How many times do you buy a sofa? Not often as a rule. Your sofa will be the hub of your living space – it’s where you sit to watch TV, lounge, read, maybe eat and drink, entertain family and friends - or take a nap, so it makes sense that we take the time to invest in one that’s going to fit the bill.

Do you recall what you do when buying a new mattress? The old ‘sit-your-bottom-on-it-test’ applies when buying a sofa too. The average sofa has a seat depth of around 60cm, which gives plenty of room if you have long legs and allows you to tuck them under if you’re shorter. But they do vary, so definitely try out different styles to ensure you get good back support, especially if you are tall. When it comes to seat height, most designs are between 45cm and 50cm high.

There’s no right or wrong height, so again, try before you buy to make sure it suits the whole family.

If there are two or more people who regularly use the sofa at the same time (imagine the Simpsons here!), check that the sofa is big enough to accommodate everyone, or if you are a regular ‘napper’ and need the length. There are so many choices with regards to size - whether you have room for a curved sofa (and which way the curve bends), an L-shape, or is one in sections important, or 2 or 3 seats, a chaise end or with a recliner, or one at both ends, plus the height of the arms might be an issue too. And is it important it should convert to a pull-out bed – if so, take account of the extra weight if the sofa is going into an apartment up several flights of stairs!

One trick is to measure the width and depth of sofa you are interested in is to translate that into an accurate paper template (old newspapers taped together, then the shape drawn in black marker would work) to trial out on the space you were hoping to fit it into, and to ensure shelving isn’t in the way and you have room enough to open cupboard doors, etc. Or get out a tape measure and measure your space first.

Don’t forget the arms might extend further than the seating width, so that should be taken into consideration too when measuring up.

The frame of the sofa is important, and a solid hardwood frame is a good option, but be wary of a chipboard or metal construction, as it may not be robust enough for the rough and tumble of your family’s life!

When it comes to the ‘padding’, feather-filled cushions are high on comfort but they will need regular plumping, while foam or fibre fillings may flatten out and lose their shape over time. The perfect solution would be to choose a combination of feather and foam as ‘feathers give the squish while the foam provides structure’. Back cushions filled with feathers and seat cushions filled with foam or fibre works well. Remember that what’s inside a sofa is just as important as what’s used on the outside. Some showrooms have a cut-out of the cushion to show what’s inside.

Your choice of upholstery fabric will have a huge impact on the room, so choose carefully to ensure it fits with your scheme. Loose covers are definitely worth investigating for ease of cleaning if you have a busy family home or have a stain-resistant finish to make accident clean-ups quick and painless. Natural materials may fade in strong sunlight so go for a synthetic fabric if the sofa will be near a window. I have a lovely comfy sofa where the sun has faded the arms but not the seat, as a dog-proofing blanket is always in place, so now I have a two-tone sofa!

But there is honestly nothing worse than buying furniture that doesn’t fit into your home (remember Ross Geller’s iconic ‘PIVOT’ sofa scene in ‘Friends’?), so make sure you can get it through doors or upstairs!

Maybe something with removable feet or legs might be necessary if it’s going to be a tight squeeze getting it in.


Marilyn writes regularly for The Portugal News, and has lived in the Algarve for some years. A dog-lover, she has lived in Ireland, UK, Bermuda and the Isle of Man. 

Marilyn Sheridan