For our first guide to online-order couches, we spent over 40 hours researching couches from the top online furniture companies and interviewing experts on sofa construction and design. Then we brought seven sofas into our office—creating the ultimate showroom—and invited members of our Sweethome and Wirecutter teams to test them. After all of that, we recommend Joybird as the couch company that offers the best couches that work for most people. We believe Joybird couches offer the best mix of durability, comfort, and affordability for people moving into their first home or apartment.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $1,800.
For more sofa styles visit joybird.com
Joybird offers an appealing couch, washed with a midcentury sheen, at a moderate price. If the model that we tested is indicative of the company’s other models, its couches are comfortable and well-made. While Joybird isn’t the best choice for everyone—and the model we tested isn’t a style that will suit everyone—we believe that, with the range of sofas this company offers, it’s a good fit for many people. To counteract the natural skittishness that may arise when you’re ordering furniture online and sight unseen, Joybird offers a generous 365-day return policy. (Figuring out if a couch works for your lifestyle takes at least two weeks.)
BenchMade Modern delivered a sofa that was good-looking, comfortable, clean-lined, and meticulously constructed. If you need a sofa in a special size or in less time than the industry-standard wait time of eight to 12 weeks, BenchMade Modern typically offers the ability to make a sofa in seven days (its current turnaround time is 21 days and beyond for premium fabrics and leather sofas), without sacrificing quality, comfort, or design. There is a premium for speed, though, and BenchMade Modern’s sofas are also a little more expensive than those from Joybird.
Article’s sofa is a good upscale budget pick; it’s more comfortable, better constructed, and more uniquely styled than our other budget pick, IKEA’s Kivik sofa. The model we tested, the Ceni, was more stiff and less comfortable than our main pick, Joybird’s Korver sofa. Offering a nice selection of full-size styles, Article makes its sofas available in a few fabric choices that can be dispatched in a few days, selling for just under $1,000.
If you’re in a hurry to purchase a couch and money is the biggest factor in making your decision, we think your best bet is to head to IKEA (you can also order IKEA’s sofas on its website). Though we love IKEA’s simple Scandinavian styling, its couches are neither well-constructed nor particularly comfortable. However, their affordability, their availability, and the company’s yearlong return policy for unused merchandise makes IKEA’s offerings our budget pick.
I’ve been writing about home design since 2008, first for Apartment Therapy and now for a range of shelter-focused publications, including California Home + Design, where I am the editor-at-large for Los Angeles. I’ve reviewed dozens of products, I’ve interviewed a significant number of interior designers and artisans about the details of furniture quality, construction, and design, and I’ve read hundreds of articles on furniture and soft goods. I’m also a known couch commitment-phobe who has swapped out her couch seven times in 10 years.
We interviewed Betsy Burnham, a veteran of the interior-design industry who has overseen the construction of sofas throughout her career and recently launched her own direct-to-consumer couch company, Wardrobe by Betsy Burnham, which offers craftsman-constructed pieces with eight-way hand-tied spring coils and down-wrapped foam cushions. We also spoke with Natalie Berschneider Wiweke of Gina Berschneider, Inc. in Los Angeles’s La Cienega Design Quarter, a purveyor of custom-made sofas for notable interior designers. In addition, we talked with Greg Upson, regional sales manager for the Greater Los Angeles Area at the UK-based George Smith, one of the leading retailers of handmade, high-end sofas. And to choose our finalists, we also read dozens of blogs, reviews, and articles about sofas and sofa construction.
When it comes to furnishing a first home or apartment, after spending money on a mattress, buying a couch often accounts for the largest expense. Although there are no rules regarding how much to budget for a sofa, we suggest considering its cost-per-use factor. Consider its many jobs: In a first home that may not have a separate guest room, it doubles as a bed for overnight visitors. It offers seating for people of different shapes and sizes. It’s the site of Netflix marathons. Children and animals abuse it. And it’s a spot for afternoon naps. That’s a lot of wear and tear on one piece of furniture. To handle its many chores, it needs to be fairly durable and comfortable.
While a well-made couch may last 10 years, and a particularly sturdy one, reupholstered from time to time, may last a lifetime, the average lifespan of a couch—and the point at which it has lost 75 percent of its value—is five to six years. As a conservative estimate, consider this: If you keep your couch for five years and sit on it for two hours a day for 350 days out of the year, that is 3,500 hours of couch sitting over its lifetime.
For this first guide to couches, we looked for sofas that would be suitable for people moving into their first home or apartment. We sought couches that hit the sweet spot of durability, comfort, price, and availability of styles. More specifically, we wanted to find sofas that were readily available to all customers, including those living outside of big cities, and that could be ordered online. We looked for couches that offered some customization, such as fabric choice, and companies that extended a generous return policy (because if you hate your sofa, or it doesn’t fit into your space, you will want to return it). We looked for affordable couches and pieces that offered contemporary styling plus thoughtful construction details that suggested that your new sofa won’t fall apart two weeks after it arrives.
While we began by looking at couches from retailers such as Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s, as well as pieces from familiar resources such as CB2, Pottery Barn, and West Elm, we found ourselves focused on an increasingly popular subset of couches: those that are available online, that are designed and sold by the same company, and that at their base price cost less than $2,000. As reported in The New York Times (parent company of The Wirecutter and The Sweethome), this is a fast-growing category. And for good reason: The average couch-buying experience is frustrating. At the very least it’s time consuming—you have styles to consider, sizes to account for, and, ideally, a few solid hours spent sitting on showroom models before you decide to take one home. Even test-driving a sofa can be deceiving. Customers are often disappointed to discover that the same model they loved in the store is noticeably firmer when it’s delivered new to their home. Floor models are more indicative of how your couch will feel once you’ve broken it in. Then there’s the “what’s under the hood” element to consider. Myriad tiny details of construction ultimately determine a couch’s comfort and durability, and schooling oneself on them can be overwhelming to a first-time couch buyer who merely wants to find something to fill up that cavernous space in their living room as quickly as possible.
To determine which couches to test, we spoke to a number of experts and read a lot about how couches are made. Our research included looking up couches that cost less than $2,000, were available for purchase online, and came with return policies of at least two weeks. Our initial list of sofas to consider came from our editors’ experiences, as well as the recommendation of those in the interior-design industry, including interior designers and interior-design blogs. Some options for purchasing couches—Amazon, Wayfair—did not fit our criteria, as those companies are not manufacturers/distributors. For this first test, we did not include sofas from nationwide retail outlets such as CB2, Restoration Hardware, Room & Board, or West Elm, or from department stores such as Bloomingdale’s or Macy’s (although we do plan to test this group against those big-box brands in the future).
After winnowing down our list to 10 sofas, we culled further. We dismissed the models from one company—Hem—outright because its return policy involved considerable expense (the customer is responsible for return shipping to Europe). Two companies that we were very interested in testing—Burrow and Thrive—did not have sofas available for us. We ended up testing seven sofas from seven companies.
We chose to test one of the best-selling models from each company. Our assumption was that these models represented the styles that our readers would be most likely to order; we also felt that they would represent the designs that the companies had the most experience in manufacturing. Our test couches may be smaller or larger than the size you are considering. As a rule of thumb, if you are hoping to regularly use your couch as a guest bed, its interior measurement (from inner arm to inner arm, not including any arm cushions) should be between 75 and 84 inches long (that is, between the length of a twin-size mattress and the length of a California king mattress).
We researched how each couch was constructed, what woods the company used to create the frame, and where those woods were sourced. We queried how the joints were held together, what the cushions were stuffed with, and where the couches were manufactured. We looked at the number of fabric swatches available and, if possible, ordered swatches. We reviewed Martindale rub counts. (A measure of a fabric’s durability, rub count is tested by a machine that rubs back and forth over the fabric until the material wears down. For residential upholstery, 15,000 is considered a starting point.) We looked into VOCs (volatile organic compounds released into the air that affect air pollution, air quality at the factory, and ultimately air quality in your home). We asked about delivery and warranties, the return policy, and ease of return.
In the couch business, there is one core truth: You will not find a couch that works for everybody (just take a look at the arguing couples in any furniture showroom if you don’t believe us). You should take factors such as style preferences and the presence of young children or pets into consideration when choosing the couch that will best suit your home. How you plan to use a couch will affect which features to look for, and knowing these things will improve your chances of finding the right couch for your life and your space. Nuances—such as a tight back (in which the back cushion is integrated with the sofa back, either solid or with nonremovable pillows) or a pillow back (with removable pillows), high arms or low arms, a bench cushion or multiple seats, and the depth of the seat and its height—all affect how comfortable a couch will be for a particular activity. The best any couch can do, according to the interior designers we spoke with, is to be great for a small group of people, feel pretty good for some, and be okay for a majority of people.
The subjective feelings of “soft” or “hard” can also complicate the decision-making process. In our case, some testers described as “firm” the same cushion that other testers described as “perfect.” And while interior designers may argue that foam-centric sofas will never match the “sink-in” comfort factor of their down-wrapped, spring-interiored counterparts, as long as you have not had any experience with high-end sofas or midpriced sofas that incorporate down-wrapped cushions, you will find foam-centric sofas to be perfectly adequate.
After narrowing down our list, we arranged for seven couches to be delivered to our Los Angeles office. With each delivery, we took note of the experience, from the scheduling to the delivery time to whether the packaging was taken away and the finishing details attended to. Then we sat in, lay down on, and reclined on each of those couches over several days, taking notes. We flipped cushions, and we picked up the couches and moved them around to test their weight and the flexibility of their frames. We examined the stitching, we unzipped the cushions, we inspected their underbellies.
Once we had done our own investigation and research, we invited a number of friends and colleagues, including an interior designer who also oversees the work of a national interior-design firm, a lifestyle writer with a long résumé of work in the home-decor market, and a professional organizer with a background in home design, to join us. Our guests varied in height, weight, and age, and they included a few children whom we encouraged to jump on our tester models.
We asked our testers what they thought about each sofa. How a sofa feels when you’re sitting on it is obviously a key feature, but we also considered other points of comparison. Those factors, in no particular order:
We also asked our testers to rate what they felt was their favorite sofa for each of seven activities: sitting in the sofa and having a conversation while at a party, leaning back and relaxing, sitting forward as if engrossed in an event on TV, sitting through a two-hour movie, binge-watching an entire season of a favorite television show, lying down and reading or working on a computer, and lying completely flat and napping or sleeping.
A few hours of sitting on each sofa does not constitute a full “test.” As with mattresses, it takes at least two weeks of living with a sofa to discover whether it works for your lifestyle and your body (which is why we heavily factored return policies into our overall criteria). But our experiments gave us far more hands-on, butt-down time than most couch shoppers have time for. And given that the couches we were testing are available for purchase almost exclusively online, many people who might consider the couches in our lineup may never get a chance to sit on these sofas before buying them.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $1,800.
For more sofa styles visit joybird.com
Joybird is our top pick for an online-order sofa because of its quality construction and wide range of options. We tested the Korver Sofa, and it garnered the best marks for comfort and style among our testers. A sturdy frame that did not squeak and small details, such as hand-sewn buttons and clips that held the bottom bench cushion in place, seemed indicative of good construction. Joybird has a wide range of fabrics and leathers in a rainbow of colors and textures, as well as three leg-stain options. It offers a generous 365-day return policy, too. For the price, the Korver is a well-made, stylish sofa that will appeal to many people buying a couch online.
Across the seven factors that we asked our testers to consider (including sitting comfortably as if having a conversation and curling up to binge-watch their favorite show), the Korver from Joybird was the only sofa to appear on almost every one of our testers’ lists in at least one category. It received the most positive comments, with testers characterizing it as having “good proportions,” as well as being “consistently comfortable,” “solid,” and “firm but comfy.”
The Korver, one of Joybird’s most popular models (the others are the Hughes, the Eliot, and the Hopson) held three people comfortably. The bench cushion was unique among the sofas in our test group, and many of our testers remarked that they liked the “freedom” of being able to choose where they sat on a sofa instead of “being told where to sit” by the cushions. (The number of cushions on the bottom of a sofa tends to determine how many people it will hold. Although a sofa may measure long enough to hold additional people, invariably no one will volunteer to sit on the crack.) Our testers also noted that the Korver felt easy to get into and out of.
The Joybird sofa’s high marks among our testers are consistent with praise from other sources. “I couldn’t be happier with my Joybird Furniture that I have purchased this year,” raves one Yelp reviewer. Other reviewers note that their couch is “the greatest thing ever,” that it’s “beautiful, stylish and so-solid,” and that “every time I look at these couches, I love them more and more.” A reviewer on Houzz, an online interior-design marketplace (sign-in required), agrees: “We are so happy with our couch.” One commentator in a thread on Reddit writes, “I was very pleased with Joybird.” We found similar comments on ResellerRatings and on interior-design blog A Beautiful Mess.
Apart from the sofa’s good looks, our testers were impressed by its finishing touches, such as the clips that held the seat’s bench cushion in place, the hand-sewn buttons, and the bench cushion’s peaked curve (which echoed that of the sofa’s back). While the relationship between such details and a sofa’s overall construction is not fixed, it does suggest an attention to minutiae that might translate to overall frame integrity and future durability.
The company constructs its sofas at its factory in Tijuana, Mexico, creating its frames from kiln-dried wood joined together with glue, staples, and, for good measure, screws. The cushions are made from a 2-pound-density eco-friendly polyurethane foam wrapped in fiber. The back cushion gets its spring from poly-webbing; the bottom cushion, from zigzag springs. The screw-on legs are beech, while the stains and glues are water-based and low VOC.
Some of our testers remarked that the sofa “could be softer.” While “soft” and “hard” are matters of personal preference and subjective, this style of sofa, with its tight back and slender seat cushion, does not offer the coziness of styles that have loose cushions and backs. This was the only sofa we tested with a single bench cushion (versus several separate cushions), which offers a cleaner, streamlined look with less cushion movement. Note too that the sofa’s seat is rather deep, making it better for tall people (or a possible flaw if you are not tall; see the Flaws but not dealbreakers section below).
Joybird offers the Korver in six standard fabrics and three leg stains. The model we tested was covered in Key Largo Pumice, which has a rub count of 15,000 (the company’s fabrics range from 15,000 to 100,000 in rub count), which some of our testers said “felt stiff.” The other fabrics in the swatch kit we received felt equally sturdy—although that impression may be due to the relatively small size of the swatches—and all of them, apart from the 11 leathers, are polyester synthetics. (Although Joybird advertises that it has more than 100 fabrics, our swatch kit contained only 57 fabrics and 11 leathers for a total of 68 options. We have been told that the company has discontinued some fabrics and is in the process of replacing them with other choices, hoping to reach 100 fabrics once more in the next few months.) One reviewer on the Joybird website complains, “I noticed that the seat cushion material on mine is stretched a bit and is no longer flat and smooth.” The Korver’s cushions can be flipped, and doing so regularly may help keep the fabric from stretching excessively in one spot.
The company offers free shipping and free delivery. If you opt for curbside delivery, Joybird suggests that may shave three to six days off your order. White-glove delivery—a phrase borrowed from the antique-furniture world that’s shorthand for in-room setup—is free. This service comes with caveats, however: If you live higher than the second floor, or if you have the sofa delivered on the weekend or after hours, you may have to pay surcharges.
One of the company’s big selling points is its 365-day return policy. While this policy is very generous, we suggest reading the fine print. A return is completely free only if you decide to return the sofa within 14 days (and let the company know of your decision). After that, Joybird’s shipping department calculates the costs, which may range from $200 to $500 depending on your location.
As with many other online furniture and mattress offerings, the biggest potential flaw of Joybird’s sofas is the youth of the company behind them. Founded in 2014, Joybird has not sold a sofa that has seen more than a couple of years of real-world wear and tear, and that’s certainly not enough time for anyone to test the lifetime warranty of the products. And we have no long-term data on how well Joybird’s sofas will hold up.
A second and more immediate concern is the fact that the company relies on third-party companies for its deliveries. This is something that comes up time and time again in online reviews. As one Yelper notes, “The company would get better word of mouth if they provided more honest and transparent delivery information at the time of purchase.” Despite the various updates the company offers, delivery stands out as the biggest cause of customer dissatisfaction. As of this writing, the wait time for a sofa is eight to 12 weeks, with some reviewers on Yelp and Houzz mentioning significantly longer wait times. Although Joybird offers a QuickShip option to expedite production and suggests that sofas covered in their standard fabric will ship in four weeks (a customer service rep also pointed this out to us), given the delivery challenges, we suggest that you look elsewhere if you need a sofa in a hurry.
Something else we should mention: While it isn’t exactly a flaw, our testers noted that this sofa’s seat is very deep. One said the sofa felt “perfect” but pointed out that his height is 6′1″. Truthfully, you’ll find no standardization when it comes to sofa depth—this measurement can range from 33 inches to more than 40 inches. In fact, at 36 inches, the Korver is not the deepest sofa that Joybird sells. If you’re looking for a shallower sofa, if you don’t tuck your legs under you when you sit on a sofa, or if you don’t ever intend to use the sofa as a guest bed, you might want to consider another model.
For more sofa styles visit benchmademodern.com
If you have a little more money to spend, or if you’re looking for a specifically sized couch, we also like BenchMade Modern, which offers the option to customize the size of your sofa, as well as a quick turnaround, in a very comfortable package. In fact, BenchMade typically manufactures sofas with standard fabrics in a week (its current turnaround time is 21 days and beyond for premium fabrics and leather sofas). The model we tested—the condo-size Skinny Fat Sofa upholstered in Graham Charcoal—drew high marks from our testers for its modern styling and plump cushions. The company offers a good range of standard fabrics in a variety of colors and textures and at least 13 sofa configurations for each of its eight sofa styles, which tilt more streamlined and contemporary than Joybird’s offerings. Although BenchMade’s 100-day return policy (the approximate length of time that you’ll wait for delivery on most sofas) is one-third the length of Joybird’s, it seems adequate for deciding whether the sofa you dreamed of is the sofa you love.
BenchMade Modern builds its sofas from alder hardwood sourced in Washington state and constructed in its Los Angeles factory. Durable, stain-resistant fabrics fit over fiber-wrapped polyurethane foam manufactured in Los Angeles without flame retardants, and the company uses water-based, low-VOC glues and stains whenever possible. Customers who live in San Francisco can check out the company’s merchandise in person at its display-only store in the Mission District staffed by a robot named Polly.
The company suggests that deliveries to the West Coast will take approximately five to seven days, while deliveries to the East Coast will take seven to 12 days. Yelpers are often impressed, declaring “It was ridiculously fast,” “Well made sofas in impressively short time,” and the like. Despite the rapid turnaround, for our sofa the company did not skimp on quality. The zipper’s flaps closed evenly over the chain, and the stitching was tight and even. And because it was covered with the same fabric on both sides, this model was one of the only couches we tested where we could flip the cushions over. The need for immediate gratification is probably one of the biggest reasons for IKEA’s success, and BenchMade Modern fulfills that same wish at a much higher level of quality.
We were also impressed by BenchMade Modern’s ability to customize the sofa to the exact size we needed, in addition to the many variations that the company offers on the eight styles of sofas it sells (the model we tested has 13 configurations along with a chair and an ottoman). This flexibility is a boon if you are larger or smaller than the average person or have a home that demands furniture in an unconventional size. The ability to order a sofa to the exact size you need and to have it created in less than a month represents a customization package and delivery model that is unprecedented in the ready-made upholstered furniture industry. In addition, BenchMade Modern’s sofa is one of the few we tested that are both designed and manufactured in the US.
All of this customization does not come cheap: BenchMade Modern’s sofas are priced slightly higher than Joybird’s. White-glove delivery service adds another $200, and each extra inch you add to your sofa or chair will also add to your costs (on the model we tested, each additional inch adds a little over $20). But as anyone who has ever gone sofa shopping hoping to find one that will fit their unconventionally sized room knows, the time saved in searching for a piece that meets your needs, plus the ability to have it created exactly to your liking and delivered in a time-sensitive fashion, can be appealing.
While BenchMade Modern also uses a third-party delivery service, it has developed a helpful feature: Each sofa is tagged with a tracking device so that you can follow its delivery route. Although this feature does not eliminate problems, it does give you a sense of control.
The company also addresses a common challenge—people who do not measure correctly and end up ordering a piece that doesn’t fit—with a unique solution. It can send a blueprint of your item to your home so that you can ensure that the piece you ordered fits into your space and has adequate clearance to get through doorways and around corners. It’s a small detail, and one that we found very helpful.
Of course, there’s always a chance that, even if the sofa fits your space and is designed to your exact specifications, you will not like it once it’s in your home. BenchMade Modern has that covered with its 100-day return policy: You can get a full refund and free return delivery if you make a request within 14 days; subtract a 10 percent return-shipping fee if you submit a request after that. And the company offers a lifetime warranty on its sofa frames.
For more sofa styles visit article.com
Sofas from Article sport a design aesthetic similar to the sofas of our main pick, Joybird, but Article’s low-to-the-ground construction and firm cushions make the resulting pieces look and feel a bit too stiff for lounging on. The price tag on a small selection of Article’s sofas makes them our alternate and slightly more upscale budget pick. True, the pricing, around $1,000, is significantly higher than that of an IKEA sofa. But Article’s materials, its flat $49 curbside-delivery fee, and its sofas’ availability (some models, such as the one we tested, are in stock and can be dispatched within two to five days) may make it a contender if you live far from an IKEA store or distribution center. The biggest drawback is the return policy, a slim 30 days.
Most of the sofas made by Article (the Vancouver, British Columbia, company formerly known as Bryght) cost around the same as the Joybird sofa, our main pick, and are designed with a similar midcentury style. While Article does not offer the wide range of models that Joybird does, including sleepers, chaises, and daybeds, it is unique in that it offers a number of full-size sofas that hover around $1,000 (the Joybird sofas that retail for this amount are all apartment sized, around 5 feet versus 6½ feet). The Ceni Sofa, the model we tested, is $1,000. Its design, consisting of a wood frame and three cushions, is similar to Joybird’s Woodson, which retails for $1,480. While $1,000 is still significantly higher than the $550 price tag of IKEA’s Kivik, our other budget pick, when it comes to the quality of the materials in IKEA’s sofa versus what goes into an Article sofa, there’s no comparison. Purportedly made by the same factory that manufactures top-of-the-line sofas by B&B Italia and Knoll (as reported by The New York Times, parent company of The Wirecutter and The Sweethome), Article’s Ceni sports a polished wood base, sinuous springs, and high-density polyurethane-foam cushions wrapped in polyester. To our testers, it had a decent, albeit firm, “ride,” as well as an elegant vintage vibe that belied its cost.
Our testers were nearly unanimous in their appreciation of the sofa’s “great style.” One tester wrote, “It’s midcentury without being too quirky.” Nubby tweed fabric covered cushions that testers alternately described as “firm and springy,” “solid,” and offering “good back support.” The biggest complaint was that the sofa’s low profile might not be a good fit for tall people or for people with joint issues who may have trouble getting in and out of a lower sofa. It’s also definitely a sofa for someone who prefers a firmer couch.
Article’s flat $49 delivery fee may be particularly enticing if you live too far from an IKEA store or don’t want to pay that company’s fee for delivery to your home (which is dependent on how far you are from one of IKEA’s distribution centers and can be as much as $350). In addition, some Article sofas, such as the model we tested, made in any of a choice of five fabrics, can be dispatched within two to five days. Article offers a stylish sofa that may last longer than an IKEA sofa. It may even accompany you to a second home.
The company’s return policy is detailed yet straightforward: If, within 30 days, you decide you don’t like your new sofa, Article will come pick it up, deducting the delivery and pickup fee, usually the same $50, from your refund. Make sure to keep the packaging; they won’t accept the return without it.
For more sofa styles visit ikea.com
With IKEA’s simple styling, low pricing, and same-day pickup, it’s easy to understand why this company is our budget pick for sofas. But the Swedish giant has other factors in its favor, as well. Its pieces’ adaptability is a big positive: On the Kivik model, the kind we tested, removing the arms allows you to combine a couch with a chaise to form a sectional. And the ubiquity of IKEA furniture has spawned an entire industry built around customizing the pieces with third-party covers and legs. To sweeten the deal even further, IKEA offers a yearlong return policy on unused merchandise and a 10-year warranty that covers defects in materials and workmanship in the frame, seat, and back cushions.
At around $550, IKEA’s sofas are almost impossible to beat on price. Unfortunately, in this case you get what you pay for. With the objective of keeping the prices low and the sofa construction streamlined so that the average customer can put one together with few tools, these sofas are, in a word, uncomfortable, especially when compared with the other sofas we tested.
Our testers’ comments on the IKEA Kivik couch: “feels mushy,” “not enough spring,” “sinks in places.” In contrast, a commenter on Apartment Therapy says it’s “fairly comfortable, with a couple of caveats.”
While the construction of the furniture leaves much to be desired, we do like IKEA’s simple styling and its versatility. As we mentioned earlier, on the Kivik sofa, the model we tested, you can remove the arm and then combine the sofa with other Kivik pieces, adding a chaise, for instance, to create a sectional. We also like the low armrests, which can offer a place to perch and are wide enough to double as end tables, a boon for the truly cash-strapped.
IKEA sells covers for its sofas separately. This add-on may help extend the sofa’s life as far as its 10-year warranty (which a few friends have put to the test). An entire industry has sprung up around personalizing IKEA’s offerings, as well: Sites such as Apartment Therapy and IKEA Hackers offer suggestions on making the sofa your own with the help of companies such as Comfort Works (which sells covers, legs, and armrest trays), Bemz (covers), Prettypegs (legs), and Uncle Bob’s Workshop (legs). But buyer beware: Modifying your sofa can quickly add up, with covers running from $300 to $640 or even more, depending on fabric and styling.
Delivery fees are a hidden cost with IKEA furniture. If you don’t live within a short driving distance of a store, or have a car large enough to fit the couch’s component pieces, you can expect these fees to add a few hundred dollars to the price tag. Tack on additional expenses if you need to hire someone to put the sofa together for you. Although, as The Atlantic points out, “Ikea’s deceptively simple assembly manuals give users the (often incorrect) impression that the project can be accomplished without much time or effort,” the experience can vary greatly according to individual skill levels. (As The Atlantic also mentions, comedian Amy Poehler once remarked that “Ikea” is Swedish for “argument.”)
A generous yearlong return policy on unused merchandise is another reason we chose IKEA as our bedrock budget pick. If you get the sofa home and put it together and then decide you don’t like it or it doesn’t fit, you can bring it back to IKEA for a full refund (keep your receipt and, ideally, the instructions and any hardware). The store will take it back even if it’s been fully assembled and sat on. The company’s sofas also carry a 10-year warranty (PDF) that covers defects in materials and workmanship in the frame, seat, and back cushions—meaning, if the daily wear and tear on your sofa causes the frame to break, IKEA will repair or replace it.
Production and delivery times were current as of February 2017, but may change.
Full refund and free pickup within 14 days of delivery. After that, the shipping department may charge $200 to $500, depending on your location. (More details)
Interior Define’s Sloan sofa was a strong contender for our top pick. This company offers some customization beyond fabric: You can modify the length of the sofas (apart from the Rose and the Russell), and alternate legs are available on certain models. Some of the sofas offer back and/or seat cushions wrapped in down or a blend of cotton fiber and down. It offers two sofas that retail for $1,000. In the race between Joybird and the Chicago-based Interior Define, this company’s sofa was the runner-up in many of our testers’ eyes. They liked that the cushions were “soft but not firm,” they felt it was “well-proportioned,” and they appreciated the “texture of the fabric.” It felt “solid,” and the “arms [were] comfortable.” In fact, there were only a few points in which Joybird pulled ahead. While both companies offer 365-day returns (although, in both cases, if you don’t request the return within 14 days, you must shoulder the cost of return shipping), Interior Define charges a 10 percent restocking fee while Joybird does not. Joybird also offers a lifetime warranty, while Interior Define’s warranty extends for only 10 years. And Joybird offers a significantly larger selection of styles to choose from.
Natalie Berschneider Wiweke of Gina Berschneider, Inc.—a maker of high-end sofas that has created pieces for Prince and for Priscilla Presley, among others—admired the Sloan’s lines and liked the fact that the cushions were wrapped with down on one side (it was the only sofa model we tested that used down). But a reviewer on Houzz (sign-in required) was disappointed with that model after six months of normal usage: “[T]he cushions always look wrinkly and lumpy. It definitely sags in the common places one would sit.” This is something our testers also worried about, with one saying that “the cushions mostly keep their shape” and another writing that they “felt spongy.”
While Capsule Home’s Cameron Sofa, a “shabby chic,” pillow-dense sofa, found its way onto the lists of many of our testers, the Los Angeles–based design company’s narrow weeklong return policy felt too restrictive for a piece of furniture that’s being ordered sight unseen. More than one tester also noted that the Cameron felt extraordinarily light (one tester was able to slide it along the floor while sitting on it, and another wrote, “Whenever I sit the whole couch moves”), which did not bode well for long-term wear. And a reviewer on Houzz notes: “The cushions for the sofa that I purchased are already misshapen causing a dramatic sag in the middle of the sofa. I have not even had this piece for a month and it already feels like an older piece of furniture.” This reviewer echoes one of our testers, who wrote, “The cushions stay indented long after someone gets up.”
Hoping to find a rival for the IKEA sofa and its rock-bottom price, we tested the Greycork Sofa (formerly known as Felix). While its style may be appealing to some people (one of our testers compared it to a midcentury-style exposed-wood-frame sofa or to the clean lines of Modernica’s Case Study sofa), and it arrived within a few days after we ordered, none of our testers found it particularly sturdy, describing it as “really unstable” and “wobbly,” and saying that “the arms shake” and “it might crumble.” If you need a sofa quickly and want to avoid the IKEA route, and you order this sofa, we suggest finding a way to reinforce it. Even so, it may be too delicate for many situations.
If you’re shopping for a couch, you may be familiar with the term “flame retardants.” Manufacturers used to add these compounds to furniture pretty liberally, because the substances supposedly slowed the spread of fire in the event the foam was exposed to open flame (hence the name). But later, scientists demonstrated that the compounds didn’t actually do that. Add that revelation to the emerging picture of how flame retardants can affect our health (as reported in The New York Times, parent company of The Wirecutter and The Sweethome), and it’s no surprise that manufacturers mostly aren’t using them anymore. Since January 1, 2015, all of IKEA’s couches have been manufactured without flame retardants (PDF). Joybird and BenchMade Modern also say that they do not use flame retardants in the manufacture of their sofas. It’s relatively easy to tell on new furniture if flame retardants are present, because California passed a labeling law in September 2014, and couch makers around the country are largely following along.
To conform to the California labeling standard, TB117-2013 (PDF), each piece of upholstered furniture must include the following lines, with one or the other of the lines marked with an “X”:
The upholstery materials in this product:
___ contain added flame retardant chemicals
___ contain NO added flame retardant chemicals
After we first published this guide, a reader pointed out to us that Joybird didn’t seem to be adhering to California’s required flame retardant label. We checked the Joybird sofa that we tested, and indeed it didn’t have the label (an issue because we purchased the Joybird sofa in California). We contacted Joybird for comment and they told us that the company will start using the required wording starting April 1, 2017. We verified that the other sofas we recommend—from IKEA, Article, and BenchMadeModern—all have labels that include the correct wording.
Generally, manufacturers do seem to be phasing out the use of flame retardants. Ashley Furniture, the largest furniture seller in the US and a previous holdout in the flame-retardant game, is no longer adding the compound to its furniture. The National Resources Defense Council offers tips on determining whether the sofa you’re considering is free from flame retardants. If you have an older couch or other foam-containing furniture, the best way to avoid exposure to flame retardants is to wash your hands a lot.
All of the couches we tested do contain polyurethane foams. And even though those foams don’t have flame retardants, they still release gases and related odors for the first couple of days. For more about off-gassing, see our article on what is coming out of your foam mattress—it’s also coming out of your couch.
If you have concerns about the carbon footprint of your sofa, that is a question we can’t address to our satisfaction at this time. It’s facile to say that because a product is manufactured in Mexico as opposed to China that its carbon footprint is automatically reduced. Such a statement fails to consider any number of factors—from materials to waste disposal to transportation—that must be taken into account when determining a product’s ultimate carbon footprint.
If you’re buying a new couch, you might want to consider putting aside some funds to have the couch professionally cleaned every year by a company that can do it at your home using environmentally friendly cleaners, or investing in a good portable carpet and upholstery cleaner. We also suggest picking up a good stain remover (the Sweethome team hasn’t addressed that category, but this writer likes Gonzo). This is where the fabric swatch you should have received before you ordered your sofa comes in handy: You can use it to test how the stain remover reacts with your fabric before attacking your sofa directly and possibly ending up with a bigger problem.
You should vacuum your couch regularly with a soft brush attachment, paying special attention to the area underneath the cushions, which readily attracts dust, hair, and crumbs. If you often recline on your couch with your head on the armrest, we also suggest investing in pillows (or antimacassars, the decorative pieces of fabric your great-grandmother may have used to keep hair oil off her couch). The natural oils from your hair, the ingredients in your hair products, and, if you color your hair, the dye can rub off onto your sofa fabric, leaving a stain that can be hard for even professionals to remove. Although the covers on all of the cushions of the couches we tested zip off, we don’t suggest taking them individually to the dry cleaner, as different rates of cleaning will mean changes in the color and texture of the fabric that are not uniform. However, you may want to have the pillows’ interior stuffing dry cleaned from time to time. Finally, if you can flip or move your cushions, alternating the side facing out, or their position on your couch, will help them wear evenly.
(Photos by Jeremy Pavia.)