A lovely lady named Madeline recently tweeted at me to learn more about my Karlstad leather sofa collection research, and she found my lengthy email reply helpful. I’ve been eyeing this sofa collection from Ikea for a couple years now, I have a special Pinterest board devoted just to this couch and its many stylings, and I think we’re finally almost ready to bite the bullet and buy us some Karlstad soon. (We have yet to actually purchase the thing, as I have to find a good day to drag my husband to Ikea to check it out in person and sign off on all this white leather.) I figured the rest of you might find my obsessive Internet sofa research useful, so here’s what I sent her (edited to add more links, images, formatting, and information for y’all).
Oh, and my Internet Pal Paul pointed out that I utterly failed to include any pricing info. I guess I’m not used to doing retail-minded posts, haha. So I’ve gone in and stuck USD prices here. All are for the birch leg option; models that for some reason offer chrome versions ready-made are $20 more. But really, price-wise, you’re better off getting the birch version with separate chrome legs since it’s the same cost and now you have a choice, ya know?
Ikea Karlstad leather sofa: $899
Ikea Karlstad leather loveseat: $879
Ikea Karlstad leather chaise add-on: $600
Ikea Karlstad leather loveseat plus chaise combo: $1,479
Ikea Karlstad leather footstool: $249
Ikea Karlstad leather armchair: $549
COLOR AND FINISH
• I could NOT find clear reviews of how the leather version of the Ikea Karlstad sofa holds up, so I tracked down every Pinterester or blogger who had a white leather Karlstad sofa, and I commented, tweeted, and emailed them ALL for feedback, haha. This included a handful of moms and pet-moms who’ve had the thing for a while. All of them said it holds up really well to family and furry abuse; no scratches and it wipes clean pretty easily. I was really skeptical about this, but everyone seems quite pleased with how it’s lasted over time. (I was specifically asking after the Grann white leather finish, but it stands to reason that the darker ones handle even better, since the leather is dyed-through. I verified this in person and thoroughly inspected models of all colors. Dyed through means that scratches on dark models shouldn’t show a light color underneath like they would with most vinyl or cheap leather, because the dye permeates the entire thickness of the hide. Ew/yay.)
• Color-wise, the Grann white is much more of a creamy white than the site shows, which is nice IMO. I have a few of those cheap Ikea Rens sheepskins and I don’t think they’d look out of place draped on an armrest (for the cat) even though they’re a bit creamier; it’s the same family. The Grann white leather finish matches Ikea’s black and off white graphic Stockholm cushion and their black and white offset stripey Stockholm rug pretty well, in case that helps. (This image is of that rug with an even creamier Stockholm leather sofa, though, which is apparently no longer available in that color.)
• Ikea Fans has a couple different posts questioning/suggesting that using the Absorb leather care that Ikea sells will darken the color an unknown amount. This isn’t a HUGE concern to me; my main concern is “What happens when my tipsy friend and/or self spills red wine mixed with Diet Coke on my new white leather couch?” because that is bound to happen at some point. Time will tell. There’s a reason we’re purchasing leather stuff as we transition away from rowdy Rock Band parties with drink spill adventures into more diaper blowout type adventures. I honestly think the latter will make for easier cleanup; time will tell on that frontier too I guess.
DIMENSIONS AND COMFORT
• Everyone online concurs that the Karlstad leather collection’s seating/cushioning remains firm and comfy, and from what I gather the leather one gets much less compressed/lame over time than the fabric model. It felt pleasantly soft for tufted leather, but much more substantial than the fabric Karlstads I’ve sat on both at friends’ houses and in the store. ALL of the complaints I saw online about Ikea couch cushioning getting compressed and wonky were about fabric sofas.
• I sat on several models at Ikea and was pleasantly surprised by the comfort and durability, so I thought. It’s not as hard as it looks like it’ll be in the actual seat area, but in a good way. However, if you plan to sit with your back against an armrest instead of the back, DEFINITELY get a few thick and tall throw pillows as a buffer, and be OK with a couch that requires throw pillows in order to lean against the arm part. (Our current monstrosity-couch has these enormous padded armrests that are the same height and thickness as the back, which is lame for aesthetics IMO but awesome for comfort.) I wish they made a leather version of this Karlstad cushion to stick there, but they don’t seem to.
• Other commenters/bloggers noted that it’s a very low couch, and therefore they had to adjust to lower end tables and lamps accordingly. (I find it the right height and I’m OK with end tables that hit the exact height of an armrest; maybe I’m the weirdo.) Also, when I sat on the floor models I noted that the whole Karlstad leather collection is quite deep, too. You may want to use throw pillows behind your back both for cushioning and to adjust to a more normal couch depth for sitting. We like a deep couch, though. But…
• The dimensions are a little surprising to me, so you may want to measure your floor space and really make sure it’ll fit well. It has a smaller feel because of the narrower and up-on-legs scale of everything, but that depth really eats up quite a lot of floor space, I found, so it’s just bigger than it looks when I go by the actual numbers. I taped out profiles on my LR floor to make sure I could accommodate what I wanted (two full couches facing each other) and found that I definitely couldn’t, so we’re going with a different configuration…
• The interior seating area of the Karlstad loveseat is longer/wider than many loveseats, while still having a dainty look overall, so you can sit on one side with your back against the armrest and fully extend your legs if you’re tall like me. :) However, the interior of the full Karlstad sofa is not long enough for a tall person to fully lie down. In order for a tall person to recline comfortably (I’m 5’11” and my husband is 6’3″) you need the Karlstad loveseat plus chaise combination.
• The combo of the leather Karlstad loveseat plus chaise is cuter and comfier than I anticipated, and for what it’s worth the spacing of the seats exactly matches the loveseat, you know? Like it makes it a three-seater instead of a generous two-seater, seam-wise. We now plan to buy two loveseats with one chaise add-on for one of them. However, I was disappointed to realize that…
• There’s no leather option for the Karlstad corner sofa. I don’t know how that slipped me by! It’s a bummer because I personally think the sofa-plus-chaise look is a bit dated and not nearly as comfortable or accessible to guests as a full-on corner sectional, but I guess we will have to make do, and this *will* probably fit our space better. I actually think I’ll be more OK with it than I was with our last be-chaised sofa; that one sucked because the chaise was created by swapping in an ottoman and a longer cushion, so it never really fit well or stayed put. The Karlstad chaise add-on unit feels more like a part of the couch is acting as a second ottoman, if that makes sense. I awkwardly pretended to be my own guest at Ikea, sitting and flopping and lying all over all areas of the loveseat plus chaise combo, and I deemed it acceptable.
• The Karlstad leather footstool (or ottoman, as I like to call it) is nicer and more useful looking in person, so I think we will end up getting one and sticking a tray on top of it as an auxiliary coffee table unless we need additional seating. (I never really thought about turning ottomans into tables via trays until Emily Henderson schooled me.) The price discrepancy between a small ottoman and a large sofa isn’t that great, I know, but I think it’s like an initial dollar amount for them to produce ANYTHING Karlstad and leather, and nominal amounts past that to make things bigger, ya know? What do I know. Anyway, the ottoman seems very stable as seating, a table, or a footrest. We’ll put this in the empty space in front of our fireplace. That space is sort of wasted in our gas-heated rooms, but it looks weird to completely block a fireplace with something more substantial, so a low dainty footstool which will probably mainly be a cat-bed is just perfect.
• We prefer sofas/loveseats over chairs for our setup, but I sat in a Karlstad leather armchair and it was perfectly comfortable and nice.
MODIFICATIONS AND ACCESSORIES
Like many design snobs, I think Ikea’s standard birch block legs are ugly. I’m determined to change them even though they actually match some old Husar unfinished pine hutches we have in our dining room. Our seating area is far enough away from those that I don’t think it’ll be clear we were matching them; we’ll just look like we were cool with leaving the ugly blocky pale SO UNSTYLISH original legs on. :) So we plan on buying others (because the shape bugs me too, not just the color).
• If you want to downplay the legs while saving money, you could just paint them, or do like Young House Love and get all crazy with an oil-rubbed bronze finish. Like many unfinished-looking Ikea things, they actually have just enough clear lacquer on them to make it annoying to change them. But that’s your cheapest and probably simplest option, especially if you’re on a tight budget or you have a lot of legs to tackle. I do think that you’ll barely notice the blocky shape once they’re a darker color, if that helps make your decision.
• For an extra $20 per set of four I think, you can get Ikea’s chrome legs. The problem is that those are uglier than they should be. If you look at this old Jezebel article recommending the prior Karlstad fabric model, you can see that the cool sleeker chrome frame extended along the entire bottom of the couch. But since we no longer have that option, we have to go with the weird chrome awkward angle-tapered ones that to me look like shelf brackets. Oddly enough, these I would like better if they WERE blocky, like the ones shown on Jezebel. Alas, if you’re determined, I’m sure you could find legs somewhere that are the right metal look, or you could even check out the rest of Ikea’s legs that are sometimes not even meant to go with couches. I’m sure their customer service can help you figure out which ones would hold up actual furniture.
• If you buy third-party legs, be careful to make sure they fit the holes (insert juvenile joke here; go ahead, I’ll wait). Ikea’s legs apparently are threaded with a metric bolt or some such, so make sure the vendor of sexy legs has a bolt that will work with that. I forget where I read about these woes but I think a lot of hackers ran into a lot of grief over this and had to jigger special solutions to make their new legs work, so either be handy or buy from a more trusted source that specifically fits Karlstad.
• The folks from Our Mid Century did their own legs for cheap from Ace Hardware. Seems annoying to me and I prefer a stain-free choice for no scratches or dings showing through. But you can copy them if you like!
• The legs by Uncle Bob’s Workshop are the best I’ve seen, after careful (OK, compulsive) review. The reason I like these the best is because I prefer ordering stuff that’s a solid wood that doesn’t need to be stained, since that way it doesn’t show scratches. Most other vendors only offer stained or painted legs. Also, I’m lazy and skeptical that I’ll do a great job if I DIY, and I want something totally stable and solid and gorgeous. These are made especially for the Karlstad, but you can also get a conversion option for some other Ikea models which you can select at purchase.
• This Etsy store Thirteen Colonies also sells legs. They make a couple different heights, so hey, if you’re bothered by the lowness of the Karlstad maybe this is a solution.
• If you’re into upping the funk factor, you could look into legs from Pretty Pegs, or probably DIY one of their designs yourself. Personally, I think this all starts to get too busy given the texture of the tufting already present on this otherwise clean and streamlined collection. But I suppose it all depends on your room’s vibe.
• If you want a less Mid-Century Modern look, you can get more transitional legs like these. Poke around. Just bear all that Karlstad-specific stuff in mind, and also keep in mind how much buying legs adds up to your total price point! If I get all the fourteen dollar solid teak legs I need plus shipping and tax for two loveseats, a chaise, and an ottoman, I’m looking at over two hundred bucks. That’s manageable, but it adds up so that may factor into your ultimate leg choice!
I will continue pinning any cool new leg ideas I see on my Karlstad sofa Pinterest board. Gosh, I’m almost thinking you could, like, DIY gold leaf them or something. Gah. Save me from myself!
• Slipcovers: Most slipcovers are designed for fabric Karlstads and not leather ones. However, even though Bemz claims their Loose Urban Fit slipcover isn’t meant to fit the leather model, I actually think it would fit, if you ever wanted to switch it up, protect it, or change the color and look down the line. This is what Bemz said back to me when I pressed them about whether I could sneak a Loose Fit Urban onto a leather Karlstad:
Our slipcovers are custom made to fit the IKEA Karlstad model with the removable fabric slipcovers. Like you say, our regular fit covers are tight fitting and do not fit over the leather version.
But with the Loose Fit Urban covers there is the concern that the slipcovers may be very slippery and not sit properly on the sofa if there is leather underneath. This will cause extra wear and tear on the seams. As we do not recommend putting our slipcovers on leather sofas our 3-year guarantee does not cover that sort of wear and tear.
So that’s actually not such a big deal, if you know what you’re getting into in terms of warranty and wear-and-tear. If I were to buy one of these, I would get the seams reinforced by a tailor, or possibly just get the whole thing in a heavier fabric like canvas. Either way, it seems to me that since the actual dimensions of the couch are only 1/4″ different between the fabric and the leather, you just might be able to get away with some slipcover wizardry. PLEASE let me know if you try it; I’m curious to know if I can slipcover over white leather if awful stains do happen to me down the road!
For what it’s worth, I ordered some Bemz swatches just in case. I was pleasantly surprised by their quality and texture as well as free-ness, mildly surprised by some of the colors as compared to the website, and mildly disappointed that it took a very very long time for them to arrive. Duh, international bulk mail is not speedy. Plan ahead if you’re pondering a slipcover and need it in a specific time frame!
I also reached out to the Australian slipcover company Comfort Works, but they never got back to me. :( And their whole site seems to have the models and names confused, which immediately concerns me.
I peeked at Knesting too but frankly theirs look cheaper for a similarly high price point, and they don’t cover nearly as many models. Boo.
• Pillows: I already talked about throw pillows you can get from Ikea above, and really, I’ll let you enjoy exploring those on your own. But for what it’s worth, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the very affordable pillows I snagged from H&M’s new online storefront. I’ve taken the liberty of creating an overwhelming custom H&M throw pillow search URL for you here. Go nuts! (I bought a pair of these in black and white stripes, which are actually soft black and off-white; a pair of these in charcoal; a pair of these in medium gray (violet undertones) and in peacock (lovely); and now I am forbidden from bringing new pillows into our home. None of them are AMAZING quality, but they’re all decent, and they were so dang cheap! I do recommend sucking it up and buying the H&M brand fillers since the sizes are a bit odd. But those inserts are also pretty cheap, and decent quality.
• Blankets: The Karlstad leather sofa’s clean lines are kind of begging for a great throw blanket or two, maybe stacked on the nearby footstool when not in use. I’ve never been particularly thoughtful about throws before; I always used whatever weird ugly thing we had on hand just for warmth. But reading a bunch of design blogs makes me realize what a great design impact the right throw has, so I have been on the lookout for something both boldly stylish and functional. I was SURE I’d be snagging the Ikea Eivor throw based on this Emily Henderson post, but in person the thing is super duper cheap and lame looking. Obviously acrylic, ugly black stitching that looks weird on the cream parts, and just generally not nice up close. I can totally see how it makes for an amazing graphic pop in styled photographs, but I have no interest in snuggling under this thing during a movie marathon. So then I ordered this faux leopard blanket, but it got lost in shipping so they refunded it and I’m kind of glad since I was worried it is maybe a little too RAWR COUGAR for this 30-something household. :) Still searching.
SOME NOTES ON LEATHER COUCHES IN GENERAL
I’m a bit of a leather snob, and also a cheapskate. The Ikea Karlstad leather sofa is THE leather couch whose quality and price point are acceptable to me. You can learn more about leather types here if you like, but I dug up some relevant info for you because I want you to love your couch as much as I hope to love mine.
Here is what Ikea says:
Dyed through grain leather from cattle, with an embossed and pigmented surface. Soft, hardwearing and easy care leather ages gracefully. A slight treatment allows the leather to breathe well and keep its natural structural variations.
And here is what Wikipedia says about what I can glean is the type of leather Ikea is using in this series:
Corrected-grain leather is any leather that has had an artificial grain applied to its surface. The hides used to create corrected leather do not meet the standards for use in creating vegetable-tanned or aniline leather. The imperfections are corrected or sanded off, and an artificial grain impressed into the surface and dressed with stain or dyes. Most corrected-grain leather is used to make pigmented leather as the solid pigment helps hide the corrections or imperfections. Corrected grain leathers can mainly be bought as two finish types: semi-aniline and pigmented.
What I can tell you is that the leather I touched on this particular Ikea collection felt higher quality than the leathers I’ve seen at places like Kasala, Dania, and Crate & Barrel. I was very pleasantly surprised. Also, I’ve spent like a year trying to follow Emily Henderson’s leather sofa tips, but I don’t think we’ll ever find anything that’s better than the Karlstad pricing-wise and I’ve never seen anything in Seattle that was, like, an amazing vintage leather sofa steal. Never. Nor have I seen things affordably priced enough at our Restoration Hardware outlet to justify pulling the trigger (although it’s true that if you want non-white, their stuff is way sexier than any other new leather I’ve ever seen. I particularly love their “Glove” color.)
I can also say that I now believe you should never, ever buy any furniture in vinyl. I know fancy bloggers like Little Green Notebook and good old Emily Henderson will tell you otherwise, but I just think it smells and sounds weird and is all sweaty and sucks and when a mark or stain happens it RUINS the thing, whereas with leather that’s a decent enough caliber a scratch or scuff just “adds character,” you know?
Anyway, when it comes to leather it pays to be picky, but I really think this Karlstad leather (and that of Ikea’s Stockholm sofa) is shockingly good value and quality.
So, folks, I think it’s officially time to stop writing about sofas now. I hope you find this helpful! Refer me clients if you do! ;)
Some final programming notes
• Please forgive the many linked names to the Karlstad leather series or to its individual pieces. My Karlstad Pinterest board is my most-followed social media thing except maybe my ergonomics board, and I get the feeling this post might kinda blow up with people considering a Karlstad sofa so I’m SEOing the crap out of it even though that might be a tiny bit annoying for readers. Please love me anyway; I’m only human, and I only really want everything I do on the web to hopefully have the side effect of reaching people who could use my help as an online dating coach if I can!
• If I seem to allude to your blog but I failed to actually link to you, please let me know and I will do so. I’ve done SO much deep diving on this couch that a lot of the info I’ve included is more like little memory fragments than specific references, which is why you’re not seeing the link you desire. But I will gladly link it up if you help refresh my memory, and I would totally appreciate you returning the favor! Isn’t that how this blogging thing works? (Serious question; I clearly have no idea what I’m doing here.) So far I got helpful input from Visual Jill, Ella Pretty, Denise, and Brandi.
• If you love my writing and my level of detail, and you’re single or you know someone who is, please check out my online dating coaching site at The Heartographer. Thanks! <3