The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

How to find a great sofa for around $1,000

We asked four design firms to share their picks for budget-friendly sofas. Here are their recommendations.

(The Washington Post illustration; iStock; CB2)
6 min

When you moved into an apartment after college, snagging that castoff sofa on Nextdoor probably felt like winning the lottery. And that starter sofa has probably served you well.

When you start to think about furniture for the long haul, though, a new sofa will be one of the cornerstones of your living space. But sofas are also big-ticket items, often reaching into the thousands of dollars. So how can you replace that tired-looking couch with something good-looking and comfortable without busting your budget?

The first thing to determine is what you will be using your sofa for, says Courtney Sempliner, a designer from Port Washington, N.Y. “Consider if it’s for family TV-watching or more of a perch-and-drink kind of thing,” she says. “Do you need it to be a sleeper sofa? How many people do you want to be able to sit on it?”

Your answers, she says, will guide your search, helping you choose aspects such as the style of the sofa. They will also help you determine whether you can use an elegant yet more precious textile, such as linen, or whether you need a performance fabric “that will stand up with kids and dogs and sticky hands.”

We asked four design firms to share tips for buying a standard sofa that seats three to four people. (A small-scale sofa is usually 70 to 80 inches long. Sofas 81 to 90 inches and up require larger quarters.) We also asked for their recommendations for specific sofas. The budget: around $1,000. Here’s their advice — and their sofa picks. (Be aware: Some sofas may require home assembly, and production and shipping delays caused by the pandemic are affecting many delivery dates.)

How to buy a sofa online — and the best companies to buy from

The design

Before shopping, measure to see how long and wide a sofa you can accommodate, and make sure it will fit through doorways and up any stairs.

Leslie May, a designer in Chapel Hill, N.C., says it’s good to start your research by looking online at pricier sofas to see what you like. Then, she says, “you bring it down to your budget.” She prefers sofas with bench cushions (one cushion across the entire seating area) and a tight back. “Then, if you want to put pillows on it, it doesn’t look as messy” as a sofa with individual cushions would, she says.

Sempliner agrees that a fitted seat and back stays tidier and gives a more contemporary look. Her own charcoal gray sofa is this style, she says, “much to my children’s dismay, as they can’t make forts out of the cushions.”

Everick Brown, a designer from New York, prefers a sofa with individual cushions; he thinks it gives a warmer look to the room. “Individual cushions are easier to pull out to clean,” he says. “They also define a seating area.” He says that, sometimes, if you have a long sofa, people who don’t know each other might not sit next to each other unless the seating is defined by cushions.

The construction

Selecting the best-quality construction within your price range will pay off in the end. According to Pat Bowling, vice president of communications at the American Home Furnishings Alliance, it’s important to consider what is inside a sofa, in addition to style and fabric. Always check out the materials in a frame. The frame may be made of kiln-dried hardwood, hardwood plywood, particleboard or combinations of several materials.

According to AHFA’s consumer buying guidelines, more durable upholstery frames are constructed with reinforcements that are glued and screwed into place at critical joints and stress points. Less durable pieces may only use staples.

Stumped by your sofa search? We've got suggestions for every kind of space.

Most cushions are made of polyurethane foam. Firmness is measured in pounds-per-cubic-foot (about 1.5 to 2.6); the higher the number, the firmer the foam, Bowling says. Some cushions contain recycled fibers or down. Bowling adds that there are companies that offer cushioning that replaces a portion of the petroleum-based ingredient in the foam with a soy-based product.

Sempliner says less expensive sofas usually have foam cushions, while higher-end models might have down-wrapped foam.

Designers say it’s always important to research construction specifications online or in person. Click the “details” section under a product’s description for information.

The fabric and color

Brown says the most durable fabrics, especially for households with kids, are synthetic blends. Check out the rub count — a wearability code that will give you an idea of how much wear and tear the fabric can withstand. (For example, 25,000 double rubs is a good number.) This information is usually found online with the fabric description, where you can also find the fiber content and cleaning information. For colors, he prefers neutrals, such as warm tans, cool grays or taupe. “Then I can easily change the look by adding new throw pillows or flipping a different rug,” Brown says.

The go-to sofa color for May is navy. Her advice: Always order swatches. “Even if you think you like that blue, until you have it in your space, you don’t really know. It can save you a lot of heartache,” she says. “Go with a solid and splurge on pillows. That can make your look more custom and elevated.”

How to furnish, fill and decorate your new, larger home

Slipcovers are a popular option for Kiera Kushlan, co-owner of Washington’s Residents Understood, because they make it easy to order replacement covers if needed. She also advises that, if you’re looking for a fabric that will stand up against spills, look for a high polyester content.

Shopping tips

Wait for a sale, Brown says, or check out clearance centers or places such as RH Outlet, which has 38 locations that sell returned, discontinued and overstock furnishings, or Holly Hunt Off the Floor in Stamford, Conn., for samples from its showrooms.

In an ideal world, May says, you should test-drive your sofa to check out whether the seating is comfortable for you, but that is not always an option. If you can’t see the sofa in person, May recommends watching videos that often accompany descriptions online. “It will show you someone sitting in the sofa and can be an indication of comfort,” May says. “Comfort is really the most important thing.”

The sofas

(Prices given as of time of publication but are subject to change.)

Wayfair’s AllModern Latisha velvet tuxedo arm sofa. May thinks this classic, roomy sofa with a bit of tufting has a lot of style for the money. It makes a bit more of a statement than some of the plain mid-century modern silhouettes. “I love the high sides of this sofa. It creates a nice nook to nestle into and supports your back,” May says. “Velvet is also a super durable option that will look crisp even with lots of life lived on it.” The sofa is 84 inches long. Price: $1,230.

Home Reserve’s Laney legacy sofa. Looking for a sofa made in the United States? Kushlan says she and her Residents Understood co-owner Jessica Centella like Home Reserve’s Laney sofa. “It works in a variety of aesthetics, which is great for someone still exploring their style preferences,” Kushlan says. “If you want the sofa to transition with you through a variety of looks, keep the fabric light in color and neutral.” Home Reserve offers many durable family- and pet-friendly fabrics. The sofa is 79 inches long. Price: $768.

Article’s Ceni sofa. Kushlan says this sofa’s 83-inch width and 35-inch depth offer “comfortable proportions for lounging.” Kushlan is a fan of Article’s quality and customer service.

Sempliner also likes the Ceni. “I love the thoughtful design details on this sofa: the curve to the legs, the subtle angle to the armrests and the unique side cushions,” she says. Sempliner describes it as “comfortable and classic with a clean, modern touch.” The sofa is 83 inches long. Price: $999.

CB2′s Hoxton. Sempliner loves the rounded corners and cushy seat cushions on the Hoxton. It has cool metal legs and a slim, low profile that fits into most furniture configurations. “It reads cozy and inviting,” she says, but it complements pieces that are more modern.

Brown also recommends the Hoxton, with its very contemporary vibe. “I like the relaxed, modern, slim arms and floating metal legs,” he says. The sofa is 96 inches long. Price: $1,299.

CB2′s Holden tufted sofa. Brown says the Holden “is a perfect frame for a classic, modern style.” He points to the design details of the soft felt fabric, tuxedo arms and tight, tufted back. The bench seat cushion and stainless steel legs give it a streamlined look. The sofa is 76 inches long. Price: $999.

West Elm’s Eddy sofa. Brown is a fan of the Eddy’s floating wooden trestle-style legs. “I like the rounded low arms and reversible seat and back cushions,” Brown says. This sofa offers a lot of style for the price. The sofa is 74 inches long. Price: $1,099.

More from The Home You Own

The Home You Own is here to help you make sense of the home you live in.

DIYs you can actually do yourself: Don’t be intimidated by those home projects. Consider which renovations add the most value to your home (including the kitchen and bathroom), what you can actually get done in a weekend, and everything in between.

Your home + climate change: Whether you’re trying to prepare your home for an electric vehicle or want to start composting, we’re here to help you live more sustainably.

Plants and pets: Your furry friends and greenery add more life to your spaces. For your green thumb, find tips for saving money on houseplants and how to keep your plants alive longer. Pets can make a house a home, but stopping your cats from scratching the furniture isn’t always easy.

Keeping your home clean and organized: We breakdown the essential cleaning supplies you need, and point out the 11 germy spots that are often overlooked. Plus, hear hacks from professional organizers on maximizing counter space,

Maintaining your home: Necessary home maintenance can save your thousands in the long run. From gutter cleaning and preparing your fireplace for winter, to what to do if your basement floods.

Contact us: Looking to buy your first home? Do you have questions about home improvement or homeownership? We’re here to help with your next home project.