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What is the Best Cheap Sofa for Families with Children?

By Jeff Frank

Question:

Is there a good sofa brand that is both cheap and durable?

I have a family with three young children. My next sofa is going to get some heavy use over the next several years.

 

My sofa budget is only $1000, but I need to buy something soon. I can’t wait until I have saved up to buy something more expensive.

Is there any affordable brand you can recommend?

Answer:

My recommendation will be considered almost sacrilegious by most professional furniture “experts.”

I recommend IKEA.

Most furniture professionals dismiss IKEA sofas as being cheap and flimsy.

There is a good reason for that – Most articles on furniture construction and quality are written by industry professionals who work with high-end products.

Frame quality is critical for top quality sofas, built to last 20+ years. It is natural and proper for professionals who work with high end furniture to emphasize frame construction.

For low and mid-priced sofas, frame quality is almost irrelevant when evaluating a sofa’s durability.

IKEA’s fiberboard and particleboard frames may squeak or wobble, but they should remain fully serviceable for at least 10 years.

If a frame does break, it should be covered under IKEA’s 10 year warranty.

Worn out cushions are not covered under any brand’s warranty. Cushion wear is always excluded as “normal use.”

Cushions are the most vulnerable part of mass produced sofas.

Cushion cores can be replaced, but few people choose that option for mass produced seating.

Once the cushions lose their shape and comfort, many people decide it is time to replace the sofa.

KIVIK Loveseat, Tibbleby beige/gray

IKEA sofa construction

Looking beyond the fiberboard and particle board frame, there is a lot that I like in IKEA’s sofas.

That includes their cheaper models, priced well under $1000.

Foam cushions found on most low and mid-priced sofas have an average lifespan of 3 – 5 years.

After that, they lose their shape and resiliency (ability to bounce back.)

That lifespan can be even lower if used by people who are larger than average or by families with kids who like to jump on the furniture. A 250 lb. person can wear out a foam cushion in 1 – 2 years.

Several of my older blog articles dismiss IKEA as being cheap furniture suitable only for short-term use. 

But I hadn’t been in an IKEA store for nearly 20 years.

Ikea sofas are still cheap. But both the quality and comfort have significantly improved.

IKEA sofas were originally designed for Scandinavian and European tastes.

Those included low seat heights and smaller scale dimensions.

Some of IKEA’s older models, like the Kivik, still have 17″ seat heights, standard for European furniture, but well below the 19 – 20 inch seat height most Americans are accustomed to.

IKEA’s more recent models are 18.5 inches from the floor to the top of the seat cushion and larger in scale with increased seat depths.

10 years ago, IKEA sofas all had cheap foam cushions that flattened out within just a few years.

Most American sofas priced below $1500 (and many priced higher) are still using 1.8 density foam cushions with a 3 – 5 year average lifespan.

IKEA has upgraded to seat cushions made with pocketed coil springs and further cushioned with layers of 2.2 and 2.0 density foam.

The new pocketed coil spring cushions are much better than the 1.8 density foam found in most mass produced sofas.

Coil spring cushions should hold up much better than foam for active families with kids who like to jump on the furniture.

Washable, replaceable covers are another big IKEA advantage over similarly priced competing brands.

Coil spring cushions are often firmer than foam. They should retain that firmness for many years.

Three years after purchase, when many foam cushions already need replacement, IKEA’s cushions should still feel firm and look almost new.

Some people don’t like firm cushions and may complain about the comfort, but they will be a minority.

IKEA’s pocketed coil spring cushions should last at least 6 – 8 years, and possibly 10 years or more.

That is more than twice the life expectancy of more expensive sofas with better frames, but inferior foam cushions.

IKEA sells a lot of leather sofas.

Although the leather may last 20+ years, the cheap frames probably won’t.

IKEA sofas are labeled “Firm”, “Soft,” and “Extra Soft.”

All IKEA cushions have the general construction shown in the photo below.

The cushions are fabricated with a top layer of polyester fiber.

The fiber is above the coil springs and two layers of foam.

What is the difference between IKEA’s firm, soft, and extra soft cushions?

IKEA’s website shows the same cutaway picture and description for all sofas, regardless of firmness.

After multiple attempts to find the answer to this question from IKEA sales and customer service people, the only response I got was that “the packaging is different.”

In my experience, a cushion can be made softer in one of two ways:

  • Increase the thickness of the polyester fiber layer
  • Use a softer foam

My guess is that the softer cushions have more polyester fiber.

Increasing the fiber thickness does not affect the cushion’s durability.

But it may affect the appearance.

Polyester fiber compresses easily. Extra fiber in a cushion can make the cover look loose and sloppy over time.

Firm cushions will maintain their shape and appearance better over time.

In a recent Wirecutter review, the author states:

“We’ve tested the Kivik, which has a simple classic design.

Though its price—starting at about $550—is almost impossible to beat, in this case you get what you pay for.”

The implication is that IKEA furniture is flimsy and won’t hold up.

But, later in the same article, the author comments:

“Two Wirecutter staffers, who have owned Kiviks for 10 and eight years, respectively, both say they have liked this sofa.”

Two individuals from a single office, got 10 and 8 years use from a $550 IKEA sofa.

That’s a pretty good value!

 

 

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