by

Aaron Wong

2021-06-30

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An IKEA Karlstad sofa with the footstool

Anyone who regularly frequents the vast depths of IKEA showrooms must have come across the Karlstad sofa at some point. It’s the one that you could only describe as a plain, typical square arm couch. 

In other words it looks pretty unremarkable. 

But this unremarkable couch has clung onto the title of second most popular IKEA sofa for many years now (behind fan favourite, the Ektorp) and is still one of the finest sofa investments you can make for the money.

The time has finally come to make a review of this couch, which many a day my butt has spent on for meetings, snoozes and couch parties. After which, I’m now more than ready to share its intricacies with the world 🙂

Overview

Time tested and affordable, the IKEA Karlstad was one of the most popular couches on the planet until 2015, where it was unceremoniously discontinued in many countries… or so it seemed.

Even in those regions where the Karlstad was meant to be discontinued, IKEA couldn’t completely cull the line as it was simply too popular. In the US, they still stock the 3-seater in their catalogue to this day.

In other parts of the world where the Karlstad is still alive and kicking, you’ll find it available in far more configurations such as sectional or chaise lounge and in far more colours as well.

For the sake of clarity, in this review I’ll be referring to the standard 3-seater configuration of the Karlstad.

Comfort

In many ways, it feels like IKEA designed the Karlstad to be the budget square arm couch for the everyman. It’s not particularly soft or deep and everyone should be able to sit on it in a comfortable manner.

If you’re looking for a relaxed “cloud-like” experience, then the Karlstad is not the couch for the job. It’s not overstuffed, not very plush and not very loungy. But that doesn’t mean it’s uncomfortable. It’s just that the cushions are on the firmer side.

Instead, what the Karlstad offers is a reasonably attentive sit. It’s got a conservative seating depth and it’s very low to the ground, which means almost anyone can sit on it like it was meant to be sat on. You know… without legs dangling off the side, or knees bending at awkward angles like they may on a deeper sofa like the Farlov.

Ultimately, the Karlstad is not incredibly comfortable – but it’s not uncomfortable, either. One thing I do object to is the height of the armrests. They’re just too high, and not conducive to naps. I have attempted naps on many IKEA sofas and this had got to be one of the worst because of those armrests. 

For normal seating use it’s completely fine though, and no one I’ve surveyed actively hates the Karlstad, so I’d say it deserves a 7 on the IKEA scale of comfort.

Comfort Score: 7/10

Aesthetics

IKEA was never going to win any design awards with the release of the Karlstad, it’s just a typical square arm sofa – and that’s alright! The style is a classic that’s hard to go wrong with.

With its clean lines and modern profile, the Karlstad fits into most homes without issue. Unless we’re talking about living spaces with very traditional looks that may need something less angular.

It looks particularly fitting in modern or contemporary environments (especially considering that it’s only available in grey in most regions).

That’s right, if you’re unlucky enough to live in a country where the Karlstad line has been “streamlined”, then you may want to keep the bohemian or eclectic design inspirations in check.

It’s unfortunate that this has happened to such a popular couch, but the only way to customise your Karlstad will be to take matters into your own hands. And actually, you may find that it’s one of IKEA’s most hackable couches yet!

Tuft it, change out its legs, or give it a slipcover that transforms its personality 180 degrees. Speaking of Karlstad redesigns, here’s a couple of pictures from our very own customers to show the ways it can be hacked:

Leather Karlstad sectional
Karlstad sectional looking great in vegan leather
Maybe add a skirt to give it a whole different feel
Green Karlstad with custom legs
Or give it “the works” with a velvet slipcover, mid-century legs and diy-tufting

The list goes on. But even in its default state it certainly looks like a decently aesthetic piece and deserves an 8/10 in this category. What can I say? You can’t go wrong with a universal design such as this one.

Aesthetics Score: 8/10

Price and construction

Aha! The category that the Karlstad shines the most in is the very one that most IKEA shoppers love about IKEA – affordable quality.

IKEA is best known for being a budget brand which is why so many shoppers go to IKEA for their couch. Even in the budget realm the Karlstad has proven itself supreme against the competition and is one of the most value for money choices available (alongside the Ektorp/Uppland).

If there’s any wonder why this couch is one of Ikea’s most popular, it’s probably because it costs just $399 for a full 3-seater sofa. Completely justified for the way it looks and the comfort levels, but above all it’s got some seriously good craftsmanship.

Somehow this couch is much more well endowed in the foam density department compared to other IKEA couches, even the higher end ones. It even trounces the foam density amounts of couches costing many multiples more than the Karlstad from so called “upmarket” brands!

That’s right, we’re talking 2.5 2.5lbs/cu.ft high-resilience foam on this budget beast. Oh. My.

Consider that cushions losing their fluff is the number one reason why sofas are thrown away, and you’ve got some context as to why this is a big deal. And by the way, density is not to be confused with  the hardness or stiffness of the cushions.

Pair that with the fact you can replace the covers from IKEA (or us) and the only way your Karlstad will be meeting its demise is if someone plays couch trampoline with it and the frame breaks.

Testament to this our own Karlstad has been with us for almost four years now with no sign of breaking down. It’s been used through parties, meetings and naps.

Custom linen white karlstad with long skirt
Comfort Works Karlstad: 2017 – Ongoing. Dressed in pure linen slipcovers and still looks great in photoshoots!

Given all of this for a couch costing just under $400? What else can it be given but 10/10!

Price and construction score: 10/10

 

Verdict:

I wouldn’t go so far as to pretend that this is my favourite couch. I don’t find it uncomfortable but I’d still rather sit on many of the other IKEA sofas.

Despite that, I do see the appeal. It was made to be the everyman’s square arm couch and that’s where it excels, so kudos to IKEA for delivering on such a competitive offering.

If you’re looking for a very competitively priced entry-level sofa that’s going to be sticking around for a long, long time then this might be it. The Karlstad checks all the boxes and then some.

And if you ever get bored of how typical this couch looks then you know where to find us. We will be more than happy to facelift your Karlstad to fill any living space you may have.

Blue Karlstad sofa in mid-century modern living room


Interested in giving your Karlstad a makeover? Visit us on our main website and explore all the colors, materials, and styles that you can choose from to achieve a one-of-a-kind centerpiece.

P.S IKEA even lets you buy the Karlstad without the cover to use a custom one. How cool is that!

DISCOVER CUSTOM KARLSTAD SLIPCOVERS