best in class

The Very Best Couches

Photo: West Elm

You’re buying a sofa, you want to shop wisely, but you’re setting yourself a reasonable(ish) budget. Turns out that’s a very attainable goal these days: In addition to the newer cohort of flat-pack-sofa start-ups, even the behemoth furniture brands are beginning to expand their reach (by offering rentals, for instance). Interior designers will tell you to spend as much as you can on this piece — considering how it anchors your home and sees more sides of you than your mother — but after consulting with dozens of such experts (40 in all, plus some style and décor editors), we found that many of them have beloved options for under (or around) $2,000.

In total, their list amounted to more than 80 full-size sofas. To narrow it down, we looked for the models that kept getting mentioned again and again; after gathering those with votes from at least three different experts, seven standouts emerged — all of which we’ve sat on ourselves. (Following the advice of an ergonomics expert, we also lay down, reclined for watching TV, leaned with our back supported by pillows or bolsters, and tried stack sitting, i.e., perching upright on the edge.)

As with any big investment, individual needs and preferences should shape your decision. Your ratio of napping to working to binge-watching to eating breakfast to entertaining guests is your own — and there’s most certainly a best for you, even at a reasonable price.

Best overall | Best down-filled | Best velvet | Best customizable | Best slipcover | Best minimalist | Best for small spaces

What we’re looking for

Upholstery: While leather costs more, it will age gracefully into an attractive patina; cotton or linen weaves don’t have the drama of leather or velvet, but they hold up. (Speaking of velvet, Joanna Jones, an interior designer in New York, calls it “very tricky.” If you have your heart set on it, she recommends at least looking for 100 percent cotton velvet and avoiding the viscose-velvet blends that will show every drop of water and, over time, your butt indentations.)

Fill: A good couch is a comfortable one, and our testing method borrowed advice from ergonomics specialists like Esther Gokhale, a posture-focused integrative therapist in the Bay Area, who said that keeping a lengthened spine matters most. But the fill that’s used in each couch is a good proxy to determine both durability and comfort. Jones looks for some blend of foam and feathers (even faux feathers) as a sign of comfortable cushions (as opposed to just foam, though that’s not an instant deal breaker).

Size: A couch is a big-ticket item, and some might be genuinely too big to get through your door. Most of these couches are available in different sizes, though the average length is around 80 inches. We’ve made note of all the sizes available for each model, so you can find the best couch for your specific space.

Best overall couch

Leather, fabric, and velvet | High-density foam with polyester fill | 72 and 88 inches

With 11 nominations from our survey, the Sven smoked the competition and came in first as the most-recommended sofa. “It’s got that iconic mid-century look that many clients are seeking,” says Alexandra Kalita. It also appealed the most to ergonomics expert Gokhale, who noted that the firmness “gives you the chance to tip your pelvis forward a little if you want to sit upright,” and “when you sit back, there’s room to have your sacrum supported.” It’s an ideal does-it-all sofa: comfortable enough for lounging but upright and proportioned well for working and writing. This is also the best price for leather among the bunch, though it’s also available in fabric and velvet.

The leather does need some breaking in. Former Strategist senior editor Margaret Rhodes sat on one in the showroom of the men’s-suiting store Indochino and found in the used model that the foam seats had a nice give and the leather (cowhide sourced as a by-product of food manufacturing) had a buttery feel. She also found that the squared-off 27-inches-high armrests were quite useful: Most sofas don’t allow you to easily balance a laptop or write in a notebook, but the Sven does. It’s like having a little built-in tray table. That feature detracts a bit from the nap-taking potential, if only because you wouldn’t be able to prop pillows on the armrests. That said, the single-slab cushion means the Sven feels more comparable to a mattress than separate cushions would, fulfilling at least part of Gokhale’s rule about a sofa being as comfortable as a bed. (One note: A few other Article sofas received votes in our survey: The Sitka, with three votes; the Burrard, three; and the Timber, two, all may be worth a look.)

Best down-filled couch

Fabric and velvet | Polyester fiber, duck feather, and duck-down back cushions | 76, 82, 92, and 104 inches

The Harmony is arguably the most versatile and, therefore, practical sofa on this list. “We’ve used this sofa in so many projects, as it’s insanely comfortable and has great lines,” says Joslyn Taylor of Swoon Studio. It’s also comfortable and nappable but, in its ordinary configuration, not too deep or slouchy for sitting up. The comfort comes at least in part from the down-filled cushions and the pillowy armrests. You could also point to the frame — with wood legs that run along the entire width — as a source of comfort, since it gives the Harmony a sturdy feel. (Taylor thinks the leg detail is a nice aesthetic touch too: “The chunky wood legs give the piece character.”) What’s more, the Harmony comes in a 32-inch extra-deep seat option, making this one of the most leisurely sofas on the list.

Indeed, the down cushions make for lavish lying around. Technically, these have spring-and-foam cores (the others tested here have a mix of foam and feathers or down alternative), but the feeling is more of an old-world European cushion. Rhodes yanked on the arms and threw herself onto the sofa to assess its sturdiness, and the joints neither wiggled nor budged. From there, she didn’t really want to get up, it was so sumptuous. Along with the cushiness, the Harmony has squared-off armrests, which are a sleeper hit feature in a sofa: Contemporary life sometimes calls for laptops and dinner plates on the couch, and it’s nice to have somewhere to balance them.

Best velvet couch

Velvet, leather, and fabric | High-resiliency foam wrapped in soft fiber padding and hypoallergenic blend of down and feathers | 69, 79, and 89 inches

Coming in second with four nominations, Anthropologie’s Willoughby sofa looks a little vintage with its scrolled armrests and carved wood bun legs on casters. And though it comes in leather and brushed cotton, it is most popular in velvet, which in this case is three-quarters cotton, one-quarter polyester. “It nods to an iconic George Smith but for a fraction of the price,” says Taylor. “We love pairing it with more modern pieces for a bit of push-pull in a room.”

Looks aside, the Willoughby gets points for coziness: The sales associate at the Anthropologie Rhodes visited said it’s one of the store’s most comfortable items, and Dan Mazzarini of BHDM Design calls it “great for relaxing … think of it as a traditional nappable sofa.” This was among the most comfortable sofas Rhodes sat in, which was all the more surprising because of its vaguely Victorian look. The cushions specifically deserve praise: Made from spring coils encased in foam and wrapped in fiber padding plus a blend of down and feathers, they somehow felt both entirely firm and entirely plush. In other words, they felt well made. The midnight-blue velvet was soft to the touch but didn’t register as overly delicate; it almost had a sturdiness to it. (However, Rhodes does note that when she gave the arms a tug, she felt a little give, “which is perhaps to be expected when you’re testing a showroom model, but since this didn’t happen with other floor samples, it seems worth mentioning.”)

Best customizable couch

Fabric, velvet, and leather | Down blend, double-down blend, or down alternative | 82, 86 and 90 inches

The premise of Interior Define is customization: Like Article, the brand offers dozens of iterations on a mid-century–inspired sofa style but with even more configurations and upholstery options. The Maxwell, a traditional piece designed by Apartment Therapy founder Maxwell Ryan, offers 141 fabrics and 18 leg styles. Foam and down feathers fill the cushions — though you can also get a down alternative, if you prefer — and the frame sits low to the ground.

The Maxwell’s traditional looks belie how comfortable it felt. Rhodes “loved sinking into the Maxwell as much as I did the Willoughby; choosing between them comes down to whether you prefer a feminine, vintage look or a more traditional look.” The 21-inch armrests are low, inviting a relaxed posture. This is very much a couch for taking a load off. Like other sofas with a deep seat, the 27-inch depth on the Maxwell means proper back support will require a pillow or two. After running it through all of Gokhale’s posture tests, it became obvious that the Maxwell best suits relaxation. Because of that deep seat, “typing or writing required sitting cross-legged or with my legs folded beneath me — a fine arrangement for a short period of time but perhaps not all day,” says Rhodes.

Best slipcover couch

Linen, cotton canvas, and velvet | Poly fill or feather down | 72 or 84 inches

Sixpenny is a direct-to-consumer furniture line selling pieces that don’t look direct-to-consumer. Whereas most sofa start-ups stick with an angular look, not so the Sixpenny Neva sofa, recommended by Emily Henderson: “I tested it in the factory and basically melted into the cushion.” Designer Jenn O’Brien agrees: “I love the unfussy, casual air this sofa has. It isn’t ‘clean and modern,’ but by nature of its quiet confidence, it is a pretty standout piece.”

The back and seat cushions have a 70 percent feather down layer wrapped around a foam core; the combination is soft but still supportive, which Rhodes (and her back) appreciated during upright computer work. The frame has a foam layer between the wood skeleton and the slipcover, making the arms an inviting place to prop up against when she needed a change in position. But what really sold her was the linen slipcover: “I’m an avowed lover of the fabric, and while lots of the other sofas I tested come with a linen upholstery option, none so closely resembles the feeling of getting into a bed made up with clean linen sheets.” That also makes it great for those with kids and pets, since you can throw the slipcover in the wash.

Best minimalist couch

Wool | Foam | 77 inches

Hem is a Swedish furniture brand beloved by a certain strata of design-savvy shoppers and aesthetes. (The Strategist belongs in that group.) Its pieces are distinctly Scandinavian but without harking back too obviously to Arne Jacobsen or Hans Wegner. The Palo is a modular sofa with no armrests and allows for add-ons over time, like a chaise component or those arms. “It’s actually very chic on its own and more comfortable than it looks,” says designer C. S. Valentin of the most minimal version. And if you go over the $2,000 mark, “Hem is worth the splurge,” says Aelfie Oudghiri, a Brooklyn designer known for her rugs. “These are shockingly comfortable.”

The Palo’s seat is deep, making it easy to sit fully cross-legged and write, and its backrest is low but firm, so it offers sturdy lumbar support if you scooch all the way back. Rhodes describes it as “a specific kind of austere comfort: Pushing my hand down into the sofa, I could barely make a depression; that’s how firm it is. It’s hard to imagine whiling away a Sunday night of movies and wine on this one unless you’re the type who prefers only the hardest of mattresses.”

This one is best for lovers of minimalist design and perhaps those with “visiting rooms” — i.e., people who have the space for more than one sofa. It’s more business than pleasure.

Best couch for small spaces

Poly-linen | Soy-based poly foam and fiber seat cushion with down-blend back cushion | 82 inches

Perhaps the grooviest option of the bunch, the Piazza from CB2 is basically a slab of a frame with a slab of a seat cushion and a long, skinny slab of a back pillow. “The seat cushion is about the size of a twin bed, which is perfect for Sunday naps or an unexpected overnight guest,” points out Ashlie Broderic, a Homepolish designer and one of four experts to recommend this piece. The price and design are the most pared down on this list, but the sofa has presence. “It feels a little artful, like something Elsa Peretti would have had in her ’70s studio,” Taylor says.

Extremely comfortable, if a little impractical, the Piazza didn’t pass muster on three out of four of Gokhale’s suggested test poses — perched upright, reclining for watching TV, or leaning with back supported — and worked for me only when Rhodes went into full repose. “Sprawled out on the Piazza, two things felt obvious: (1) This is a sofa for young people who don’t have achy spines but do have friends who could often use a place to crash, and (2) the low-slung Piazza is a vibes sofa, made for those who aspire to one day own a sunken living room.”

But that doesn’t mean it isn’t well crafted. “CB2 has really been stepping up its game in terms of the quality of the materials and fill,” according to Jones. And it’s true: The Piazza suits nappers perfectly with its soy-based poly foam–and–down cushions, and the minimal frame felt tightly joined together. Ultimately, the low height and absence of armrests mean this is the best sofa for lying-about activities like taking a nap — or simply one of the best for particularly tiny homes.

Some more living room seating we've written about

Our experts

Crystal Ann
Penelope August
Kylie Bass
Bobby Berk
Sasha Bikoff
Ashlie Broderic
Eliza Clark
Ralli Clasen
Taylor Clouse
Shanti Crawford
Kim Daunis
Shannon Eddings
Baylee Floyd
Nina Freudenberger
Lauren Geremia
Emily Henderson
House of Nomad
Max Humphrey
Alexandra Kalita
Kroesser + Strat
Dan Mazzarini
Ashley Montgomery
Natalie Myers
Karen Nepacena
Briana Nix
Clémence Polès
Jenn O’Brien
Ariel Okin
Aelfie Oudghiri
Susana Simonpietri
Sara Story
Olivia Stutz
Angela Tafoya
Joslyn Taylor
C. S. Valentin
Andrea Van Soest
Carrie Waller
Silka Weiss
Sarah Wittenbaker

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The Very Best Couches