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The 8 Best Family Sofas, According to the Experts

updated Jun 12, 2024
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When I posted a question about family sofas on Instagram, my DMs exploded. So many parents chimed in with stories of sofas they regretted buying: Annoying cushions, terrible fabrics, and buttons that popped off on Day Two. It seemed that no one was happy with their purchases. Clearly, this was a subject worthy of a Cubby Buying Guide!

So, I called in the experts: designers who are parents and everyday moms and dad like me and you. Through my conversations, I’ve gathered the best advice for what to look for in a family sofa. From the shape to the fabric, the decision of feathers vs. foam, there are seemingly a million tiny decisions that go into finding The One. With our Cubby sofa buying guide in hand, you should have the confidence to buy a couch you’ll love for years to come.

In this guide, we’ll be talking about traditional sofas (typically 72-84 inches) and sectionals (modular, multi-piece sofas arranged in an L- or U-shape). We’re not tackling sleeper sofas, which are a category unto themselves (and P.S., were not recommended by our experts to be a family’s main sofa!). Below, we answer parents’ sofa questions and share a few favorite picks.

What are the basic things I should look for in a family sofa?

First, determine the right size for your space. If you like the size of your existing sofa, note its dimensions and use them as a guide. If you’re starting from scratch, measure the area where the sofa will sit. Once you’ve zeroed in on some models you like, you can use painter’s tape to mark out the dimensions on the floor. Pay attention to your openings to determine if the sofa can fit through entryways, hallways, etc. 

What kind of sofa construction is best?

First, seek out a sturdy frame. Hardwood frames are the most durable, but most sofas are made from engineered wood. Avoid MDF or particleboard; furniture-grade plywood, engineered hardwood, or solid wood are all better choices. Because you can’t see the frame of the finished sofa, you’ll have to read the manufacturer’s specifications to find this information. Designers say manufactured in the U.S. usually means better quality construction.

When it comes to cushions, the best choice will depend on your personal preference, but one thing our experts cautioned against are 100-percent feather pillows. Parents and decorators alike warn that while super-comfy and luxurious, feather cushions are too hard to keep looking tidy because feather pillows require daily fluffing. When it comes to foam cushions, look for a medium level of firmness for the cushions, says Lina Galvão, co-founder of Curated Nest Interiors in Westchester County, New York. ”They’re going to get a lot of wear and tear and you don’t want them to look saggy after a year of your kids bouncing around.” While most foam cushions are poly-wrapped, many experts, including Denise Davies, the founder of D2 Interieurs, prefer down-wrapped foam for a best-of-both-worlds approach. “The combination of a foam core to retain shape and down for comfort is best for cushions,” she says.

To slipcover or not to slipcover?

Our experts were divided on this point: Fixed upholstery is hard to clean, but slipcovers quickly look sloppy. “A slipcovered sofa is going to last longer because you can take it off and and wash it,” says Galvão. But once it’s been washed, Galvão cautions, a slipcover will never “look quite as polished as it did the first time, unless you steam it and really put the extra effort into making it look great.” (FWIW, your humble parent reporter is on Team Slipcover.)

What color sofa is best for families?

I would have assumed darker was better when it came to kid messes, but designer Emily Henderson says, “I always go for a medium tone (not white, but not dark) because they show stains the least (you’ll be shocked by how much light dog hair and milk a dark sofa can show).” If you really do want to go light though, go for white because you can bleach it to get it back to its original color, says Galvão. 

Can I buy a sofa online without seeing it?

Experts caution against buying a sofa you’ve never seen. “I highly recommend this to test if you can,” says Galvão, who notes that many direct-to-consumer brands have showrooms where you can test sofas. An in-person test drive is truly the only way to know that a sofa will be comfortable — and comfort is the top consideration for any couch. When you sit on it, you can also try to assess the frame: Wiggling or swaying is a sign of poor construction.

What style of sofa should I buy?

Style is mostly a matter of personal tastes — a family sofa can be a Mid-Century Modern or an English-style roll arm — but there are some style decisions that will impact your user experience:

1. Pay attention to back cushions. 

Paige Lewin, the Boston designer behind Tess & Ted, says, “A lot of my clients with younger, super-active children prefer tight-back sofas. They’re easier to keep good looking, and good ones are still just as comfy.” And avoid “sofa-back” designs, says Galvão, who notes that this style is basically a row of throw pillows that will never look tidy.

2. Consider a bench style sofa.

“I love the bench cushions because it never looks messy,” says Galvão. “My kids aren’t super tidy yet: There’s going to be LEGOs, blankets, and dolls everywhere. To at least have the furniture feel clean and tidy is really nice.”

3. Look for comfy arms. 

“I try to have a comfortable arm that you can actually lie down on,” says Mia Jung, the director of interiors at Ike Kligerman Barkley, “Skip the skinny arms that you cannot rest your head on.”

4. Beware of buttons. 

Two styles parents might want to avoid are tuxedo and Chesterfields sofas, which feature tufted backs and often buttons. Multiple parents we spoke to said they’d avoid buttons after having them pop off of sofas. 

5. Make sure the depth is right.

Standard sofa depth is 36-inches, but for a lounge-ier, comfy sofa, consider one a bit deeper in the 39-40-inch ranges, says Galvão. But don’t go too deep, Jung cautions that anything deeper than 40-inches may look out of place. Seat height is another consideration. Jung notes that this can be very subjective, but says she’d go no lower than 16 inches and 18 inches is a standard seat height. 

Should I get a sectional?

Sectionals are undeniably comfy and popular with families, but you might want to think twice before making the commitment. “A lot of people want a sectional because you buy one big piece and it’s done,” says Galvão. However, she cautions, they don’t provide as much seating as you think because “no one wants to stay in the corner.” Plus, if you ever want to change your layout, it’s harder to do with a sectional. Instead, Galvão steers her clients to a traditional sofa paired with either arm chairs, a love seat, or a second sofa. 

If you decide you do want a sectional, use the same principles that you’d use for regular sofas, but pay special attention to scale. Sectionals can easily overwhelm a room if they are too large. Also: Think long and hard about leather, says Galvão. She notes that it can be an overbearing presence in a room on such a large piece of furniture. All the experts we spoke to agreed that solid fabrics are better than patterns on sectionals.

What are the best fabrics for family sofas?

Two words: Performance fabrics. Sometimes referred to as indoor-outdoor fabrics, these textiles are designed to be fade-, mildew- and mold-resistant–and as a side benefit, they are very kid-resistant too. “In the past outdoor fabric was very hard and kind of plastic-y, but they have developed,” says Jung. “The fabrics today are really good looking and soft: You can’t tell the difference whether it’s an indoor or outdoor fabric.” Three big name brands are Sunbrella, Krypton, and Perennials (Jung’s favorite); they are all available by the yard and as options through various catalog companies. Whatever you choose, look for a fabric that has a tight weave; loose weaves are not durable or cleanable, says Davies.

Credit: West Elm

Does a leather sofa hold up to kids?

Leather is a tricky topic. Some leathers age gracefully and are therefore a good fit for kids, but others just look tired. The best way to find a good one is through a strong personal recommendation from someone who has lived with a leather sofa long enough to see what happens over time. Another thing to consider: One of the members of my Instagram community told a horror story about her son accidentally snipping a hole in her leather upholstery with scissors, which proved impossible to patch. 

Should I consider a custom sofa?

Sure, it sounds fancy, but many of the designers we spoke to all love custom sofas because you can get exactly what you want for not a whole lot more money than a straight-out-of-the-catalog couch. Of all the messages I received from friends and followers about their sofas, one of the only glowing reviews came from my friend Kate in Kentucky who said her Charles Stewart sofa was the best money she’d spent on her home. Two other custom brands to look for that our pros like are Lee Industries and Cisco Home. You don’t need to hire an interior designer to order one: Search for a local home store to order through and they’ll help you pick exactly the right thing for your space.

8 Best Family Sofas, According to Experts

When shopping for a family sofa, our experts cautioned against ordering the cheapest sofa from big sites like Amazon. Their message? You get what you pay for. However, they say that the “usual suspects” like Pottery Barn, Crate & Barrel, West Elm, Room & Board, RH, and Design Within Reach are all reliable sources for mid-priced sofas that will last for years to come.

Here are a few favorite sofas from the experts:

The Best-Selling Sectional: The Big Sur Sectional from Pottery Barn

Credit: Pottery Barn

Pottery Barn’s Big Sur sectionals are among the brand’s top sellers, and they are a great option for families because of the wide range of performance fabrics they can choose from. Eco-minded parents will like that these sofas are constructed with partially recycled metal and plant-based foam.

Best Affordable Family Sofa: The KIVIK Sofa from IKEA

Credit: IKEA

IKEA’s KIVIK sofa has a reputation for being extra comfy thanks to its generous size and casual styling. At less than $900, it’s an affordable option compared to everything else we’ve seen (and sat on!), but don’t expect it to last a lifetime. Pro tip: Buy a second cover when you purchase the sofa.

The Sofa Designed for Lounging: The Lounge Sofa from Crate & Barrel

Credit: Crate & Barrel

Crate & Barrel’s Lounge Sofa is true to its name: The soft, low-slung design is made for kicking back — and because there are so many different iterations of the design, there’s sure to be one that will fit your family’s space.

The Sectional for People Who Don’t Like Sectionals: The Braxton Sectional from Joybird

Credit: Joybird

Galvão likes Joybird’s Braxton sectional for its slim lines and mid-century styling. The beautifully saturated colors will also make a great statement.

The Best Playroom Sofa: The Mix Modular 3-Piece from Gus*Modern

Credit: Wayfair

Writer Virginia Sole-Smith upgraded the sofa in her playroom last year after learning her lesson with cheap sofas in the past. The Gus sofa she purchased has endured through a year’s worth of dance parties and it consistently gets 5-star reviews from buyers.

The Architect-Approved Splurge Sectional: The Milo Modular Sectional from Rove Concepts

Credit: Rove

Yaiza Armbruster, the principal of Atelier Armbruster in New York City, likes Rove Concepts’ Milo Modular Sectional for its modern profile and modular design that lets you get the right configuration for your space. Plus, it has 17 standard upholstery options.

The Sofa That Has Stood The Test of Time: The Metro Sofa from Room and Board

Credit: Room and Board

Home blogger Katy Elliott, who is a mom of two, bought her Metro Room & Board sofa fifteen years ago and says it’s still in great shape. “Honestly, it’s so great, I will reupholster it before buying new,” she says.

The Best Semi-Customizable Sofa: The Sullivan Sofa from Maiden Home

Credit: Maiden Home

Decorators I know swear by Maiden Home. The brand’sSullivan Sofa can be customized to your specifications and is a great option for many different aesthetic styles.

More Sofa Buying Advice from Cubby