I still remember my shock and dismay when I realized that sofas had to be bought. Somehow I thought sofas just happened. They always simply showed up in homes, hotels, and offices without explanation or fanfare, like feral kittens or bills.
It seemed as if someone on high said: Let there be sofas!
But somewhere on the way to becoming an adult, right around the time you buy insurance for the first time, you find yourself in the market for a sofa. It's a terrifying place, the sofa market.
Sofa buying, you think, will be simple because it's so commonplace, like marriage. So you and your naive optimism go to the sofa store and suddenly think: Did everyone go to sofa school but me?
I remember thinking the transaction would go something like this: “Would you like a sofa today?”
And it would be over.
Or maybe, if I thought about it, I might say, “Yes. Tan, please.'
But then the choices started flying like nail heads: How long, how high? Then came all those body-part questions: What kind of arms, legs, back? Do you want sections, nail heads, tufts, piping, and pillows? What kind of fill? And, of course, will that be cash, check, charge, or will you be taking out a mortgage?
“Our industry has done a really poor job of educating customers about how to pick a sofa and explaining why sofas cost what they cost,” said Regenia Payne, creative director for Taylor King Furniture, a high-end upholstered furniture maker in Taylorsville, N.C.
“Thank you!” I say, “I'm glad someone is willing to take responsibility.”
“Customers often start by picking out the color, but color is one of the last decisions you should make in the process,” says Payne.
“There's a process?”
She takes me for a mock test drive: “When you walk into a furniture store, and see tons of upholstered sofas, what do you do?”
“Sit down and practice my Lamaze breathing.”
Like anything, buying a sofa gets easier when you know what you're getting into and break the process it into steps, which Payne does here:
1. Know your budget. The sticker shock is real, she says. “It's like buying tires. They all look the same and you wonder why the cost difference is so much.” I totally relate to this comparison.
2. Pin down your style. A lot will hinge on whether your interior is casual, rustic, traditional, transitional or modern. Decide on the feel you're trying to create.
3. What's it for? Will you use the sofa for lounging and watching television, or will it go in a formal space and be used only occasionally? In other words, will the kids and dogs use it to jump on, or will adults sit on it and discuss North Korea?
4. Choose your arms. More than almost any other feature, a sofa's arms declare its style. Choose one that fits your décor (See #2). Stuffed rounded (called sock arms) work in laid-back casual interiors, such as cottages or country homes. Structured, rectangular arms work well in transitional or modern spaces. Curved arms lean traditional. Clean-lined wooden arms look midcentury.