Today, more than ever, buying quality furniture is so important. By purchasing a high quality piece of furniture you will enjoy it for many years and be contributing to a greener environment by not adding inferior goods to our landfills.
Determining high quality in upholstery can be difficult because you can’t see what’s inside. Like with most things in life, the old saying, “You get what you pay for,” holds true. Many times I’ve heard people say, “I saw the exact same sofa at XYZ store for less money.” I explain that they did not see the same sofa, just one wrapped in similar looking fabric. And, what’s on the inside is critical to the life of the piece. Think of blue jeans – you can buy a pair for $20 or $200. And, anyone who has had both will tell you there is a huge difference – and they likely still have the $200 pair many years later.
The inner components of upholstered furniture include the frame, support foundation, padding and cushioning materials. The last piece of the puzzle is the outer fabric.
The frame is the basic unit of all upholstery – and it’s where the type of materials used and skilled workmanship will contribute to the price you pay. You want a kiln-dried hardwood frame because they do not warp. A soft wood frame – like pine – will lack strength and likely break down. Also, stay clear of laminate boards or MDF – after all, it is just sawdust mixed with glue. Do not fall for a sales person saying, “This frame is solid wood.” That’s a trick of the trade – paper and toilet paper are also solid wood but you wouldn’t want your sofa made out of it. Some better furniture manufacturers will show you a cutaway of their furniture, if one is not available ask the sales person specifically what type of wood is used for the frame. Also, there should be corner blocks underneath for corner frame reinforcement.
The next layer is the support foundation. This will be fabric webbing, steel springs, sinuous coils or wood slats. The springs are connected with twine, wire or clips. In high quality furniture, you will not be able to feel the metal supports through the cushioning fabric. Eight way hand tied and bench made are two terms associated with excellent quality.
Padding and cushioning materials can include a layer of cotton or polyester batting, springs, down and urethane foam (polyurethane). Urethane is the most common because it is durable, non-allergenic, comes in various densities and resists moths. High density foams with a high percentage of urethane are best. Light weight cushions will “hollow out” in a short period of time and is a sign of inferior goods.
For those seeking a luxurious seat and willing to absorb the higher price tag, feather and down or a combination can be found through higher end manufacturers. A good ratio is 80% feathers to 20% down as all down would be too soft to provide any support. Whatever the cushioning materials used, all should be wrapped in a case of muslin.
Lastly, the outermost layer of decorative fabric needs to be durable. Many materials are used today, from natural to manmade fibers, leather and vinyl. Ask your decorator or salesperson what it’s made out of and how best to care for it. All fabrics are graded and have been tested for durability. With many fabrics, a “double rub” number will have been assigned to it. Anything under 5,000 should not be used for upholstery. (I would not use under 15,000.) There are great velvets, microsuedes and chenilles out there today that have double rubs over 100,000. Keep in mind that a printed design will hide some minor soiling and a tightly woven fabric like polyester will wear better than a loosely woven one like some cottons. To further guard against stains, you can purchase additional fabric protection or a sealant plan. If you have little ones, it’s worth it. They will wear off over time and with cleanings so you will need to keep up with them for optimal results.