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Browsing: Six sofas for under $600*

September 13, 2010 | 12:15 pm


We saw styles that were dated, frumpy and just plain ugly. We sat upon the lumpy, the squishy and the hard-as-rock. We peeled our legs off cheap vinyl. We dodged pushy salespeople. The quest? To find the ultimate low-cost couch.

In the end, we came upon one simple truth: You get what you pay for. You won’t get resilient latex foam cushions or designer fabrics or the most scintillating silhouettes. In some cases, practicality comes at the expense of style. The trade-off for “Mad Men” good looks might be a lower level of comfort or do-it-yourself assembly. You might have to endure getting stalked in a showroom by salespeople or waiting months for the lowest of low sale prices to magically appear. But decent buys are out there for those looking to spend less.

“I think price has always been important, but even more important now is value,” said Paul Yaldezian, Macy’s Southwest regional director for furniture, mattresses and other major furnishings. “No matter how much the customer wants to spend, they want to know that their money is buying true value.”

The six sofas here represent the best values we found on a thrifty budget of $600.

*In one case, the Corona sofa at Macy's, the drawback was a fluctuating price that was $599 in June, $699 later in summer and $899 now (thus the asterisk in our headline). Will it go on sale again? Almost certainly. What will the sale price be? We'll have to wait and see. But first up:

The sofa: Night and Day
The store: Urban Outfitters
The price: regularly $588, recently listed for $499
The verdict: With its modern lines and retro textured fabric, Urban Outfitters’ Night and Day convertible sofa in persimmon looks just as good in person as it does on the retailer’s website. Too bad it’s so unpleasant to sit on. The website declares that the legs are made of “a rich solid wood,” and that’s accurate, but the wood frame that supports the cushions looks pretty scrappy. The seats were made of an uncomfortably firm foam that made us worry they might sag relatively quickly. Which brings us to more caveats: Although the couch is not tagged “online only,” we couldn’t find an Urban Outfitters store that had the piece in stock. We had no way to sit before we bought. Once the couch arrived, it required assembly that was a 6 on a 10-point scale of difficulty. In the end, Night and Day seemed like a good couch for a hallway or an office — somewhere to throw your coat or organize your papers but not a place where we’d want to relax. 

For five more budget sofas, keep reading ...


The sofa: Karlstad
The store: Ikea
The price: $599
The verdict: What would a budget-furniture article be without Ikea? One of the store’s new offerings is the Karlstad sofa with gray upholstery. The cotton-poly blend has a faint pattern that will please those who prefer subtlety over power prints, and it can be removed for dry cleaning. (Shoppers can purchase additional covers to change looks.) The design also struck us as better constructed than budget sofas that rely solely on foam padding for comfort. The Karlstad’s steel springs and “polyester fiber wadding” should give added comfort and life to the foam cushions. We weren’t crazy about the birch legs, but there are trade-offs with all budget buys, aren’t there? This is Ikea, so it goes almost without saying: Some assembly required.


The sofa: Corona
The store: Macy’s
The price: $599*
The verdict: Back in June, a Macy’s ad picturing this sofa caught our eye. With tidy lines, a button back and an 81-inch frame, the Corona looked like an excellent value for a range of settings. But the kicker was the price — just $599 on sale. A Home staffer had paid $100 more for the same sofa a year ago. We can report that the slightly nubby upholstery on that sofa still looks and feels new. The cushions — polyester foam topped with a layer of poly fiber for additional comfort — are holding up well. No popped buttons, no frayed piping. A bonus: It’s made in the U.S. The downside: Sometimes, getting the best deal requires waiting for the best price. The Corona regularly sells for $899 and most recently was on sale for $699. The store can’t say for certain whether the sofa will go on sale again and, if so, for how much. But at $599 or $699 or even $899, the Corona represents a good value.

The sofa: Lena Putty
The store: Urban Home
The price: $499
The verdict: Though the Oxnard-based retailer has several couches for less than $600, the Lena Putty Collection stood out for its comfort and apparent durability. The rolled arms felt sturdy. The sofa measured a heroic 100 inches long and was tall enough to support the head, raising the couch-potato comfort level. The sofa can be complemented with a love seat ($479), a chair-and-a-half ($399) and a matching ottoman ($199). This collection, made of solid hardwoods and Polyfoam cushions covered in dark beige cotton-poly-blend fabric, could furnish an entire family room and create seating for six to nine (small) people, for less than $1,600. We preferred the simpler lines of Urban Home’s Chelsea sofa, but like many budget designs we looked at, the Chelsea had arms that seemed slight; you could feel the wooden frame underneath scant padding.


The sofa: Luxe
The store: Cost Plus World Market
The price: $399.99
The verdict: Of the three World Market couches under our price ceiling, the Luxe sofa was the best looking. The wood-frame sofa measures 72 1/2 inches long and has wooden legs and down-filled cushions and pillows. With brushed-cotton twill slipcovers in basic khaki, it’s a practical, clean look that could work with many room styles. The slipcovers can be removed for easy cleaning, and additional covers are available for $149.99 in plum, rust, ivory and charcoal — for switching colors with the seasons, or to have an extra during cleaning. Assembly is required.


The sofa: American Thomas Black
The store: Mathis Bros.
The price: $440.95
The verdict: For families that want a leather-ish look without the expense or worries about how the surface will wear, there is the American Thomas Black sofa. The upholstery, the salesman said, is a composite material partially made of leather particles, then finished with a polyurethane coating that makes the piece more resistant to spills and stains. Though the design wasn’t exactly a personal favorite, we gave the sofa points for comfort: cushy but not smushy. The Ontario superstore favors traditional over modern. Shoppers of all styles will get a workout while they browse: It feels as though you’re trekking across two Ikea stores minus the Scandinavian cheer. Wear comfortable shoes.

-- Lisa Boone, Mary MacVean, Craig Nakano and Deborah Netburn 


Sofa-reupholster-vintage Instead of buying a low-cost couch, you might get a better bargain by making an old couch new again, especially if it has pedigree.

My mother-in-law handed down to me an extra-long, sturdy couch a few years ago when she moved from her house to an apartment. She and her husband had bought it around 1950, she said, paying a bit more than the $1,000 for which they had budgeted.

"We walked into the store, and we both saw the couch. We said, 'We can’t afford it,' " she recalled. But they gave in and bought it, for the first time paying for something on credit. "It gave us so much pleasure. We definitely made the right decision," she said. "I’m very happy that someone in my family has it. Every time I come there, I feel at home."

And that is one of the best reasons not to replace a couch, said Daniel Zayas, whose interior design company, Hand Sewn by Daniel, is on Pico Boulevard in mid-city L.A.

“The background of your family is there. When you see the sofa,” he said, “you remember the good times.”

If the fabric is worn, or not, to your taste, he said, it’s possible to keep the feel of the original with a similar color or fabric, in this case orange cotton velvet. A couch can be updated by giving it contrasting piping or by changing pillows. My couch, Zayas said, could cost three times as much today for a similar quality of wood and workmanship.

Upholstery fabric can run from $25 a yard to $1,000, he said. The cost of the labor might run as much as $2,000 for my couch because of its size. I haven’t moved forward with the job, but others ultimately may decide that reviving a vintage piece is greener than buying something that’s new and potentially short-lived. And if you’re talking about high-quality furniture that has emotional value and will last, reupholstering just may make economical sense too. 

-- Mary MacVean

Photos, from top: Urban Outfitters, Ikea, Macy's, Urban Home, Cost Plus World Market, Mathis Bros., Mary MacVean