want to keep things rule-abidin' or if you want to be relaxed about messes, and if it's the latter, wait 3 years to get a good couch.
posted by keener_sounds at 6:13 AM on December 17, 2009

Oh, and I mean to also say that I firmly believe that the $1,300 couch will be easier to clean than the $400 couch, so if you go with fabric, just get the nice one. The higher quality will serve you better.
posted by dpx.mfx at 6:14 AM on December 17, 2009

I have leather specifically because I have dogs (the fur wipes right off, as does mud and so forth). I also have a 4 year old and she has been unable to damage the leather. Some of my fabric chairs are looking pretty rough after 4 years. The leather, on the other hand, still looks good after 10 years. The biggest problem with the leather is that the back of one piece that is against a window has faded a good bit, but since it is the back that is not a huge problem. Most of my stuff is middling quality; better than department stores or budget furniture, but not necessarily stuff I expect my grandkids to have one day.
posted by TedW at 6:15 AM on December 17, 2009

My sister found that her leather did not stand up well with small ones due to the punctures, small tears (pens, toys etc), but it was easier to clean. We have had fabric couches that have held up rather well, and were in the mid-price range. Kids will be tough on them with spills, drool, baby puke, and dirty hands/shoes so it was worth it to pay extra for a special scotch guard treatment. The color and pattern will be important. Our hunter green couch and a rust colored one have been great. Our pre-kid cream and pale green stripe was a bad choice (but we had it for sometime before the kids arrived, and we weren't thinking ahead!)

Go for something comfy, you will spend many days and nights snuggling on that couch! (another reason I personally am not a big fan of leather)
posted by maxg94 at 6:18 AM on December 17, 2009

This is what Ikea was made for...inexpensive, transitional, comfortable furniture that looks a little bit hip, a little bit homey, and often comes with slipcovers!

As a person with two former bundles, I can personally vouch for leather being a good choice. As long as they aren't stabbing it with sharp objects, it's virtually indestructable. Easy to clean, and keeps looking better over time, not worse. How could you not love it?

Every piece of furniture we had (except the leather piece) was ruined by the time our two bundles were 5. We're talking puke, food, grime, juice, tracked in dirt, name it. Don't buy new, expensive, fabric upholstered furniture yet.
posted by iconomy at 6:38 AM on December 17, 2009

Leather couches withstand dogs and kids (though not kids with keys or pens or pencils or anything else that can cut the leather). Leather couches do not withstand cats.

But if you decide to go with leather make sure you are getting real leather, not imitation leather. You may also want to invest in some sort of leather protector, but I don't know if those chemicals are toxic to kids.
posted by dfriedman at 6:39 AM on December 17, 2009

A typical leather protector is Scotchgard; a google serch of "Scotchgard toxicity" yields some shrieking sites; do your own research. Etc.
posted by dfriedman at 6:42 AM on December 17, 2009

Neither of my babies did any damage to the furniture. It wasn't until they were toddlers that the damage really began, and it wasn't until now -- both over 8 -- that the serious destruction started to happen. Our furniture is now utterly trashed, but it's had two kids climbing on it for a decade, and frankly the cats have done as much or more to the couch than the kids did. The cats do physical damage, the kids do staining damage.

Leather wasn't an option for us, because of the cats, but in the absence of cats I would strongly suggest leather as a durable option.
posted by majick at 6:47 AM on December 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'd go with the good quality couch. Ikea just doesn't hold up to family wear and tear. Get something well built.

We've Scotchgarded everything. Scotchgard is awesome at preventing things from staining. Our daughter never showed any interest in licking it, so I'm not worried about theoretical toxicity, but honestly, if it were toxic, you wouldn't use it on a couch for adults, either.

On a better quality couch you can probably get stain-resistant fabric, which is worth it.
posted by musofire at 6:53 AM on December 17, 2009

wool fabrics are relatively easy to clean.

Our couch (mid-price range) has it, and held out OK on one kid splashing/thrashing. Now we have two, factor in about a year of overall neglect for regular cleaning and it looks kinda icky gross now. Also, the older one now jumps on it (even tho he's not allowed to) and the seat does not take that very well. An Ikea one would have been totaled already, is my estimate.

A good furniture shop should be able to advise on construction and dirt-resistance of specific coverings etc. Agree with maxg94 -- comfort and feel are significant factors, no leather or synthetics for us.
posted by gijsvs at 7:06 AM on December 17, 2009

We have a leather couch and chair. our kidling is only 15 months, but it's held up to vomiting, poop and general rough and tumble toddler play. Still looks good.

to friends who come over. you didn't read the bit about the poop.
posted by gaspode at 7:09 AM on December 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

My parents had 3 Pekes and a dingy, cheap couch. The Pekes destroyed it. They now have a leather couch. The leather is pretty damn near indestructible - especially when it comes to pee. (Worse than poop, actually, because it can soak into the cushions.)

The family that I work with currently has a cloth sofa and a two year old, and it's working out pretty well - but they do fear for it, certainly.

I would definitely go for leather. Definitely.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 7:20 AM on December 17, 2009

microfiber is semi-liquid resistant, so most spills clean up easily before they have a chance to soak in. a sticky lint roller does the trick for my dog's hair. other cloth upholstery would let the hair work inbetween the fibers and be nigh impossible to remove.
posted by jrishel at 7:23 AM on December 17, 2009

I'm just going to throw it out there that it may depend on the kid. We don't have nice furniture mostly because we can't afford it. But I think if we did, it wouldn't have been nice for very long. Our child has always been busy and very fast. He's here, there, and everywhere. Trying to keep anything remotely neat is impossible. He drops things. He dribbles his food. He'll suddenly appear with dirt all over his hands from who-knows-where and start whacking the couch, which of course dirties the couch. We just can't keep things as clean as we used to be able to. And things were, you know, pretty clean before the baby.

We have a sofabed in the vein of IKEA though not from IKEA, and we have not had time to clean it or have it cleaned, let alone time for just picking up the DVDs off the floor that he pulled off the shelves for the one hundredth time that day. I think a lot of how well your furniture holds up in the first year or two will really depend on how busy your baby is. Once our baby was mobile at 6 months or so, keeping anything clean or neat became impossible. Meanwhile, we have friends whose daughter is far more relaxed and content to sit in one spot for awhile. They're place is much neater than ours and their furniture is much cleaner, too. Nice, expensive furniture would not have held up and the inevitable destruction would have been that much worse on from an emotional perspective (I get a lot more upset when nice things are ruined in a short time than I do when less expensive, not so nice things are ruined in the same amount of time.)

Unfortunately, you won't know how busy or active your baby will be until he/she is here. And I really do believe that how active the baby is directly affects how clean parents can keep their homes ---- our baby requires constant monitoring. Constant. Until he's down for a nap or down for bed, we really can't do much else but engage him and keep him from getting into things he shouldn't.
posted by zizzle at 7:26 AM on December 17, 2009

Whether or not your couch has good stain treatments, it's going to get dirty where it isn't protected - in the cracks, and below the cushions. Definitely go with the cheaper couch; very young kids take a big toll on furniture.

To make cleaning quicker and easier, cover the arms and consider a throw blanket or crocheted spread to cover (most of) the cracks. A nice patterned spread can augment a plain couch, and it makes for quick cleanups of baby burps. Derail: I swear, our son had a hair trigger stomach - touch anywhere near it and we had to duck for cover. Make cleanups as easy as you can; there'll probably be lots of them
posted by Hardcore Poser at 7:27 AM on December 17, 2009

iconomy wrote "This is what Ikea was made for..."
dfriedman wrote "Leather couches do not withstand cats."

I have a leather couch from Ikea. I have two cats (with claws). I have a 7 month old puke-machine of a baby boy. The cats have done more damage to the couch than the kid has, so far. Puke wipes off pretty easily, the little claw-marks, not so much.

Seems like it took the cats a few months to get used to the couch, before they stopped making punctures in the leather. They didn't do it on purpose, but fighting on top of it or even slipping and catching themselves did some damage. I used skin glue (the medical superglue designed for minor cuts) to carefully tack back down the little tags of leather the cats pulled up. That plus a brown Sharpie to touch up the edges (to hide the damage a bit more) has kept the couch looking fine. Unless you get really close and look hard, the cat damage isn't noticeable. YMMV.
posted by caution live frogs at 7:51 AM on December 17, 2009

Firstly, many congratulations on your future bundle of joy! May your days be many and interesting :) I have two - a four year old boy and a one year old girl. It's an adventure, for sure!

Sofa-wise, I would recommend going for something mid-range, so you can be reasonably assured of a strong frame, and crucially with removable, machine-washable, heavyweight, cotton covers.

We spent the equivalent of $700 before our first was born and about twice a year throw the cushion, seat and frame covers through the washing machine. They generally get pretty well soiled (food, milk, juice, crayon, ink pens, as well as unmentionable bodily excretions and expulsions) between washes, but fast spot-cleaning (get some good spot remover) and scotch-guarding prevent most stains. Post-wash, they look almost as good as new and the whole process takes no more than a day if you have dryer facilities.

As a general point, I would advocate not getting too hung up on worldly possession when you have a young family. Kids will be kids, and things will get trashed. This is undeniable. Most of the parents I know that try to have both a young family and a pristine house filled with expensive and/or delicate things are often the most stressed people I know. Coincidence? I think not :)

Good luck for May!
posted by mooders at 7:59 AM on December 17, 2009

Sometimes, you can't afford a bargain. Pay up.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:19 AM on December 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

As a general point, I would advocate not getting too hung up on worldly possession when you have a young family.

This is a good point and sort of why I was asking. I don't want to be one of these people who won't let the kids in the living room for fear of a STAIN on the FURNITURE (gasp!). By the same token, I don't want cheap for the sake of cheap. With my parents, nice furniture just wasn't an option. Trying to find the middle ground. I guess I want to buy one couch that'll last us until the kids are no longer kids, with some maintenance, rather than something too cheap to bother fixing.

The cover is a good idea. I know Ikea has these, but I don't think we want ikea.

Thanks everyone for the good advice. At this point we're leaning towards leather, but it'll depend on what we see in stores. I think I'll spend a bit more for somehting soild, with the knowledge that if it gets trashed ayway, I'll at least be able to advise my kids. More stories are welcome.
posted by Brodiggitty at 8:36 AM on December 17, 2009

As a furniture maker, I would throw the following advice into the mix: Spend your real money on non-upholstered pieces. There are very few heirloom couches in the world. Upholstery has, by its nature, a lifespan. You can always have something reupholstered, but unless you buy a piece with a high-quality frame, few couches are worth reupholstering once they are ready for it.

Generally, there is an manufacturing algorithm of sorts that basically says people rarely are willing to pay for a sufficiently high quality frame (something you can't really see when you purchase the piece in the first place) to make it worth manufacturing in volume. Manufacturers tend to devote more of the cost to the upholstery and cushions, "quality" that people see and touch. Short story...most pieces have bad bones and wont be worth reupholstering once the time comes. I wonder if that's because they would rather you buy another new couch?...hmmm. So, make sure you buy good quality if you plan to keep it for awhile.

Leather is a better bet for the many reasons listed above. I would add that when I bought a leather couch the store offered something similar to those extended warranty things, except this one said "if you tear, or puncture (or whatever) the leather, we will repair it or replace it for free." I think it was $75 for the warranty. I ended up using it (was ripped by a friend during moving). So that may be available to you also. We bought our couch from Macy's I believe. YMMV.

One more thought...purchasing crap is almost always bad. Sometimes it's hard to avoid, but you should if you can afford to. It has a shorter lifespan, and it spends 80% of its lifespan looking like crap. That it has a shelf-life is not an accident. Better to spend 50% more on something that lasts twice as long. That way, you spend more of your life with good quality stuff, and spend less money to do it.

Get a couch with good bones and enjoy it. Reupholster as necessary.
posted by nickjadlowe at 9:08 AM on December 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Get a cheap comfortable couch. Get a cheap comfortable couch. Get a cheap comfortable couch. Get a cheap comfortable couch. Get a cheap comfortable couch.

Not just because of the mess, but also because after the first couple of years of having a kid, you'll likely want to rearrange the house somewhat to accomodate his/her growing territorial needs, and you don't want to be burdened by a really expensive couch that takes up too much space and only fits RIGHT THERE.
posted by davejay at 11:15 AM on December 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

We have an 18-month old and just in the last few months, she's started to cause a lot of wear and tear on our loveseat, which is the only piece of upholstered furniture she has regular access to. It was an old, somewhat degraded loveseat already and now my husband keeps thinking it needs to be replaced. I keep telling him we should wait another year until we can have better assurance that she can be controlled somewhat. Right now, it's just too much fun to let her jump off the end table into the cushions and she's just started to be really interested in crayons and markers and there are inevitable slip-ups there. I'm resigned to using a nice slipcover when we have guests but for now, letting her at most other times be on it. It's nice to have this one piece of snuggly furniture to read books on and doze with her on without being super concerned that something will damage it.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 12:07 PM on December 17, 2009

"microfiber is semi-liquid resistant"

I want to throw in there that while this is true for the first year or two, it don't hold true after the cloth starts to wear. And even then, I would never have used the word "resistant" to describe the slight beading effect that happens for a few seconds before something soaks in -- an effect which is no longer present in any way, shape or form now that the furniture has aged.
posted by majick at 2:44 PM on December 17, 2009

My couch is microfibre, about 3 years old and doing well. We aren't expecting it to be glam, but it doesn't look hideous in spite of the spills (mostly me), wear and tear (mostly me) and bodily fluids (baby anachronism mostly). Spills still bead, it's pretty comfy and looks alright.

Even the bit I stuck too close to the heater to dry out the pint of bourbon and coke.
posted by geek anachronism at 3:22 PM on December 17, 2009

We did a bunch of research and shopping (which sucked-shopping for couches is like shopping for used cars, but without the ability to research quality in the same way).

All that, and we ended up buying off Craigslist. Got a high quality (for us) leather set-couch and loveseat-for $1300. Couch is in the store now for 8K. They've been in a house with small kids for 6 years and still look great. We're hoping they'll withstand our three, and if they don't last forever, we weren't out a fortune.
posted by purenitrous at 9:41 PM on December 17, 2009

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