Sofa Buying Guide: Kim Lewis, Interior Designer at Country Willow in Bedford Hills, NY, Explains How to Choose a Sofa



Q: We need a new sofa and the choices are dizzying. I want something that will last, in a style that won’t be out of date in five minutes. Can you offer any guidance? Advice on pet-proof fabrics would also be appreciated. — Jane H., Peekskill

A: Kim Lewis, an interior designer at Country Willow in Bedford Hills, agrees that sofa choices seem endless. Country Willow alone has more than 1,000 frame styles and thousands of fabrics to cover them, and that’s a bazillion options right there, if my math is accurate. Given Country Willow’s motto — “Furniture for Life” — it’s no surprise that Lewis suggests bypassing cheap sofas that will collapse in five years. “You don’t have to spend $4,000,” she adds. “You can get an excellent sofa for $1,500.”

Here’s what to look for:

“It’s important that the frame is made of hardwood, with joints that are either double-doweled, blocked on every corner, or with mortise-and-tenon construction,” Lewis says. “If the sofa has a lifetime warranty, then it has hardwood and one of those features.”

Next, springs: “The best are eight-way, hand-tied springs, so they don’t move independently from each other and will give even support,” Lewis explains. Next best is “zone coil, which are coiled springs joined by metal clips in the same configuration as tied. It’s an innovative way of doing it,” she says, and costs a little less. Sinuous springs are flat, S-shaped wires that are cheaper, but “still good,” says Lewis, as long as the metal is a heavy enough gauge.

“Cushion core is very important,” she notes, launching into a litany of options before deciding it was all too much information. “When you boil it down, the standard is poly foam, poly foam wrapped in down, or all down.” Cushions with interior springs are usually more expensive. “Go for a standard cushion with lots of ‘memory’ and a warranty for five to seven years,” she advises. “Then you’re buying smartly.”

Choosing something that won’t soon be dated means a traditional look. “There are three classic styles of arms,” Lewis says. “The rolled arm; the track arm, which is square; and the English arm, which is a rounded look. There are lots of versions of each, but those are here to stay, especially the rolled arm.”

Quick tips gleaned online:

• Lie down and test the sofa for napping. Make sure the seat height and depth suit you.

• Feel the weight. A good sofa should feel heavy and solid.

• Squeeze the back and arms. You shouldn’t be able to feel the frame through the padding. Check to make sure the arms and back don’t wiggle.

• The cushions should fit the frame properly. Unzip the covers and check that the fabric holding the feathers or fill is tightly woven.

As for “pet-proof fabrics” — dream on. “I hear many cats don’t like leather,” Lewis says. Otherwise, she suggests a microfiber that’s tight and smooth, so cats can’t easily get their claws in. “Microfibers are 100-percent polyester, which sounds awful, but with the new technology, they’re wonderful — soft and beautiful, in lots of gorgeous styles and colors. Some are like chenilles and velvets, and many can be cleaned using a mild detergent,” she notes. Sunbrella offers a range of these that are resistant to sun, water, and stains, should you want to use your sofa outdoors.

Adds Lewis: “My best advice for anyone with pets: Go with a slipcover. They fit so snugly, you can’t even tell — they don’t look anything like they used to. Put them in the washing machine or send them to the dry cleaner, and they go back on all fresh and clean. You can change for the seasons, get a whole new look, and extend the life of your sofa.”