Call me a decor snob but I hate the idea that if I want stain resistant and a seriously durable construction that I will have to give up "pretty". Why can't I have both? And this disturbing thought just leads into more disturbing thoughts of "What if it's too big for my narrow living room?", "What if it's the wrong color?", "Should I go with 2 couches and opt out of the love seat for maximum seating?", "Does a sectional provide more seating than a couch and love seat combo?".
So in my panic, I've done some research. It seems there are 5 main things to think about when purchasing a new sofa:
Many websites suggest drawing a picture of your room. You can even find online room planners like the La-Z-Boy Room Planner (which I found super easy to use and extremely helpful). Aside from moving around large pieces of furniture for days, this gives you as close an estimate of how the furniture will look and fit in the space you have to work with. This will help in both choosing the size of the couch as well as the placement of the couch.
I found it really helpful to bring along a paint chip as well as curtain fabrics and accent pillows when I was shopping. Colors that "look" perfect quickly become totally wrong when put up against paint and other fabrics. Even this sometimes doesn't cut it. Ask the furniture store if they have fabric samples or if you can take a cushion home. The lighting in the store is probably quite different than what you have in your own home.
As far as picking a shape for your sofa think about what other shapes you already have in your room. If everything is rectangular or square a round sofa might look out of place.
When it comes to material I already knew what I wanted when I walked into the store. I was ASTOUNDED at the amount of fabric choices available now-a-days. Let the store clerk know what you need (i.e. I need something durable, stain repellent and easy to clean). This will narrow your search down fast. Don't be swayed by the hot new thing. If you want something durable don't pick a silk couch, likewise, if you want something just for show you don't necessarily need a micro suede.
Finally, I recommend sitting! Kick your feet up (without your shoes preferably) and even stretch out. Every Sunday afternoon my husband and I stretch out to take a nap. I don't want a couch my 6'2'' husband is uncomfortable on. If the stores didn't want you to try it out they'd wrap everything up in plastic and hang them from the ceilings. I can't tell you how many times a sofa looked soooo good but felt waaaay wrong.
I hope that someone, somewhere in the wide wide world of Internet can find this helpful. I know how stressful furniture buying can be (need I remind you of my never-ending string of obsessive thoughts) but I know what I want and I know when I see it and sit on it that it will be coming home with me. I invite anyone who is looking or has recently bought a sofa to post any helpful hints below!