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Consider these expert design tips before buying a sofa

Fabric, functionality, design—here’s what to look for

Side-by-side shots of a sofa collage and an older couple sitting in a sofa in their living room. Credit: Reviewed / Getty Images / DGLimages / Target / Floyd

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There’s no denying it. When it comes to outfitting your castle’s living area, your couch is king. While cookie-cutter sofas of the past were stuffy and small, today’s cozy couches breathe more life into your living space with lounge-ready, design-friendly configurations to fit your needs.

How much you want to move about your space will dictate which you choose—modular or sectional. Sometimes used interchangeably, a modular sofa is designed to be reconfigured (consider these, quite literally, the building blocks of your living room), while sectionals typically come in an "L" shape, with one side jetting out into a chaise.

“What makes modular seating so versatile is that every part can stand alone,” says Valyou Furniture’s Domenique Comparetto. “A single corner piece can work as a chair or an anchor point to create an L-shape or U-shape sectional. A backless seat can function as an ottoman or convert a single seat into a chaise.”

Whether it’s modular or sectional, keep these expert tips in mind while you shop.

Seating options: How much do you need?

A sofa with a close-up shot of a measuring tape.
Credit: Reviewed / Getty Images / Dole08 / Floyd

Before you order, measure the space of the room where you want to place the sofa.

Before pulling out that measuring tape, first decide on how you’ll be using your new piece.

“Measure the sofa for how you plan to use the room,” says Design Associates’ Ezra Sanders. “Decide how many people you want to seat at one time and determine if they need to all be on the sofa or if you want to break it up between a sofa and accent chairs.”

Comparetto wants you to ask yourself: Do you entertain often? Answer yes, and you may need a lot of seats. Do you relax and even nap on your sofa? A chaise sectional could be a smart option. Do your needs change? Go for a modular with one or two extra ottomans for more configurations.

Size matters: Don't overstuff your space

It’s important to find pieces that fit your space well. “Oversized furniture can block doors, cut off walking paths, and make a room feel small and crowded,” warns Comparetto. Alternatively, undersized furnishings tend to make a space feel empty and unfinished.

According to the experts, a sofa should sit three to five inches from a wall to give a more airy and less crowded feel to the space. Planning should allow at least three feet for walkways and a range of three to 10-feet between each large piece of furniture, says Comparetto. Floor lamps and end tables will often require less of a buffer, but consider their placement as well.

Oh, and when it comes to cleaning underneath your sectional sofa, don’t forget to take your robot vacuum into account.

“If you use a robot vacuum to clean, you’ll want to do some careful measuring–as you either will want the sofa to clear the vacuum so it can fit underneath or you’ll want a sofa that sits closer to the floor so the vacuum can’t even attempt to go underneath,” says Edgar Blazona, founder of BenchMade Modern.

With all of this in mind you can determine the size of the space you have available for your seating.

“Compare your available space with the listed dimensions on the product page,” says Comparetto. “You can also compare these dimensions against any furniture you currently have in the space to help you get a visualization of how your new choice might look.”

Configurations galore: Which sofa shape is right for you?

Typical shapes for modular couches include L-sectional (left- or right-facing); U-sectional; sofa or loveseat; sofa with ottoman; and open-ended.

Pro tip: when shopping for a chaise or sectional, they are labeled as left-facing or right-facing. Right-facing means that the part of the sofa that juts out is on your right when you’re facing the sofa.

“U-shaped sectionals provide a nice meeting area where everyone can sit and talk to each other,” says Blazona. “A U-shaped sectional with a double chaise is a really fantastic option if your space allows, as both people can relax and not fight over who gets the chaise.”

Sectionals with a bumper or sofas with a chaise on one end can also help open up a room.

“Reversible sofa-chaise collections are great for people who may move to different spaces in a year and want a chaise that can work on either side,” adds Sanders. “L-shaped sectionals are great for at least four to five people, whereas sofa-chaise would be four max.”

Deciding on a custom-made sectionals is also a great option, as you can get the length and depth that truly fit your space.

Touch and feel: Finding a fabric that suits your lifestyle

A leather sofa in front of a background.
Credit: Reviewed / Getty Images / AnnaDavy

Modular and sectional sofas come in a variety of fabrics and styles like leather (pictured).

Choosing fabrics comes down to personal taste, leveraged with performance, says Sanders, who’s poised to offer the ultimate guide to fabric choices. He says that fabrics with a high poly fiber count, such as polyester or olefin, etc, will perform better for staining and fading than natural materials like wool or cotton, and tightly woven fabrics will also perform better to abrasions or pilling.

“Tightly woven fabrics may not feel as ‘soft’ to people sitting on them compared to say velvet or a micro-boucle fabric. Leather will perform well to spills because it doesn't absorb liquid the same, but will take on wear more,” Sanders explains. “All leather will wear over time, but semi-aniline will look more consistent in color and wear versus full-aniline leather, which takes on a more artful patina in the scratches in wear.”

Blazona’s biggest piece of advice is to get loads of the biggest swatches possible and test them out. “Rub them on your pets to see if pet hair sticks. Spill your family’s favorite foods on them and test out a simple spot clean. It’s a great way to see how your fabric will perform with everyday life before committing to a full sectional.”

Where to shop: online or in-store?

With online shopping for smaller items is a no-brainer, you might be hesitant to order larger items like a sofa. In-store and online purchases both offer different pros for your purchase.

“Buying a sofa in a store is great because you can truly get a feel for the comfort, fit and size—particularly how it relates to your own height, if your feet touch the floor, if the seat depth is too narrow or too deep,” says Blazona. “Buying a sofa online also gives you more options when it comes to different brands, styles, fabrics, and colors.”

The product experts at Reviewed have all your shopping needs covered. Follow Reviewed on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and Flipboard for the latest deals, product reviews, and more.

Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.

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