Have you ever gone to a friend or family’s house, sat for a little while on their couch or sectional, and then when you stood up felt like you needed to get a back massage? You suddenly find excuses to watch the game at someone else’s house, feel like you have to have a reason why you have to cut your après ski a little short, or just always choose to sit in a nearby chair instead.

When creating an inviting entertaining space in your home, having a comfy sectional couch that friends and family can lounge on and enjoy is key and trust me, is worth a slightly added investment. But with so many options available, how do you know if you’re making the right choice? How do you make sure you’re not the one sending guests running for the chiropractor? Start with this post for some quick insider tips on how to buy a couch you’ll love for a long time…and so will your guests.

Before we start, in preparation for this post I was looking around at big-box department stores and reviews for truly awful sectional couches and their specifications. Here is a very negative review for a particular sofa on the market (sold for $300):

Subject: Worst Furniture I’ve Ever Bought “My husband was in the hospital and I wanted to get new living room furniture so he would be more comfortable. This is the opposite of being comfortable. Absolutely no padding in the arms of the couch or the love seat. Like leaning against a wall. The fabric ripped along an entire seem in a month. The cushions are filled with foam so you can never sink into it and get comfortable. You’re always propped up like you’re sitting on stale marshmallows. The only thing worse than this furniture would be having no furniture at all.”

The unfortunate truth, besides the fact that unfortunately there is just no such thing as a comfortable, well-made couch for $300, is that this woman’s understanding of what she was paying for didn’t match with what the manufacturer was offering. Here is a look at the specifications listed for this sofa and specific red flags: Fully “padded” does not necessarily mean comfortable, the store claims the sectional is made from hardwood but then we see lower under “warranties” it’s actually made with plywood (big no no), and the back cushion is made with recycled (most likely shredded) fibers not foam. While this unfortunate customer was not educated on what to look for when buying her sofa (which a lot of manufacturers and sales people bank on) you happily will not make the same mistake after you read the following.

Let’s now review each aspect of a sectional’s components in detail…

First, there’s really no better way to see if a sectional or sofa is comfortable than by sitting on it. If you perch on that piece and don’t want to spend hours on it watching your favorite shows, snuggled up on it with a book, or feel like you’ll dream of coming home to it every single night, don’t buy it. It is not going to get more comfortable over time and you’re not going to be able to live with it. This is where you’re going to be spending a significant amount of your time and you need to love it! If you can’t afford a brand new sectional or couch you love, try and find an old one at a consignment store or take out a loan. There are certain things worth going into debt for and a comfortable sectional is definitely one of them. If you sit on it and you love it, then continue to ask a sales associate or research the following…

THE FRAME

Good: Kiln-Dried Alder or Poplar Frame Bad: Plywood or MDF Frames

The best sectional frames are made from kiln-dried hardwood. Alder and poplar have few knots and tight grains, making them ideal materials, so look for pieces that list them as the components. Kiln-drying creates added strength as it removes the moisture from the wood making it less likely to shrink or distort in shape, which is why the best manufacturers use this type of material.

  A corner block ensures this frame is structured correctly (Via Sherrill-Furniture) Good: Corner Blocks, Dowelled and Mortise and Tenon Also research or ask an associate how the frame for your sectional is actually built. Methods such as mortise and tenon, double dowel and corner-block reinforced are safe methods.  Avoid sectionals with pieces held together only with screws or metal connectors as they will likely come apart in time.

THE SUSPENSION

Bad: Jute Webbing Okay: Coil Springs Better: Sinuous Springs Best: Polypropylene Webbing Overrated: Eight-Way Hand Tied

The suspension is the part of the sofa under the cushions that gives it its lift and keeps it from sagging over time. Jute webbing is not able to support a lot of weight, so manufacturers who want to cut costs use it instead of stronger slightly more costly options. Avoid these.

Sinuous springs are “s” shaped and are attached from the front of the seat to the back where they are clipped into the frame. These springs are then connected using cord from side to side and are easily replaced if one fails. Coiled spring seats require replacing the entire seat when it needs to be repaired so they aren’t the best option.

  Eight way hand tied coils and sinuous spring suspension Eight-Way-Hand-Tied and Sinuous spring suspension (Via Leather Groups)

Polypropylene webbing is actually the same material used for seat belts so it has significant longevity and weight capacity and is a great option. It’s installed with bands that cross the seat and back and then are connected to the frame to make a platform for the cushions. Just make sure there are clips not staples as the attachments to ensure it’s put together properly.

For a long time, eight-way hand-tied was the gold standard in upholstery. This approach uses numerous coil springs supported by metal or fabric webbing and are tied together with twine by hand. If you are an absolute sectional purist, you can look for a sofa that has been eight-way hand-tied, but chances are you’ll have a hefty bill for repairs and it really isn’t necessary to have a comfortable sectional that will last.

THE CUSHIONS

Good: Down, Dacron Wrap, High Density Foam, High Resiliency Foam Bad: Shredded Foam or Coil Cushions

Down, while a definite investment, is what gives you that sink-in feel when you sit on a sectional. If you decide to go down that road, look to make sure there is down-proof ticking under the upholstery fabric so feathers don’t poke through. Also ask what the ratio is for down to feathers to ensure you’re getting the best value and be prepared to plump your cushions periodically to keep their shape.

You could also save a little money by buying a sectional with a down envelope (or covering) to go around regular foam cushions – just make sure it’s channelled or sewn with panels so the down is evenly distributed through out.

  A Dacron wrap (Via TheOakWoodCenter.Org)

Another really great option that will still be extremely comfortable and more cost effective is a Dacron wrap, which is basically a thin blanket that wraps around a foam cushion, no down. If you decide to stick with this option, make sure the foam is high density –  1.8 pounds or higher. This rating is actually based off of the percentage of air to polyurethane – the more the air the more it will escape over time and leave saggy, less comfortable cushions. High resiliency foam means it has elasticity or springiness – also a good option when looking at cushions.

Stay away from manufactures who use remnants of foam for cushions or coils as these won’t be comfortable at all.

FABRICS

PERFORMANCE

If you’ve always dreamed of a white, plush sectional couch but fear sticky fingers or playful pets, many furniture lines offer fabrics that are made up of polyester or acrylic. Some particular brands of these fabrics include Crypton, Sunbrella and Perennials. Ask your representative or sales associate about how to maintain. While they might be a little more expensive, it might be worth the extra investment to have extra peace of mind.

GO CUSTOM

custom sofa at local upholsterer Testing out the structure and comfort of a sectional for a client at a local upholsterer If you’re open to investing a little bit more in your new sectional couch, why not go custom? Working with an interior designer and a local upholsterer will allow you to select the perfect fabric to match pillows and other furniture pieces and determine exact dimensions. It’s not as expensive as you might think and is guaranteed to create the best result – and take away the guess work on how to buy a truly comfortable couch. Have additional questions? Feel free to contact us!