This story was originally published by Curbed before it joined New York Magazine. You can visit the Curbed archive at archive.curbed.com to read all stories published before October 2020.
It’s easier than ever to buy a stylish, (relatively) affordable sofa these days, thanks to a slew of flatpack furniture startups like Burrow and Floyd. But those direct-to-consumer brands are far from the only sources for quality sofas at a budget.
Interior designers recommend sticking to a few rules of thumb while shopping. For one, consider buying a sofa with a slipcover, so you can easily clean it and keep it looking fresh over time. If you want something with upholstery, consider a fabric that will hold up better over time, like velvet. And when it comes to style, New York-based interior designer Lucy Harris says that if you’re going for something on the cheaper side, get a firm couch. “The fill tends to shift and look lumpy on [cheaper] plush sofas,” she says.
For those who aren’t interested in doing any digging, here are 10 designer-approved sofas. Half of them are under $2,000 and each has been road-tested in a client’s home or in the designer’s own.
“My clients often assume that if their budget is small, Design Within Reach is out of reach (no pun intended). While that’s largely true, DWR does have a few “entry-level” pieces that meet their high bar on aesthetic and quality, including my favorite, the Bantam Sofa,” says Alex Kalita, principal at Common Bond Design. “When ordering, be mindful of fabric and stick to the value fabrics, like the “Maharam Mode.” I sourced the studio version of this sofa for a medical resident with a limited budget back in 2013; apart from a few mover-inflicted dings, it’s still going strong.”
“We used the Palo modular sofa for a client, and it is higher quality than you would expect for the price,” says Harris. “It has a firm seat, but for our client, who used it as a reading nook, it was perfect. It has also held up well. We used the light gray, which is beautiful, but I’ve seen blue and it is also a great color. Plus, the Palo has an ingenious design that makes it easy to put together.” Kalita also cited this model, noting, “It doesn’t yet have the ubiquity of other value sofas.”
“We have specified the Mags from Hay for clients for its casual look and comfortable design. I love its chunky lines. So far, I’ve heard no complaints about its durability,” says Yaiza Armbruster, principal of Atelier Armbruster in New York City. “Another option with a similar look is Blu Dot’s Cleon sectional sofa, which I’ve had in my own home for seven years.”
“The Chesterfield is a great couch for families because the comfortable tufted back replaces the couch pillows that children typically throw about the house. The ‘Basketweave Slub’ fabric choices can be cleaned with warm water and dish soap, making it a very practical choice, as well,” says Jenny Reimold, a mom of seven and the founder of Whim & Willow Designs in Franklin, Tennessee. Reimold also notes that it routinely goes on sale for 20 to 25 percent off the list price.
“I used the Hutton in emerald green velvet to dress up a boxy, beige loft space in New York. The retro lines and luxe fabric [make it] feel like it belongs in a private club. Plus, it’s durable as hell. Room & Board’s quality is great overall (the Holmes is another favorite model),” says interior designer Matthew Kowles.
“I personally own this sofa and have recommended it to several clients. We are all happy with the quality and durability, especially at that low price point,” says New York City interior designer Emily C. Butler. “It offers a traditional shape that will never go out of style and attractive slipcover options that can be machine washed and also updated as you redecorate. We just swapped out our ticking stripe cover (no longer available) from our previous apartment for a Nolhaga Dark Green cover for a whole new look for our space.”
“I return again and again to Ikea’s Karlstad sofa,” says Kalita. “It’s cheap, flat-pack, and usually in stock—and it’s surprisingly comfortable, given the price point. I also like how adaptable it is: As your budget or square footage increases, you can add on to it. You can also “hack” it, thanks to PrettyPegs legs and slipcovers from Bemz or Comfort Works. The Ikea fabric can be cheesy, so the best improvement you can make is a slipcover.”
“I have purchased several Maiden Home sofas for clients over the past year with great success. Clients love the value proposition of direct-to-consumer, attractive performance fabric options, and variety of sizes and leg finishes. It’s a little early to chime in on long-term wear and tear, but so far consensus has been very positive,” says Butler.
“The Sven is super versatile, and Article’s upholstery is really nice for the price. The sofa’s midcentury lines lend themselves beautifully to nearly every other design style. In addition to leather upholstery being great for pets — which is what everyone already knows — velvet also wears super, super well (it’s resilient and cleans up easy). The leather wears to a buttery texture over time,” says designer Allegra Muzzillo, of ACM Interiors in Brooklyn, New York. Kalita offers one tip for this particular model: Replace the round bolsters with something unique for a more personal look (this sofa is everywhere).
As an alternative to the Sven that’s not nearly as ubiquitous, Kalita loves the Burrard, whose silhouette she thinks will have greater style longevity. “A friend of mine bought it, and I’ve slept on it multiple times, so I can truly attest to its comfort,” she says.