I need couch advice,…

I need couch advice, ASAP.

Warning: This may be disturbing to the non-parents in the room.

1. 2000-2005. We had this adorable little set of black leather living room furniture. Kevin's parents had gotten it for him, and the loveseat and two chairs were comfy, sleek, and fit perfectly into our condo. We loved them.

2. 2005. Then I got pregnant. And soon found it imperative that I be able to actually lie down while watching tv and trying to endure the nausea, exhaustion, etc., which was impossible on that loveseat, despite its cuteness. Perhaps because of its cuteness. So we sold the whole set to my sister.

3. 2005-2009. We went to the Marshall Fields outlet, which had turned into the Macy's outlet and wasn't nearly as good as it used to be, but where we found a $3000 sectional on clearance for $1000. It was brown, it was upholstered, it was pretty generic, but it fit with our color scheme and seemed comfy enough. It was a little large for our condo, but workable. We bought it.

4. 2009. By this point, I am miserable about the lack of back support in that sectional -- I don't know whether it was me aging, or it actually not being a great couch, or what, but the cushions were constantly killing my back, and I was always having to prop a bunch of extra pillows on the couch to be able to sit there for any length of time. We put up with it because, well, it would cost money to fix the problem. But it sucked. So when we were selling the condo and moving (we thought) into an Oak Park house with a small living room, that seemed a good time to fix the problem. We arranged to sell the set, cheap, to my friend Rupal, who was just getting married and moving into a bigger apartment. I think we asked around $300 for it?

5. July 30, 2009 (I am seven months pregnant). Our closing on the house purchase fell through. We had a day to decide what to do. All our stuff (including the sectional) went into storage way out in the suburbs, with the moving company. We moved in with Daniel and Anne for what turned out to be two months of fruitless house searching. I am very grateful for their comfy couch.

6. End of September, 2009. We finally close on the blue Victorian house, have the baby, and move into our current rental. (The exact sequence is a little blurry to me.) We get our stuff out of storage. We can finally give poor Rupal the sectional sofa she has been waiting two months for, which absolutely does not fit in our rental apartment living room. Not even close.

7. October, 2009. I have a tiny baby. I need a couch immediately. We have no idea how long the renovation process is going to take, or how big the living room will be. We go to Brown Elephant and buy a $80 blue fabric loveseat, very used. It turns out to be a sleeper, which function we use a few times, but which unfortunately also seems to lead to bad lower back support given slanting back design. Pfui.

8. Spring 2010. Kavi starts potty training. She has accidents everywhere. Including on that blue couch. Multiple times. Despite our best cleaning efforts (which, granted, are nowhere near professional level), the blue couch now has a constant and distinct urine odor. It embarrasses me to have guests sit on the couch -- I tend to drape a blanket over it when they come and hope that masks the worst of the smell.

9. June 18, 2010. We'll be moving to the new rental. I am not taking this disgusting blue couch with us. So we need a couch.

Okay, so that's all the prefatory material, or The Tale of the Bad Couches. At this point, I would like to invest $3500 or so in a really good couch, one that fits our new living room, now that I know the dimensions. Actually, it'd probably be more like two loveseats, as a couch won't fit in my tiny Victorian living room, so maybe $5000 for a pair? This feels like a ridiculous amount of money, but we do spend a hell of a lot of time on the couch, all of us, and will hopefully use it for decades. Kev and I spent some time last fall looking at excellent couches with great back support, guaranteed to last twenty years or more, like the Baker couches at Walter E. Smithe. Something in a dark brown leather, probably, a little aged in style, so as to not mind some mild dog-scratching. Sturdy. We're not wedded to leather, though -- fabric is also good.

However, having gone through the great pee explosion of spring 2010, I am now wary. Kavi is mostly daytime potty-trained at this point; it's been at least a month since a couch accident, I think. But I have another child, and I have no idea what Anand will do in two years when we go through his round of potty-training. I don't want to buy a great couch, only to have it ruined in two years. So I'm leaning towards buying a decent but replaceable couch, figuring we'll use it for 3-4 years, and then get the great one when the kids are mostly done with spilling liquids, etc. Looking at Craigslist, Harlem Furniture, it seems like we can get that for around $650 or so.

Factoring in that it would be ideal to walk in somewhere and walk out with a couch that can be delivered by Saturday, when we move into our new house (which I think knocks out Crate and Barrel, Pottery Barn, Macy's, etc., which seem to take 6-8 weeks to deliver), any other suggestions for good places to buy furniture in the Chicagoland area? I'm willing to drive out to the suburbs if someone really thinks it's worthwhile. Or do we put up with not having a couch for two months and get a slightly better couch from C&B, etc. for twice as much?

And does this seem like a reasonable plan? Buy relatively cheap loveseat (or two) now, get great one(s) in 4-5 years? Or is that just wasteful, and it would make more sense to invest in the good furniture now, and figure that we'll learn how to clean urine better before it becomes an issue again?

Or maybe abandon the high-end sofa idea entirely, compromise with a solid PB or C&B sofa now in a tough-wearing fabric (I like the Buchanan Apartment Sofa in everydaysuede in Pewter, $1200, for example, possibly with a slipcover, or C&B's Oxford Twin Sleeper, currently on sale for $900), either do without a couch for two months or live with the stinky blue one until that can be delivered, and hope that Anand's potty training goes smoother than Kavi's and/or that couch is easier to clean?

In choosing sofas for style, we're looking for ones with arms that let you lie down and rest your head on the arm (a priority for Kevin), 55-80 inches in length, not too deep, firm back. I'd prefer an old-fashioned look (brass nailheads, button-tufted back, that kind of thing, like the Ethan Allen Whitney Sofa, $1800, or their Whittaker Sofa, $2500), but that seems a bit hard to find with the low comfy arms and reasonable pricing), so as long as it's not super-modern, it's probably fine.

We've been waffling about this sofa thing for way too long; sometimes I think we've put more energy into it than into picking a house.

Please advise.

21 thoughts on “I need couch advice,…”

  1. From what I understand, boys are slower to potty-train than girls. You might be better off getting a couple of decent used couches, using good slipcovers. You can always use the couches in the basement/tv room/etc.

    That being said, I bought a Pottery Barn couch which is slipcovered, which I love because you can throw the slipcovers in the wash, or change the look of the couch. And apparently they have a lifetime warranty on the frame/springs.

  2. I was going to ask much the same thing as Catherine N: How long is the accident-prone period and would it make sense to buy the great couch now, and cover it the parts Anand is on with something, possibly something waterproof, during the relevant range?

    One other thing, which you may already have thought of, but just in case: The depth from the back to the front of the couch has a big impact on how much back support it feels like it has. Amy and I each had a couch when we moved in together, and hers is much deeper than mine, so we’ve basically swapped which one we each usually sit in at this point, since I’m a little taller than her, so mine is much more comfortable for her back. Especially when she was nursing.

  3. Urine is not the only threat to your couch. Small children are hell on furniture. They are known to spill all manner of liquids on the furniture–liquids that spoil and stain and stink. They also have a particular genius for getting a hold of permanent markers and drawing on the most expensive thing that they can find. We treated Sharpie markers like plutonium when Glen was a wee tot, and still had our walls and furniture decorated many times. In fact, the BOTTOM of my kitchen table is covered with black marker doodles that I did not discover until Glen was too old to remember doing it.

    I’ve had similar experiences with couches–want to be comfortable, want it to look nice, but have had couches trashed in the past by kids and pets. What I’ve decided is that the best thing to do is purchase a used sofa, so that you will not have a heart attack when you find it covered with artwork in indelible marker. I recently found a couch on Craigslist for $300 that met all of my requirements, looked nice in my decor, and is quite well made and comfortable. In fact, I was told that it was a custom piece originally purchased for $3000, and it does seem to be extremely sturdy and we found the maker’s labels on it, so I believe we got a great quality couch for a great price. It did take some time. Craigslist is great because you can scan the pictures and eliminate pieces that don’t meet your criteria (like having low arms to rest your head).

    One caveat is in buying a used couch, you should put your nose right down on the fabric and smell it all over. Our couch seemed fine when we bought it, but after we got it home, and the weather got warm, a cat urine odor made itself known. I was able to clean it with some of the great new enzymatic products on the market, but I could have maybe got the thing much cheaper if I’d detected the smell right away. (By the way, they do make a couple of effective enzymatic cleaning products that remove urine smell if that happens to you in the future. Look for “nursery cleaning” products. The Nature’s Miracle line of products, available in pet stores, is also very effective at cleaning up baby accidents.

  4. Mary Anne Mohanraj

    Sadly, I think the accident-prone period is variable — anywhere from not-at-all to months and months. I don’t think I could stand to have a plastic cover on it, but maybe a slipcover would work. Worth considering!

    And yes, depth is huge — I’d figured that out. Wish I’d figured it out sooner! So even though Kevin kind of likes the deeper sofas, I think I’m going to be firm about limiting depth. He gets his low arms for sleeping. It’s all about the compromises.

    I’ve been looking for good used couches on Craigslist, but so far, no luck. Nothing in the right size in my area.

    (Catherine, I’ve edited the post since you posted to include some links to couches I actually like. If you have time to take a look, maybe you’ll have additional thoughts? 🙂

  5. We just bought the C&B Oxford sofa, in part because our really cheap old one was hell on my back, and I am loving it so far. The depth is indeed a key factor for me, and you and I are about the same height. I also like that it’s a lot firmer than our last couch, without feeling hard. So the only question is whether it will still feel as supportive in a year or two.

    Anyway, we got it delivered within a week because we picked one of the stock fabrics (which are also the ones on sale). So if you can handle the “cafe” or “aloe,” you should be able to get them right away and pretty cheaply.

  6. My parents have a sleeper sofa, and it has NEVER been comfortable for me… I’ve been trying to figure out which couch I have… I love it, because its deep-ish without being too deep. I can curl up in it with my Giant Hips Of Doom, but at the same time actually sit on it in the rare event I have guests. I do think you can have a nice couch, even with potty training, but you will want something you can wash…kids do have other icky accidents other than potty training. Would you consider keeping the smelly one as a ‘basement’ couch?

    The ones you like are more formal than my taste seems to be, and with kids I would NOT get a cream-color. The nice thing about Pottery Barn is that they keep the designs/patterns for their slipcovers, so you can get replacement covers. I’ll see if I can find out which PB couch I have, as its comfy for laying on too.

    Here’s a link to a pic of my couch:http://i7.photobucket.com/albums/y277/CateMN/IMG_0064.jpg

    What about getting the stinky couch professionally cleaned and then slipcovering it for the time being?

    And you really need to try the couches out in the store, for comfort level…. I found a lot were just that bit too deep, or too high… or the arms didn’t have good padding…

    I wouldn’t get a shiny expensive couch until the kids are a little older. Maybe around 6 for Anand? Until then, I’d replace Mr Stinky with a good, solid couch. You can always recover a good, solid couch too… use it downstairs in the basement, or up in the children’s area in the new house….

  7. Mary Anne Mohanraj

    Kate, very good to know you like it! Sadly, it looks like the one you bought is too big for our space, and the Oxford twin sleeper (which might be too small anyway) isn’t in stock right now. So either that or the Oxford Apartment Sofa would take 2+ months to deliver.

    Hmm. I think I may need to go out to the mall today or tomorrow so I can sit on a bunch of sofas. We did this, several months ago, but now I can’t remember anything.

  8. Mary Anne Mohanraj

    Catherine N., your couch looks delightfully slouchy, but yes, I think I’m going for a neater, more formal look. Stinky couch is going back to Brown Elephant, from whence it came. I don’t want it anymore!

    Catherine, good points all. I wish I’d had more luck with the Craigslist hunting; that would have been ideal, I think. We’ve been fairly lucky on the marker front, I think because we let Kavi go crazy with chalk — she was allowed to draw anywhere she wanted with chalk, and that seems to have mostly gotten it out of her system. She’s pretty good about keeping (washable) markers to paper or occasionally skin. No guarantee that will work with Anand, of course. 🙂

  9. I have nothing useful to add that hasn’t already been said, but I’ll second a couple of things:

    When I was looking for sofas, almost all of the ones I saw were way too deep for my tastes. My impression was that couch makers just expect everyone to use extra pillows.

    I definitely agree with Catherine (even though I’m only speaking vicariously here) that kids are likely to be hard on furniture. Not only accidents and spills and markers: they may jump up and down on it (with all their friends), they may ram toy trucks (or their heads) into it, they may cut the upholstery with sharp edges of things (though I suppose you don’t want them playing with sharp objects regardless). They may hide a non-emptied Easter egg behind the cushions and nobody may notice until it’s too late. Oh, and don’t forget bloodstains.

    As for sleepers, I have once or twice encountered sleeper couches that were comfortable both to sit on and to sleep on, but they’re very rare; most of the ones I’ve seen are uncomfortable for both purposes.

  10. I think it took me about a month to locate a couch on Craigslist, so it does take some time. I have a friend with similar couch issues. She has a lot of pets and didn’t want to spend a lot of money on a couch they would likely ruin within a few years. She settled on this one from overstock: http://www.overstock.com/Home-Garden/Provence-Sky-Blue-Microfiber-Flared-Arm-Sofa/2963482/product.html?IID=prod2963482

    I don’t know how firm/comfortable it is, but I will shoot her an email to ask.

    My 11 year old is now quite prudent and civilized, but I still think I’ll wait until he moves out to invest in any fine furniture. Boys seem to have the most bizarre ways of creating disasters. My friends who had boys after having a daughter all seem rather appalled at the chaos and high-energy behavior they experience with boys. LOL. It’s a lot of fun, though.

  11. Mary Anne Mohanraj

    That’s a pretty couch, and I like Overstock a lot, but I’m really reluctant to buy a couch that I can’t sit on first!

  12. Since you’re in Oak Park, you may want to take a look at Divine Consign on Oak Park Avenue between Lake and North Blvd. I’m definitely not a furniture expert, but a lot of the furniture they take looks nice to me, and their prices seem pretty reasonable.

  13. I hear ya! Here’s what the friend says about the blue microfiber couch from overstock:

    “It’s not super cushy but it’s quite comfortable. The best part is the arms are well cushioned and comfy to lean against. The seat height is a bit high so might not be as good for very little kids. I would probably treat the fabric with a protection spray of some sort. But for the cost, it’s really a decent couch and nothing can withstand greasy little hands and constant spilling except may leather. But hell, for the price, it will last a while and then be replaced.”

    Hope that helps. Good luck!

  14. Julia Kholodenko

    We have a leather couch from C+B. The manufacturer is Mitchell Gold, and they sell through other channels as well as that one. We have had it for 5 yrs and it is impervious to cat urine, from our dear kitty who was dribbling nonstop on account of his heart meds. And it stood up very very well to claws too. It was around 3K, but really it looks better now that it has broken in than it did before. Obviously it might not survive a child armed with scissors or permanent marker, but it just might.

  15. I have a LaZYBoy non-sleeper couch which is super-comfortable. Narrow and with good support. No pillows in the back, which means they have to make the back comfortable. But the more interesting part of shopping at Lazyboy is that they grade their fabrics by strength/cleanability/etc. It’s pretty interesting to have a talk with them about it, although I don’t know if you could then use that information to make informed decisions at other stores. My impression, though, is that Lazyboy had fabrics that are tougher and less porous than PB/C&B but still looked/felt fine. (FYI: I took Adrian there to find a couch we like. Once we redo the carpet in the living room, I will then go and pick a fabric I like and hope that Adrian likes it too. It was hard enough to find a couch type that we both liked, but now we have a model and I can order one anytime. Sadly the custom covers take a bit of time)

    I would guess that fabric covers are a more practical choice than leather. It’s cheaper, scratches/slashes are both harder to make and less noticeable and it can take stronger solvents. Plus you can put the covers in the wash if need be (and even buy new interiors if needed.

    If you’re buying 2 loveseats, you could see if you could find matching looks but different depth/height proportions for you and Kevin. I think the Victorians went more for coordination than matching, but you’d know better than I through all your research!

  16. I’m years away from the potty-training stage, but I did have a diabetic cat who was prone to urinating on the couch when she had a UTI, which toward the end of her long life was every 6-8 weeks.

    We have a slip-covered Restoration Hardware couch and loveseat. What I did was get waterproof mattress covers, cut them down to size and cover the individual couch cushions (between the slipcover and the cushion, not over the slipcover). When there was an accident, it was simply a matter of taking off the slipcover and getting it dry cleaned and washing the waterproof mattress pad.

  17. Waterproof doesn’t have to mean plastic: There are those waterproof baby pads, for one thing (like these), and I’ve also heard of a thing designed for sex, where was that… Ah: The Fascinator Throe, as seen in Savage Love. There are probably lots of similar things. Depending on your aesthetic sense, you might be able to get away with not covering the entire couch — a pad where the kids tend to sit might be good enough for your purposes. Or you could put a waterproof layer under a slipcover, if the slipcover itself wasn’t sufficiently impermeable.

  18. I’m not going by my real name here. I don’t want this suggestion to be connected to me in any way at all and the internet has a way of biting you in the ass when you are rich and famous. Or at least famous.

    Anyway, I discovered faux suede 2 years ago – not a purchase I made. But that stuff is incredible. It is like crack for furniture! My boy and girl spill all manner of food and beverage on these faux suede bar stools and they just wash off with a little water and mild soap. Faux suede.

    Mom S

  19. Mary Anne Mohanraj

    Real names are not required. 🙂 But I do prefer a consistent pseudonym, so I can at least imagine I know who I’m having conversations with, so thanks! And thanks for the suggestion. I’m not sure any of the couches I looked at today had faux suede as an option, but I’ll check.

  20. This is timely – I’ve been couch shopping myself.

    1) The ‘faux-suede’ referred to above is actually called microfiber, I believe. It seemed to be incredibly popular and was the default material on at least half of the couches I looked at. I know C&B had a bunch of it, for example, so you might go look at it and see what you think. I don’t care for the look myself, but I think a lot of people love it and it is supposed to be super durable and good for kids.

    2) In the same mid level price range as C&B, I liked the sofas at Room and Board better and they seemed a bit better made. They also carry sofas called comfort sleeper sofas, which seem way nicer in sleeper mode than the traditional or air coil versions. It feels a bit more futon like (not wobbly and with no metal bars in uncomfortable places), plus you get more sleeping space in less physical space. There is a fairly new Room and Board in the Chicago area – some of it might be too modern for you, but I saw a few things that might work. Might be worth taking a look at their website, at least.

    Good luck!

  21. Mary Anne Mohanraj

    I do like Room & Board, and Kevin loves them (all his office furniture is from there). But it does all feel too modern for this house, I think. Lovely quality, though — everything we bought from them five years ago is still in great shape.

    Crate and Barrel actually offers the Comfort sleeper sofas too, just fyi, though sadly not in the Oxford line. I lay down on some of them the last time I was couch shopping and I liked them a lot.

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