Having the right sofa can make or break a room, says furniture doyen Margot Spalding of Jimmy Possum. Many things need to be considered other than just size, price point and colour. Knowing the purpose of your sofa is probably the most important, Margot says, as is understanding what is and isn’t guaranteed in the product.
“A reputable supplier of foam, webbing and frame will guarantee their product,” she says. “And to be honest most people do not know that leather and fabric are never guaranteed because you cannot know how somebody is going to treat fabric and leather, so choose the appropriate fabric or leather for your situation.
“If you have four teenage sons and live on a farm you don’t have white velvet,” she adds. “It’s inappropriate for them but may be right for someone in a bedroom or lounge where it is not expected to be as hardwearing or used as often.”
Margot says consumer buying habits have changed over the years. Gone are the days when we used to buy a matching lounge suite complete with chairs and couch. Today, people are buying a furniture item with an individual purpose in mind. And, the notion that men and women approach shopping differently definitely extends to furniture buying, she says.
“These days you never sell a couch and two armchairs as your lounge suite as people buy purposefully now in an armchair for him and her and a sofa for guests. And the armchairs are specific – men tend to like a higher back and are into comfort. Women as less into comfort and more into the look.”
If price is driving the purchase, Margot says, then expect the fabric, leather or frame of a cheaper price item not to be as durable as something more expensive and reputable.
“It’s OK to buy what is appropriate: if you are buying for the long-term home invest in quality and if you are renting it’s fine to buy cheaper as you know it’s purpose.
“Fabric durability is important … if you buy cheap upholstery fabric or leather you will get poor performance. And choose the appropriate leather as well – no nubuck suede in the living room where kids play as it will get stained. Choose an appropriate leather that can be restored and revitalised.”
Here are her top tips to buying a sofa to ensure you make the right buy come purchase day:
- Before making a purchase, work out what your space is and think about the purpose of the sofa. Is it for the formal lounge, living room, kids’ room or bedroom. Working out the purpose of it dictates lots of things, including how much money you want to spend and the look.
- Once you have established the purpose, establish the look you want. If it is for a formal lounge, while not as popular these days, do you want a regal formal look or do you want the room to be moody? If in a bedroom, is it a feminine bedroom look, is it sexy or masculine, or is it very contemporary? As with establishing the purpose, the look is important, but don’t just go on the look of something.
- Have a reasonable idea of the budget, but be flexible because most people don’t know how much work and product can go into the sofa. When you buy a table you can see the whole thing but when you are buying a sofa you cannot see everything – you can see the fabric but not the frame. With imported products you have no idea what is under the cover or upholstery – reputable webbing and foam companies guarantee their work and product. So ask the advice of somebody you trust in a store, as a reputable supplier will know what the warranty is.
- Know the size of the room you are working with and always check your access – can you get down the sofa down the hallway and in the door? Many times people haven’t accounted for this.
- Sit on the sofa. The comfort will again vary if you are going to be sitting the four teenage sons again – they’ll want something deeper and softer that they can lounge on. If you have an elderly person or somebody with back problems you will need a firmer seat, with a more upright back and a higher seat.
- If you are seating a few people of multiple heights and sizes then you need to cover all bases. A deep sofa is necessary for tall people but you can add scatter cushions to give comfort to the shorter person.
- Look after your purchase. You really should have a duty of care with foam furniture and sofas. But remember, just because you put fabric protection on it doesn’t mean you can do anything and everything to the fabric. You must still be respectful. Again, this comes back to buying the appropriate product for the appropriate area. and purpose.
- Invest in a quality leather because it will withstand any scratches from the kids or the dog. Then if you condition and revitalise it you will get years of use out of it.
The author has two decades in furniture design in Australia.