I recall my college days and moving into my first apartment and then my second and third, and on and on.  I think I may have moved every 6 months to a year until my son was born, and 3 times since.  All that moving got me to thinking about furniture and how much we spend, and sometimes waste, on it based on how we approach the buying process.

When I got my first apartment, I bought this little almost loveseat sized sofa that I thought was just so super cute!  I have always been creative and a little “different” and I never wanted to have anything in my place that I might walk into someone else’s place and see.  I have also always been frugal with my own personal purchases.

So I ordered this little sofa from a catalog – YES a CATALOG! – and I am certain it cost very little, relatively speaking.  It was a neutral color, sort of a light tan, which would allow me unlimited decorating possibilities, AND it folded out into a “bed”!  How cool is that?!  Ok, so the “bed” was more like a foam mattress on the floor; the seats of the sofa just folded out onto the floor and back up again.

I really loved that sofa and no one else I knew of had anything like it.  Most college kids had a futon, which was all the rage, or hand me down furniture from family.  Mine was unique, super cute, and extra functional.  It was also very poorly and cheaply made.

Fast forward 20 years, and I have learned a few things about purchasing good seating that will last.  And now that my oldest son is not too far off from that 1st apartment milestone, I will share a some of the checks we’ll go through that you might not hear or read anyplace else.

Of course there’s all the standard advice to sit on it, lay on it, check for removable covers, possibly washable covers, color, fabric, size, design (arm type, skirted, cushion type, leg style).  And all of these are important, but here are a few things you might not otherwise think about.

  • Check that the number of legs is proportional to the size of the piece.
A full sized sofa should have more than the standard 4 legs.  A better piece will also have center support at the front at the very least (5 legs); at the front and the back is even better and more stable (6 legs).  This is especially true if the piece is very heavy and/or will get a lot of use (as in a family room).
Loveseats seats and chairs are fine with 4 legs, but their construction should still be proportional to the size. For example, while a wing chair or slipper chair is fine with long, thin and/or curvy legs, a club chair most certainly requires sturdier block style legs.
Use your best judgment;  if the piece tips or moves at all when you plop down in it (as you know someone in your home will do), it’s probably not sturdy enough.
  • Move the piece around a little.
It shouldn’t be so easy to do.  You want a piece that is heavy enough to not just slide around, but not too heavy to fit your lifestyle (i.e., with a helper you can move it to vacuum behind/under, rearrange, etc.).  Also, you shouldn’t be able to feel the arms or back move or wiggle; if they do, it’s not well constructed.  And this brings me to my next point….
  • Press your knee or elbow into the sides (below the arm) and outside back ever so slightly.
You can do this when you attempt to move the piece a little.  The point of this is to easily “check” the construction of the sides and back.  There should be just a bit of give when you do this; if it leaves and indention or you can hear something give way, that is not a good sign.
  • Take the seat cushions off and check the seat construction.
It is usually easy to feel if there are coils supporting the seat, but it’s difficult to tell how the coils are “tied”.  Even flip it over, look under the bottom. Also, when you sit on it, it should feel stable and not wiggle. When in doubt, best thing to do is ask.
  • Take the back cushions off and check the back construction.
This is not always applicable, but when it is you’ll use a combination of the 2 previous methods listed.
  • And while you’re removing cushions, check the stitching (on the cushions and the base).
You should not be able to actually see or pull the stitching.  There should be no glue.  Anytrim or piping should be tight and not able to be pulled.
  • Do your homework and ask a million questions!
If the salesperson doesn’t know, don’t buy it until you can find out.  If it’s a piece you just have to have, call the manufacturer if you have to.  It could mean the difference in a piece you can keep forever and one you’ll drag to the trash heap (or DONATE) in another year or 3.

The final “lesson” of this post is to spend the money up front on good seating or you’ll be sorry sooner (like as soon as you get it home) or later (a year later when you realize you wasted money you could have saved toward a really solid piece).


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