Your couch says a lot about you. We asked our trusted translators Peter Bonventre and John Januzzi to help you choose the one that speaks your language.
Never in my long career did I ever imagine that I’d be writing about buying a couch. Which compels me to admit a few things right up front: One, I am not a couch kinda guy, meaning that if I’m going to read or watch TV lying down, I’m going to do it in bed (I don’t take naps; never have). Two, I much prefer a big, comfortable armchair of the English Club variety, accessorized with an appropriate ottoman (La-Z-Boy is not an option). And three, I’ve never bought a couch all by myself.
It has been my great good fortune to purchase every stick of furniture I’ve ever owned accompanied by a woman with impeccable taste: girlfriends, wives, and my stepmother-in-law, the fabulous Rose Aiello, interior decorator extraordinaire who aided and abetted my wife Donna and me in decorating our home in Westchester, N.Y., and recently redecorating our Manhattan apartment.
Working with Rose, I learned an important lesson: It’s not about the couch, it’s about the swatches—those little squares or rectangles of fabric that are supposed to help you decide the color and texture of your couch. There was rarely any undue hesitation or confusion about choosing the style of the couches we bought. But, oh, those swatches! Rose would toss them on a table like a blackjack dealer in Vegas. “What about this one?” she’d say. “It’s a celadon green cut velvet.” Or: “Look at this Venetian blue chenille. Gorgeous, isn’t it?” And so on and so on… In the end, before our heads could spin off our shoulders, we chose chocolate-brown linen for the couch in our apartment’s library and orange cotton for the couch in the living room. Actually, it’s not plain old orange, or so I’m told—it’s pumpkin!
Now let me tell you about an image of a couch that wedged itself into my brain several years ago, when I read a rave review in the New York Times of a book titled Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (And What It Says About Us). The reviewer praised the author, Tom Vanderbilt, for stuffing his book with delicious, you’ve-gotta-be-kidding moments. Like the fact that we will slow down to look at anything: “Something as simple as a couch dumped in a roadside ditch can send minor shudders of curiosity through the traffic flow.” Cool, huh?
Aside from your bed, the furniture you sit on is the most important in your home. It’s what you plop down on after a long day at work, where you nurse a hangover, where your friends hang out, and where you settle in for Game of Thrones. For the longest time, I lived in an apartment too small to fit a couch. Recently, I moved to a bigger place, mostly because I wanted more space–at least enough to fit a couch.
Knowing I was going to move, I spent weeks searching. I looked in and out of my budget, in basements, in attics. Finally, I settled on one that was $4500, which was funny, because there was no way in hell I could afford it. When the time came to buy one, I went the route of double lounge chairs. They serve the same purpose, and have nearly the same criteria as a couch, so allow me to share some wisdom.
You’ve got to look for something that’s comfortable, never skimp on that. Saving a few hundred bucks here and there is nice, but consider how long you’ll have this thing. You don’t want to be feeling those cheap couch springs in your back. Look for something you can sink into, something that will ease your stress when you need it to. My test when couch shopping (which is the most fun, second only to mattress shopping), is imagine myself watching Game of Thrones for hours.
Your home is your castle, your couch is your very large throne. That said, it should suit the king that you are, and reflect your sensibilities. Leather club couches are the gold standard in my opinion, they’ll work in almost any space and they’ll age to perfection over the years. You can have one in your first apartment, and take it all the way to the study in your stately mansion (only a few years away I bet). But if that’s not your thing, just stick to your style.
When it comes to the extras, just keep it simple. Embroidered pillows, frilly things, and the rest aren’t worth it. Get yourself a good pillow to rest your head on, and maybe a throw blanket and leave it at that. Minimal is the way to go.
A good sofa isn’t easy to come by, and it’s rarely inexpensive. Should you find yourself in need of a new one, but would prefer not to blow your savings, keep an eye out on flash sale websites. Again, buyer beware: you may save a few bucks, but you won’t be able to try before you buy.