Kathleen Kochanski, advertising writer

The adage, “Measure twice, cut once,” (or, in my case, “Measure twice, purchase once”) would have served me well had I remembered it before a recent shopping trip to purchase a new sofa. It wasn’t until after I had blundered badly in my selection that I turned to the Internet searching for tips on how to do it right. Not surprisingly, the first piece of advice was: Measure.

Because I went full speed ahead without measuring, I ended up purchasing a sofa and love seat that would have been more at home in a castle, not my 12-foot x 18-foot living room. (The pieces certainly didn’t look that big in the showroom.)

According to an article in the Chicago Tribune, “Take measurements. The last thing you want is a sofa that’s over- or under-sized for the room. Start by measuring your room. Make a drawing, noting doors and windows, and bring it with you.”

What I liked about the sofa in particular was its length. I looked at it and figured I could seat five people comfortably across its expanse. That was a big plus for me. Anytime I have the family over for a visit, I find myself wishing I lived in a bigger house. Somewhere in my subconscious, I must have figured that bigger furniture would work just as well.

What I failed to realize was that the additional length of the sofa also meant it would have additional depth and height to keep it in proportion. As such, the couch was not only six inches longer than my old one, it also was six inches higher and deeper. It covered up a good portion of the front windows and protruded about six additional inches into the room. In short, the new stuff made me feel downright claustrophobic. My feet didn’t even touch the floor when I sat down.

Still, I gave the new pieces a fair shot, keeping them in place for about a week, hoping I’d get used to them. Feeling more angst with each passing day and the pressure of acting within the store’s 10-day return policy, I made the decision to send them back.

As so often happens, I exchanged them for the first pieces I had seen and loved but considered too small. (I know, I should have measured.) I may be out two delivery charges and a pickup fee, but I’m going to get the furniture I should have purchased in the first place. Trouble is, both pieces had to be ordered and won’t be delivered for another two weeks. The castle-size sofa and love seat have already gone back. With the old couch and love seat long gone to the city’s special pickup crew, I am no longer feeling claustrophobic in my very empty living room.

In the interest of preventing others from making the same mistake I did, here are some other factors you should consider in addition to measuring. For more details on any of these factors, search “choosing a quality sofa” on the Internet:

The frame: Kiln-dried hardwood is the best material for the frame because kiln drying removes all moisture from the wood, a process that allows the sofa to hold its shape and stability for a long time. Green wood frames can shrink or crack. Knotted wood can also cause cracks.

The filling: Down feathers provide the most luxurious filling but should be covered with a down-proof ticking so the feathers do not poke through. Filling may also be a mixture of down feathers and other materials. These are the most expensive options. High-density foam is a good, less expensive option that holds its shape well.

The springs: Eight-way hand-tied springs are the best. Sinuous spring construction also is acceptable, especially for streamlined sofa styles that have less space for interior springs. It’s OK to remove the cushions and feel the springs. When you push on them they should feel strong and sturdy.

The joinery: Mortise and tenon or dowelled joints are best. Screws are acceptable, but avoid pieces that are stapled together. Make sure the corners are braced with corner blocks. Lift the sofa by the arm to make sure it is not too light. The heavier it is, the more wood framing it has. Put it to this test: Lift one of the front corners about 6 inches off the floor. If the other front corner is not lifting with it, the frame is not as strong as it should be.

The fabric: Pay attention to the details of the upholstery. Make sure the seams are well sewn and that the cushions are upholstered on all sides. The pattern should align at the seams. The back of the sofa should look as nice as the front.

A word to the wise: Textured solid fabrics tend to be more forgiving of spills and stains than non-textured solids.