How to Choose the Perfect Sofa for Your Living Space

No matter your sofa goals—comfort, style, or functionality—here’s how to pick the best couch for your home.

Your sofa is the centerpiece of your living space, where you spend time entertaining friends, watching TV, and relaxing over the weekend. But with so many sofa options available, from sleek and tufted to slipcovered or modular, choosing this key furniture piece can be a daunting task. Your sofa choice should check all the boxes—price point, comfort, quality, color, and even a few add-ons, like stain-resistant fabric, too.

So how can you choose from all the types of couches to anchor your home’s style and level up your comfort? To simplify this task, we’ve outlined the most important details you need to know as you scout your next sofa.

Select a Sofa Style

When shopping for a new sofa, start by picking a style that complements your design aesthetic.


Decorating a formal parlor or seating area? Pick a sofa with a tight back and seat. Because these sofas lack individual cushions, they look tidier and feel more traditional. A tight-backed sofa with loose seats will also help you achieve a neat profile while offering more comfort.


If you’re looking for a more laidback, lived-in look, search for sofas with loose back cushions and seat cushions. Although these iterations tend to be more comfortable, they run the risk of looking sloppy over time. A quick fix is to buy a sofa with a good warranty or high-quality cushions. 


For a classic or European look, try tufted sofas. These timeless sofas mesh well with different furniture styles. Tufted sofas come in two versions: fully tufted (backs and seats) or partially tufted (just the back or seat cushions but not both). As stylish as these sofas might be, their stiffer appearance and feel may not be ideal for nappers or loungers.

floating shelf with frames above blue couch
Adam Albright

What to Consider When Choosing Sofa Fabrics

With your sofa design and filler selected, it's time to be pragmatic about your fabric choice. Although all furniture experiences wear and tear, picking a suitable fabric can keep your sofa looking good longer and save you from frequent replacements. Start by assessing your lifestyle, who shares your space, and the location (and purpose) of your sofa.


Will you eat and drink on your sofa? Have movie nights? Consider how you’ll use your sofa and the traffic it will experience. How long will you household members will sit on it throughout the week? You may need durable fabrics that can hold up against pets and kids. In this case, look for terms like stain-resistant or pet-friendly when shopping for couch upholstery fabrics.

Cleaning Habits

Even if you see the term stain-resistant, look into your sofa’s care instructions. How much time and effort can you commit to keeping your sofa in good shape? If you’re swooning over a particular look, and you’re willing to spend more time on its upkeep (versus picking something that's lower maintenance), go for it! This decision will depend on your lifestyle and design goals. Slip-covered options can also be a low-maintenance choice if you can remove and wash your sofa’s cushion covers. Just wash each cover at the same time so all pieces fade equally over time.

Location of Sofa in Your Home

If you’re placing your sofa in a sun-exposed space, look for fade-resistant/UV options. And if you place your sofa outdoors, look for additional mildew- and moisture-resistant features.


Also take into consideration your values as a shopper. Do you prioritize sustainability? In this case, choose eco-friendly or naturally derived fabrics, like cotton, canvas, linen, or wool.

Personal Style

For an extra layer of customization, some companies allow you to supply your own fabric. Look for the term COM (customer’s own material). Although there might be an upcharge for this, it’s a simple way to get a more personalized look with any standard sofa. 

living room shiplap tan leather sofa blue throw coffee table

David Land

Pick the Right Sofa Fill

In addition to the style and upholstery fabric, you'll need to choose a filler or stuffing for your sofa. You’ll run into three primary material options: foam, down, or a mixture of the two.

Unlike foam, which springs back into shape after you stand up, down stays squished, so expect to re-fluff down sofa cushions regularly. Another downside of down? It may shed and prick you as its feathers can poke through the fabric. For the best of both worlds, pick a combination of the two sofa fill materials, such as cushions with a foam core surrounded by down.

Add Design Extras

Some sofas come with welting (also known as piping), which can give your seating an elevated look. Other couches come trimmed in nailheads. Nailheads come in many metal varieties, including bronze, chrome, brushed gold, and nickel, and can look like jewelry, casting a reflective shine. Depending on the look you’re going for, this add-on can lend a traditional, contemporary, or industrial vibe. 

A sofa's legs can also enhance your design aesthetic. Three common leg types include bun feet, straight, and turned. Turned legs cast a more antique feel, while straight legs (like tapered wood legs) have a universal appeal. Bun feet have a curved look that can feel upscale but lean traditional.

To Pattern or Not To Pattern?

Patterns can add lively detail to any space, whether you select ticking stripes, florals, or an animal print. But seating with solid fabric is often more timeless and versatile. With solid colors, you always have the option to refresh your space with new patterns through curtains, throw pillows, or other accents. But if you pick a patterned sofa, there’s no guarantee that it will stay congruent with future design changes.

Number and Type of Couch Cushions

Sofas come with either multiple cushions or a single cushion, each with pros and cons.

Single-cushion sofas provide a sleek, formal look that looks more put-together than sofas with multiple cushions. Single-cushioned sofas also offer more flexible seating since there are no prebuilt seat settings. More people can squeeze in comfortably without cracks between cushions to worry about, making it easy to create a makeshift daybed perfect for napping.

Multi-cushion sofas can also be accommodating, as you can move cushions around, especially useful if one becomes stained. However, these sofas can look less crisp than their single-cushion counterparts. 

There are also different couch cushion types, including bullnose, box, and button. Box cushions are squarish and feature crisp linearity. Bullnose cushions have a slight curve to their edges with a puffier look. And button cushions add texture and interest but may feel stiffer.

Gray and white family room

Jean Allsopp

Focus on Comfort

Every type of couch varies in height and depth. It’s important to look at these dimensions so you can get the proper support you need. For example, if you suffer from back pain, you’ll want to find sofas with ample back support, so eliminate sofas with short backs. You can also choose from thicker or thinner sofa arms, depending on what feels more comfortable to you. It's also possible to find sofas with useful features, like built-in reclining, USB charging, magazine or book storage, and cup holders, that add even more convenience and comfort.

Measure, Measure, and Measure

Before bringing any sofa home, it's imperative that you measure your space. This includes doorways, hallways, entrances, and any area you’ll pass through to transport your sofa. Next, ensure your sofa fits in the room and doesn't block any walkways. Ideally, walkways should be 36” wide. Once you complete this step, create a seating arrangement around your sofa, leaving about 18" between your sofa and coffee table. 

Overall, your sofa's height, width, and length should complement your space’s size and architectural elements. For example, if you have a large window, you might want to consider a sofa with a shorter back to prevent it from disrupting any views. This can help create a more seamless look.

Finally, prioritize functionality above all else. For example, If you’re buying a sofa with a chaise, is there enough room to access your sliding glass doors? Measuring ahead will establish the right fit every time. And if you struggle with this design task, contact a professional designer or ask your furniture retailer if they offer design or space planning services. 

Test It Out

Testing your sofa isn’t always possible, especially if you purchase it online. However, check to see if the online store has a local showroom in your area and check its return policy. Some furniture stores offer a 30-day money-back guarantee or a testing period. Others might charge a restocking fee or shipping costs for returns. Remember, if you have the flexibility to see, feel, and use a sofa in your home for at least a week, it may give you a perspective that’s otherwise not possible from only sitting on a sofa for five or ten minutes in a showroom.

Look at Return Policies and Warranties

Buying a sofa can be a big investment. To avoid any regrets down the line, it’s always best to look into your manufacturer’s policy on what happens if something breaks, rips, or becomes stained. By exploring a company’s policies and warranty options, you can protect yourself and your investment in the long run.

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