How to buy a couch?
June 19, 2013 3:51 AM   Subscribe

I need to buy a couch, and for it to be comfy, decent-looking, relatively inexpensive, and bedbug free. I have an idea of the dimensions that my place can accomodate, but almost nothing else. Right now, I don't even know, what I don't know. How do?!

I know how to Google for guides, but most of the links appear to be commercial linkbait trying to sell me things. How do I go about learning how to buy a couch? What kind of features and gotchas do I need to be considering and watching out for? And should I be doing this online and getting things delivered, or locally in a brick & mortar shop? (Caveat: in NYC, so things are super expensive).
Thanks Hivemind!
posted by raspberry jam and clothes iron to Home & Garden (19 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: We bought this one from Ikea, and we love it. If you're looking to sink into something super cushy it might not do it, but it's a pretty run of the mill couch for a good price. I know Ikea delivers, but have no idea what cost might be associated with that in NYC.
posted by heavenstobetsy at 3:57 AM on June 19, 2013

Best answer: It's hard to write a guide when a lot is about budget and preference. As a general rule, you want foam seat cushions and feather back cushions. Then you need to decide if you want fixed covers or removable covers. The fixed fabric ones are generally cheaper but can't really be cleaned easily; the removable fabric ones can be laundered or dry cleaned. Optionally, fixed leather is also easy to wipe clean.

We've had both removable washable covers and leather and they're both equally easy to clean, IMHO. I love the style of a lot of fixed fabric couches but would not get one because I know I do wash or wipe down my sofa often.

After that, you get into the detail of frame construction, which is a bit like wine in that various bits do make a better quality end product but 80% of consumers don't care. Hardwood frames are better than softwood frames; kiln-dried is better than air dried.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:12 AM on June 19, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I wouldn't recommend buying online, just because I bought my first couch online and it was a miserable failure. But testing it in advance would have showed me how flimsy and uncomfortable it was. Although if you do want to stick to online, you should see if reviews of that particular make and model are available and read through them carefully.

I am buying a new sofa, and I made the decision by going to the shop and testing out the display unit, as well as reading the reviews. I also pay attention to sofas that my friends own, and what they say about them. Finally, as far as possible, I try not to bargain-hunt, but to get the best thing I can afford. I don't mean splash out millions, just that with this sort of long-term furniture you get what you pay for.
posted by Ziggy500 at 4:29 AM on June 19, 2013

Response by poster: Is it possible to 'showroom' couches by trying them locally and then ordering online for better pricing? Or are the models so varied and disparate that in practice it will be hard to pull off?
posted by raspberry jam and clothes iron at 4:32 AM on June 19, 2013

Response by poster: Price range: under $600. Style: modern. Maximum width, probably around 72 inches. Also, isn't Craigslist furniture full of bedbugs, and won't I wake up itchy and covered in bites? I'm terrified of bedbugs, if y'all can't tell...
posted by raspberry jam and clothes iron at 4:54 AM on June 19, 2013

Best answer: If you're terrified of bedbugs, don't buy something used. Your budget is on the lower end for something new but certainly doable.

When planning the size of the couch, don't forget about the width of the doors, halls and stairwells in your building. An Ikea couch that comes packed flat or a mid-century-style piece that has legs that unscrew will be much easier to maneuver through the average apartment building in New York.
posted by bcwinters at 5:03 AM on June 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

Cut/tape newspaper to form a footprint of the potential couch(es) that you can put on the floor and decide if it fits in the room. Pay attention to if you have to maneuver yourself awkwardly to get through nearby doors and whether accompanying furniture will fit around it. If you have to dance a jig to traverse the room due to an overly large couch it will eventually annoy you.

Decide if you want firm or squishy cushions. Squishy will only get squishier, if the idea of plumping cushions every day doesn't appeal - go with firm.
posted by Ness at 5:25 AM on June 19, 2013

Best answer: Go to Ikea or CB2. You can try the modelsin the store and arrange delivery. We've had the Karlstad couch for years and I'm shocked at how well it's done for the price. Get it in a medium dark color and add some nice pillows. It's not super soft, so if you're hoping to sink into your couch look at other models. Go try em out in person!
posted by barnone at 5:37 AM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Yeah, Karlstad is by far the nicest looking couch at Ikea, though not necessarily the most comfortable. I agree to go for a dark color -- I've had two, one light and one dark, and the lighter one was noticeably sunbleached and fading after a year in my bright living room.

If you really like mid-century modern, check out this tutorial to hack a Karlstad.
posted by telegraph at 5:48 AM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

For what it's worth, it appears that Macy's is having a sale on furniture as well as Crate and Barrel. Do you need a new couch? Our most recent couch came from a former colleague. It's a nice microfiber and since I knew the person, I was confident that she didn't have bedbugs. Maybe ask around. This time of year, a lot of people are moving. Also, while it's definitely a selling point that you might be able to wash the slipcovers, in my experience, they never fit right again.
posted by kat518 at 6:06 AM on June 19, 2013

Best answer: I'm sitting on a Karlstad right now and it's comfortable. It's only a year old and the legs are already breaking off, though.

One important thing about couches is how deep they are. I'm tall, and I bought a sofa from Ikea (they don't seem to have it any longer; it was a $300 leather one) that wasn't as deep as the Karlstad, and it never felt good. A few inches makes a huge difference.

I ended up selling the leather Ikea one on craigslist and buying a new, deeper one from Macy's which, like kat518, is having a sale.
posted by The corpse in the library at 6:30 AM on June 19, 2013

Best answer: If you really don't have any idea what you want, you need to clarify how you want to use this couch. The main consideration (at least at our house) is: do you want to be able to take a nap on it? Do you expect to spend a lot of time sitting on it and reading? Sitting and watching tv? Sitting with others?

Then you need to take yourself to several stores full of furniture and SIT ON SOME COUCHES. Stretch out the way you would like to use it. Feet up? Tucked in a corner reading? All those couches are there for you to try out -- don't be shy.

After you have a clearer idea of what you want, then you start using all the upthread suggestions.
posted by kestralwing at 6:31 AM on June 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Oh gosh, we went through this last year. Our priorities:

* big enough for someone to sleep on, probably via removable back cushions- we get friends visiting & wanted to be able to let them sleep on the sofa
* a color/texture that would hide coffee stains; we try to be careful but I'm a huge klutz until about the third mug of coffee
* I prefer midcentury styles, so something vaguely in that genre; we also have a roomba so legs that raise it from the floor are preferable if you're depending on roomba for your vacuuming
* not very expensive, although we were willing to go up to $1500.

We ended up with the "Vaughn Apartment Sofa" from crate and barrel which seems not to be made anymore but is very similar to the Klyne. And yes, we sat on the versions at the store near us and then ordered online.

We've had it about a year so far, and it's been holding up wonderfully.
posted by lyra4 at 6:58 AM on June 19, 2013

Best answer: I recommend just going to an Ikea, if that's an option -- looking at the styles of couches, you'll probably find you have preferences. Then sit in every da** one of them, and you'll discover that some kinds of arms are better suited to your build(s), certain depths are more comfortable than others, etc. You might want to try this at a major department store too (Sears or Macys or whatever), as the furniture will be much more substantial on average and may change your sense of what's useful/valuable.

Some random thoughts on things to consider:

1) Some couches need loose pillows to make them comfortable, while others are comfortable/fit right as they stand -- do you like the look/feel of one style or the other? Shorter people, in particular, can find deep couches hard to use for sitting to eat, work on the computer, etc., even if they're fine for flopping.

2) You might want to lie down on the couches if you are likely to nap there, as you might or might not fit.

3) Another consideration is how many seat cushions it has. If you often have groups of friends over, you'll find that your long couch can only seat two if the third has to sit in the big crack -- for full-size couches, a three-cushion couch is much preferable (though not always available).

4) How are you likely to use it? would being able to balance the remote (or a tablet) on the arm be worth ruling out a slice of styles?

5) How much space is there underneath? if you use a Rumba, can it fit under there? if you don't, does it have material that closes the underneath space, or is it open, exposing your dust bunnies to the world (or requiring higher dusting vigilance)?

6) What's underneath the seat cushions? Some Ikea furniture, in particular, just has some plastic sheeting under there, or a couple of toothpick-weight struts, and if you're going to put this to heavy use, you may find yourself getting deeper into the seat than you intended. Springs are good; certainly, solidly constructed base will make for a longer lifespan.

7) Is it available in reasonable materials? Sometimes you can only get cute/trendy materials that look great but don't wear well (especially very soft/fuzzy fabrics) -- better is some kind of durable surface like microfiber, wool, heavy duck, etc.

That should be enough to get you started. Any kind of frequently used seating needs to be butt-tested in person, as there are a lot of ways of ending up sad otherwise. A couch is a good place to spend some money.
posted by acm at 7:05 AM on June 19, 2013

NYC has some awesome thrift stores! (Because NYC has lots of rich people who donate they're slightly used, nice furniture.)

When I lived there, I frequently browsed Housing Works and Angel Street. I bought my couch at one of those two (I can't remember which). It was a big, cushy Crate and Barrel couch for $200. The slip cover was tattered, and I thought about replacing it, but frankly I wasn't that ambitious. But it was in excellent condition other than the slip cover.

To check for bedbugs, unzip the cushion covers and examine the cushions for signs. Also look at the seams/joints of the frame. If you google for signs of bedbugs, you'll be able to find some pictures of what you're looking for. If you're still worried, you could preemptively spray it down when you get it (depends on your level of paranoia and your feelings about sprays). I think it's also fair to ask the store what their policy is around accepting furniture that may have been exposed to bedbugs.
posted by pompelmo at 8:42 AM on June 19, 2013

Best answer: How I bought my couches:

Go to stores and sit on them. Look at all the couches they have, think about what style you like, then sit on it. If you think you like it, go sit on another one, then come back and sit on the one you like again.

The Sunday paper in my town tends to have weekly ads for our local furniture stores. That helps me figure out what style of couch I like. Then, if I see a particular model I like, I go to the store and sit on it.

Fabric-wise, we have a dog who likes to wrestle on the couch, so we needed to get some kind of micro-fiber fabric that is more tear resistant. I usually hate microfiber because it means my ass print is far too detailed and visible when I get up, but the kind we got is more of a corduroy micro fiber, so my ass print is a little less detailed.

But no amount of online shopping can replace the act of sitting on a potential couch. Seriously.
posted by jillithd at 8:57 AM on June 19, 2013

I've had good experience with Ashley Furniture Home Store. I bought my last couch from them for about $400. It was decent. My current couch from their outlet and is a little bit nicer, it was about $700 out the door.

Rooms to Go also had good, affordable options. Their big push is to sell the "whole room" but you can definitely just buy a piece. My friend has a Cindy Crawford couch and it's the most comfortable thing I've ever sat on.
posted by radioamy at 9:08 AM on June 19, 2013

Response by poster: Last question: what am I paying more for when I buy a more expensive couch? Is it mostly design, or mostly materials?
posted by raspberry jam and clothes iron at 6:27 AM on June 20, 2013

Best answer: It's generally materials: the frame, feather cushions, and the actual upholstery fabric or leather quality.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:03 AM on June 20, 2013

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