How to choose the three most important buys for your home

When it comes to your home, the bed, sofa and dining table are your big-ticket items – so choose wisely

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It doesn’t take an awful lot of effort to choose a new vase or a couple of scatter cushions, does it? You just head to your favourite home interiors store or jump onto the internet and look for something that you like within your price range.

Accessories don’t usually cost an awful lot of money and we tend not to keep them for years and years, so the commitment (and therefore risk) is minimal. But when it comes to buying bigger, more expensive pieces that need to last, it’s a different story. With these you want to get it right. That’s why we’ve put together this buying guide for three of the most important purchases that you’re likely to make for your home.

The sofa

The first question to ask yourself when buying a sofa is, who will be using it? Functionality has to come before style. If you have a big shaggy dog or young kids, for example, it simply isn’t practical to get a sofa upholstered in expensive cream silk fabric. It will be ruined before you’ve had a chance to enjoy it for more than a week.

If your sofa is likely to get a lot of heavy use, you need to be thinking dark textured fabrics, perhaps with a pattern that will hide dirt and wear. Leather is actually a great choice with kids because it's wipe- clean, especially antiqued leather, which actually looks better with wear. But if you've got boisterous pets then steer clear as their claws will scratch the surface. Size is another big factor, if you'll excuse the pun. There's nothing worse than a sofa that is too large for the room – it makes everything feel cramped and crowded, which is not what you want in a space that should be welcoming and relaxing. Make sure to measure your room accurately before shopping, and buy accordingly.

It might be tempting to avoid the hassle of going out to the shops and buy your sofa online instead, but nothing beats actually testing a sofa out properly. Sit on it, lie on it, lounge on it, test out all the different ways you might use it and see how it feels. Is it deep enough to curl up in? Hard enough to support your back? Unless all of these practicalities work, it just doesn’t matter how good the piece looks.

The dining table

Many of the questions you'll be asking yourself about a sofa will be the same for a dining table. So, first, who is going to be using it? If you have a large family and need the table to act as place to eat, play boardgames, do homework and so on, you'll need something very different than someone who lives by themselves and tends to eat out with their friends.

If you need a large dining table, but don’t have the space, go for an extendable model or one with leaves that fold down. Also consider this option if you know you’re planning on moving to a bigger place in the future or starting a family. Remember, this isn’t a temporary purchase, it is one that will hopefully last you for many years.

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The material that your dining table is made from will be a big consideration, too. Wood is popular and wears well. Softer woods can get knocked and scratched, so if your dining table will see a lot of action then go for a harder wood such as mahogany, walnut or oak instead.

Glass looks great and is ideal in a small or dark room because it lets light move around and so won’t “fill” the room in the same way as a solid material. But be warned, glass tables need more cleaning, so if you have sticky-fingered toddlers around it’s not a good option.

The bed

This is a vital purchase to get right, and not just because of expense. We spend almost a third of every day asleep, and slumber supports everything from our physical to mental health. But there are so many types of beds available that it can be very hard to choose. Divan and bedsteads are the most common, but there are also futons and sofa beds, bunk beds and oversized beds.

In terms of sleep quality, the most important part of your bed is the mattress. You probably already know whether your back prefers a hard or a soft mattress, but there are other factors to consider. Mattresses can be made of lots of things, such as foam or springs, with lots of variations of each. Don’t be afraid to ask the sales staff in the showroom about the options on offer, and the advantages and disadvantages of each one.

Whatever you think sounds best, you’ll definitely need to try it out before you buy. You might feel silly, but lie in the position you would do at night rather than just on your back, and spend as long as you need to be certain you will be comfortable for seven to eight hours at a time.

When it comes to the size of your bed, the most important thing is that you fit comfortably in it. You don’t want to be waking up your spouse every time you roll over, or finding your feet sticking out the bottom. Make sure the length is at least six inches longer than your height. If you’re really pushed for space at home then a futon or sofa bed is ideal, as you’ll free up more room during the day when the bed is folded away.

There are a few extras that are worth thinking about, too. If storage is an issue in your home then a bed with drawers underneath will provide some vital extra space. If you like to sit up reading at night then you’ll need a comfy headboard. And a small but super-useful extra is mattress handles, which will help you when you turn the mattress, something you should be doing every three months or so.

By investing time and effort in making good choices about major purchases early on, you will ensure that you can enjoy them for years to come.