There are several deep questions to ponder in life. Do aliens exist? Why does toast taste better when it’s cut into triangles? And one of the most mentally taxing of all: which is the best sofa to buy? Of course, there are far worse things than choosing the wrong sofa, but it’s certainly a mood-dampener when you sit on deckchairs for months, only to discover your new purchase won’t fit through the front door or the cushions deflate as quickly as a disappointing soufflé.
Just a note on lead times as they’re especially long at the moment – around 14-24 weeks on average. In our opinion, the right sofa is worth waiting for, but if you truly can’t, some brands hold stock of customer returns or ex-display pieces that are available immediately (and often at a discount), plus several high-street stores have a number of ready-to-go sofas in their best-selling designs.
How do I choose a sofa that will last?
The lifespan of your sofa will have some correlation with cost. That’s not to say you need to remortgage your flat first, but a sofa for life will be made in a traditional way – hand-built and stuffed by makers who have honed their craft over several years. The most important thing is that the frame will be made from durable hardwood (not fibreboard) and the filling made from natural materials such as down and natural latex (not polyester wadding). A good-quality sofa should retain its shape for many years, so you’ll spend less in the long run.
Having said that, it’s not always realistic to put a whopping chunk of cash aside for an heirloom piece, and you don’t have to – you can buy a comfortable handmade sofa for a couple of thousand pounds. Remember that several of the big high-street sofa retailers will also allow you to pay in instalments, which makes it more palatable to invest in quality. Otherwise, consider secondhand and set up alerts on sites such as eBay or 1stDibs for the makers and style names that you love.
Which material is best?
When deciding on the best fabric, ask yourself how you live and how it will fit with your decorative style. Velvet sofas look incredibly sumptuous but they can be nightmarish if you’ve got toddlers running around smothered in yoghurt. If your sofa will get a lot of use, look for the fabric’s Martindale rating; the rub-count of upholstery fabric should be at least 30,000 but higher is better – it means the fabric will last longer before it begins to wear out. Also, consider a patterned fabric, which will do a stellar job of hiding spillages and stains.
Colours can read differently depending on the light in a showroom or the calibration of your laptop screen, so if you’re unsure, always request a fabric sample. Lastly, consider sun-fading and whether that could determine the fabric you choose. When a sofa is close to a bright window, colours can become noticeably lighter where the sun has bleached them over time. To avoid this, choose a light-coloured fabric or look for fabrics that have been treated with fade-resistant dyes.
So, which type of sofa is best?
The best style and whether you find it comfortable is entirely subjective, but a new sofa is one of the single biggest furniture purchases you’ll make, and getting it right can be laborious, so we’ve narrowed the mountain of choice down to a much friendlier molehill. From modular to modern, velvet to vintage, our round-up of sofas has been curated to give you options for any style of interior and any budget…
Best sofas for small spaces
The best sofas for small rooms, tight staircases and narrow doorways will either be modular or flat-packed to avoid any “pivot!” scenes. If the issue isn’t the access but the room itself, look out for space-saving details such as armless sofas for a visually light appearance, or else very straight, slim arms and a straight back. You don’t want to waste precious floor space and lose seat width on a sofa with chunky arms or a sloping back. Check the depth as well as the width – small Victorian terraces and sweet little cottages just weren’t built to house 1-metre-deep sofa seats.
Best velvet sofas
When done well, a plush velvet sofa looks the bee’s knees, and the fabric lends itself well to most shapes, but it’s especially good when used to accentuate curves. However, the pile on cotton velvet can crush easily, which means that over time it will accrue pressure marks that will give it character. It’s also harder to clean any stains since water can leave marks, so if you often eat dinner on the sofa or you have children, a water-resistant and synthetic clever velvet is the most practical option (or even try a tactile velvet alternative, such as jumbo cord).
Best modular sofas
Thanks to their sectional nature, modular sofas come in some of the best and most interesting shapes. A sectional sofa can also tend to look really relaxed and comfortable because of its non-traditional shape. The flexibility with modular sofas means you can buy a couple of pieces for a very small space or create an enormous caterpillar of a sofa if you have the room. A handy tip if you like the look of armless sofas but can’t find one that you like is to simply buy two or three of the middle seats of a sectional sofa instead to create the same look.
Best modern mid-century sofas
Mid-century sofas – whether the real deal or a modern riff – are great for smaller spaces as they tend to be more compact in scale. If you live in a modern home with clean lines or perhaps a mid-century flat, this shape of sofa will lend itself well to the less ornate architectural details. Mid-century style sofas also feature smart accents such as button-back seats and solid wooden frames that aren’t hidden by upholstery. A good contemporary take on mid-century styling with soft present-day comfort is the Mira sofa from Caravane or the HAY Arbour.
Best cult-classic sofas
Cult classic sofas include icons such as the Togo by Ligne Roset, the Fritz Hansen shearling 1669 sofa or the Instagram-essential Camaleonda sofa by Mario Bellini. They’re styles that never wane in popularity and still look just as cool now as the day they were released. Some cult sofas have been around for decades and others are modern icons (like the Maker & Son sofas that have captured our attention with their slow-mo leaping videos and promise of being “the world’s most comfortable sofas”), but these are the pieces that are worth investing in now as they’ll hold their value, and they make as much of a decorative statement in a room as a fabulous piece of art.
Best sofas under £1000
Being realistic, a sofa that costs less than a designer handbag isn’t going to be one you leave to your children, but that doesn’t mean it has to look cheap. There are several really stylish sofas on the market at a sub-£1,000 price-point that are comfortable and nicely shaped. Plus, there’s generally no lead time on them so you’ll have them within days. When a sofa isn’t solidly built as one piece, it also makes access through small doorframes easier. The IKEA Farlov, for example, looks really chic and far more high-end when upgraded with Bemz’s loose linen covers, and Swyft sofas are ready-to-ship and delivered in a box.
Best traditional sofas
Traditionally shaped sofas can vary in design, but they might feature common details such as castors on the legs, roll or scroll arms and a plump back without loose cushions. Look to makers such as Howard & Sons, Robert Kime or George Smith for styles to last a lifetime; otherwise, most high street shops will have their own version of a classic sofa. In velvet or linen, they can often look more expensive than they were.
Best luxury sofas to invest in
If you’ve saved up to buy a sofa-for-life, the quality and materials will be a whole other ballgame. We particularly love Howe’s Den sofa. Designer Christopher Howe says: “By choosing only the best natural materials, the best methods and the best craftsmen across Britain, our furniture might be more expensive than modern alternatives but it’s made to last a lifetime and beyond. The secret to the Den’s comfort lies within the meticulous construction – three multilayers of traditional webbing, hand-lashed springs, horsehair stuffing and pure down-filled pads beneath an elegant tailored cover. Our bespoke service gives people the opportunity to own something truly unique.”
Best contemporary sofas
A contemporary sofa in a non-traditional shape can really lift a room that feels stuck in the past or is too stiff and formal – look out for details like curvaceous backs or one long seat cushion. One of our favourite interior designers, Beata Heuman, says: “I almost always have sofas made bespoke to our own designs, that way we get exactly what we want. In fact, this year we’re launching a couple of sofas that will be available to buy in my Shoppa – they’re in classic shapes but with a bit of a twist. The only place I actually buy sofas from is Pinch – I’m in love with the curves of their Moreau design and I seem to have used it in most of my recently completed projects!”
Best skirted and loose cover sofas
For that nonchalant ’90s Nora Ephron vibe, a sofa with a loose cover is just what you need, and they’re especially sought-after at the moment. At the opposite end of the spectrum, there’s something about a frou-frou sofa with a pleated skirt that’s hard to resist (Soane Britain do especially lovely versions of these). It’s easy to see the appeal of a removable cover on a sofa – it looks relaxed, plus it can be cleaned more easily or have its look updated entirely with a simple change of cover. If comfort is key, we can vouch for the Otto from Sofa.com as being incredibly marshmallow-like due to its sprung base and deep seats.
Best patterned sofas
Patterned sofas require a leap of confidence as they seem like such a statement choice, but there are a few reasons why they’re a really practical sofa choice to make. As well as helping to hide marks and stains, they can actually make your sofa feel less overwhelming in a room. When you’re looking at a large item with a pattern versus a rectangular lump in one solid colour, it can be much easier on the eye. A stripe is always timeless but we also love to go bold with large-scale floral print. Some of the best patterned sofas will be custom-made with your own fabric choice or they’ll be vintage.
Best corner sofas
Corner sofas or chaise sofas are great for TV rooms where comfort is the priority. They’re also handy for families as they should seat at least four. Corner sofas are another style that makes access less of an issue (just check the height of the back against the width of your doorframe) as they’ll come in separate pieces. A corner sofa is a particularly useful solution when you’ve got an awkwardly shaped room or door placement that means you can’t have a second sofa or armchairs. With a corner sofa, we love to lean into plump, nap-station styling with a shape such as the Denver sofa from Swoon.
Best leather sofas
Leather sofas can conjure chilling thoughts of recliners with built-in cup holders, but a chic leather style such as the William sofa by Zanotta is a really smart and timeless option. Tan or chocolate brown is generally less harsh than black, as it’s easier to style other colours and furniture with; tan will also develop a gorgeous patina as it ages. Just be mindful that if your leather sofa has a high back, grease and hair product can cause a darker “head patch” as the leather absorbs the oil. Treat your sofa as you would your elbows and moisturise them to stop them from drying out – use specialist leather cream.
Best vintage sofas (at a glance)
The best vintage sofas are the ones that stand the test of time. That might be because the shape still looks incredibly relevant and fresh despite it being 50 years old, or because it was so well made in the first place that it’s still in great condition. You have two options: buy a vintage icon that’s ready to move straight into your living room or choose an affordable but love-worn vintage sofa, then set an upholsterer to work. Just note that recovering a sofa requires more metres of fabric than you would likely expect (usually around 14 metres), so factor that into the cost. You can filter your search by location to dodge the heftiest shipping and import tax charges – though you can find such special, inexpensive pieces in Denmark or Italy that it’s sometimes worth the additional spend.
Best sofas available for delivery now
When time is of the essence, it’s never good news to realise the sofa of your dreams will take six months to arrive. Thankfully, there are a few good ways to find stylish sofas that are available immediately. Firstly, stores such as IKEA, Graham & Green, Swyft, John Lewis, OKA and Neptune will generally always have a selection of sofas that are in-stock, plus Sofa.com sells customer returns for truly a fraction of the price in its Doncaster outlet. Loaf also has a “clear-out” page for customer returns. Higher-end sofas in a jiffy aren’t out of the question either, especially if you can be flexible with size or fabric. Maker & Son usually has a good handful of sofas ready for dispatch, and it’s worth checking Lorfords and Pinch’s ex-display pages on their websites, as it’s not uncommon for them to have a couple of different styles to choose from.