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How to choose the right couch for your space

By Jessie Stewart

Whether you call it a couch, sofa, settee, or lounge suite, the furniture you buy for your living room is a big investment, so you need to ask yourself some hard questions before you commit to it.

Living room furniture is an investment both in terms of the money it costs and the time it spends as the centrepiece of your lounge room. So if you have visions of sitting back and relaxing in a new comfy couch groove you need to understand the questions to ask when visiting the furniture retailers. To make it easier, we asked some experts for their advice on choosing the right couch for your space.

How will you use it?

Interior designer Bronwyn Poole from Touch Interiors says investing time and money in finding the right piece to suit your home is crucial because a lounge or couch is a key piece which needs to last. The average couch spends more than seven years in your lounge room so it not only needs to be long-lasting, it also has to balance aesthetics and function.

Bronwyn recommends firstly getting a good idea of the style and the purpose of the couch before you hit the shops. And that’s a matter of asking questions, questions and more questions:

Who is going to use the couch?
How many people need to sit on it?
Does it need to match existing furniture or chairs?
Do guests need to sleep on it?
Is it going to be used every day or just occasionally?
Will the kids be on it?
Do you like to lie down or sit up? Read, eat, discuss philosophy or watch TV?
And most importantly, is it comfortable? Always test it out.

Bronwyn says that editing these choices before you start looking will help steer you in the right direction. “The type of comfort you want will also determine the type of lounge you look for: one with a fixed back often gives a sleeker look, ideal for smaller spaces, but will offer limited comfort compared to a generous loose cover lounge with overfilled back and seat cushions,” Bronwyn says.

“Consider how you like to sit in it, eat on it or work in it. All these factors will determine your preference for proportions such as seat depth, arm style and the height of the back.”

Does it fit (through the door)?

You also need to work out if the new couch will fit your room. But before you do this, take a step back. Will it even fit through the door? This is something you’ll especially need to think about if you’re in an apartment or you need to get it upstairs, through narrow doors or down tight hallways. If you’re renting, or likely to move soon, remember the couch needs to move too, so don’t buy something that’s too specific (in size, colour or shape for instance) to your current room.

You also need to consider location, and ask yourself:

Where will the couch go?
Are you placing it against a wall or under a window?
Will it clear any existing objects?
Are you using it as a room divider (make sure you check the back of it)?
Will you have a central coffee table or side tables?
How much of the room do you want it to take up?
Will it all fit?

Size matters

Make sure that the size of the couch is right for the room. It shouldn’t overpower the room or stop the flow of traffic. Scale and proportion are both important. You might love that large sectional, but will it fit the room? Likewise, a tiny chair might be wrong in a large space. Interior designer, Jodie Kingman, Coco Republic, advises buyers to keep it in proportion: “Take into consideration how it looks from all angles – the length, depth and back height,” she says.

Bronwyn agrees: “Proportions are everything! The couch is often the largest piece in a living space. Too wide and big; it overpowers the space, too narrow and small and you are left trying to fill in the space with unnecessary furniture”. Bronwyn insists that the perfect couch for your space does exist, and offers these tips on finding it: If your space is small consider a couch with a petite arm profile. A smaller couch can be made to look longer and sleeker by using one or two seat cushions as opposed to three and often these are changes you can request free of charge.

If you have the luxury of space and want two couches, don’t jump straight into ordering a pair. Consider a modular and combine it with alternative seating such as a feature armchair or ottoman. Or two different types of couches that work sympathetically with each other such as a deeper one and a slimmer one.

Fashion is fickle

Does the style of the couch match the room and your home?

That loud print might be popular today but will it still be pleasing on the eye in a few years? If you have doubts keep the couch plain and go to town on cushions or throw rugs which are cheaper and easier to change. If you’re after a retro look, second-hand can be cool and cheap but make sure you price any upholstery costs in advance. While the couch might be $100, it could cost in the thousands to reupholster.

Keep in mind function when you’re choosing fabrics

White looks great but can you keep it clean?
Suede might look good but will the kids wreck it?
Leather is durable but can age quickly depending on how you look after it. Tip: Read our article How to clean leather furniture for top tips on keeping your leather couch looking its best.
There is also a whole range of new stain resistant or outdoor fabrics to consider

Bronwyn says prices add up when you select a custom fabric, so if you are on a budget and after a neutral fabric, consider the many readymade options in the market.

How is it made?

It might look a million dollars now, but what is it actually made of? Will it survive years of use? A good couch needs strong bones so check the manufacturing. Does it have a long lasting sturdy frame, a decent suspension system and appropriate cushioning?

Jodie says one thing buyers should always consider is the cushion inserts: “If you don’t have time to plump and maintain the look of your soft downy feather-filled cushions, choose something with a little more structure that is less maintenance.”

Quality is key

Jodie advises buyers to purchase the best quality they can afford, “You’ll spend more time sitting on your couch than driving your car and yet buying a couch is rarely given as much attention,” she comments. “Select something that has a manufacturer’s warranty and is guaranteed to last and hold its shape. Stay away from leather, unless you are happy to invest in good quality leather upholstery – otherwise your couch will end up ageing poorly and looking cheap”.

“Remember, a good couch will last you many many years, if you invest in quality”.

Bronwyn also advises buyers to go for quality: “Many cheaper couches tend to be about comfort and have little regard for style or proportions. It’s possible to have both style and comfort and at a good price point,” she says. A couch really is a big investment, so to make sure you’re making an educated choice, do the following:

Take photos of your room with you when shopping
Try out some virtual decorating software
Plot out the new couch dimensions on your lounge room floor before you buy

Remember there will often be a lengthy lead time between ordering and delivery if it’s custom made, and just to be on the safe side always check warranties, exchange policies and refunds.


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