Sofas are all about taking it easy -- so what is it about shopping for them that's so hard? Sometimes we're more willing to drop $20,000 on a car than to pick out a $2,000 couch (and the latter will probably last longer). We asked some furniture-shopping experts for help in getting past buyer's block.
PICK A PRICE. Sofas can run as high as $10,000, so the first thing you need to do is set a realistic budget. Don't buy the line that a sofa is an "investment" -- good investments, after all, are supposed to appreciate in value -- but do consider stretching a little beyond what you think you can afford, especially if your standard of living is still increasing. In a few years, you don't want a budget compromise to have become the shabbiest piece in your room.
GET IN SHAPE. Taste is personal, but you still need to pick a silhouette that suits your space. The safest bet for most rooms: something squared off and simple. Nestor Santa-Cruz, a partner at the District's SKB Architecture and Design, suggests a piece inspired by Jean-Michel Frank's classic 1930s sofa. "It will go with anything," he says.
Certain design twists can make a big difference, too: A piece with legs and slimmer arms makes a room look less crowded. If, on the other hand, you're looking for a weightier feel, choose something that reaches to the floor.
SIZE IT UP. It seems to go without saying, but make sure you know what size piece your apartment can handle. A standard sofa is 84 inches long; one trick designers use is to cut an old sheet to size and lay it on the floor to get a sense of how much room there is to work with.
GO DEEP. Especially at the higher price points, ask about the piece's construction. Is the frame made with a robust hardwood, such as maple, or a soft wood, like pine? Are the corners secured with dowels (better) or staples? And check out the springs: A more expensive piece could have as many as five or six rows per cushion area, while the cheapest may have two or three.
Most important, make sure to try it out.
"Sometimes it happens that a client chooses a sofa -- she sees a picture and she likes it -- and then she sits in it and it doesn't fit," cautions Sophie Prevost, a partner in D.C. architecture and design firm Cole Prevost. Skipping this step can lead to very costly mistakes later.
COLOR IT IN. Yes, neutral tones are the most practical -- but sometimes life calls for frivolity.
Because a color sofa is the strongest statement in a room, be sure the surrounding pieces don't compete for attention. In addition, "try to stay away from of-the-moment pattern or color," says Washington designer Darryl Carter, whose work has been featured in O at Home magazine. You want your sofa to last, and a trendy pattern "is like rings in a tree; you can tell when it was done." (Remember that late-'90s plum?)
Lastly, "if you don't have a lot of light and the space is closed in, stick with light colors," notes Sam Esposito, manager of the Maurice Villency store in Bethesda. A room needs to be big enough to handle a dark hue -- and rich reds, greens and blues always make a piece look larger.
Rachel F. Elson
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