When you shop for upholstered furniture, what are you really getting? If we listen to manufacturers and sales clerks, all of the sofas are wonderful and they’ll last forever. So many of us have had the experience of buying a new sofa only to be disappointed a few years later by flattened cushions, sagging springs and a torn cover. It’s difficult to tell how well a piece of furniture is made by inspecting it from the outside. To find a good sofa or chair, you need an interior designer, and you’ll need to know what questions to ask.
What about springs? The best have always been 8-way hand tied springs. In this construction, large coil springs are attached at the top and bottom to tight webbing, and tied to each other in every direction. The jute webbing and waxed twine used are soft materials that minimize squeaking. Since the springs are attached directly to the wood sofa frame, the frame has to be strong to stand up to the pressure – hardwood such as oak or maple is preferred. Corners should have blocks glued and screwed into place so the frame stays square for years. 8-way hand-tied springs are labor intensive and take a lot of skill, so they are found on the best quality pieces.
Manufacturers today know that customers have heard about 8-way tied springs. 8-way springs are now made in drop-in units, which can be bolted into the completed sofa as it heads down the line. On a medium-priced sofa, a drop-in unit is not a bad system, as long as it fits the sofa well. If it is a bit short, you’ll feel as if you are sinking into the corner of the sofa when you sit down since the springs won’t quite go to the edge. While they are not quite as reliable as hand-tied springs, they can be acceptable if the rest of the sofa is well-made, and the sofa is not too expensive.
Common on the market today are Morley springs. If they are made of a heavy-gauge steel, these sinuous springs give even, long-lasting support. In combination with a good hardwood frame, they are a great long lasting option for a reasonable price.
Padding on the frame is also critical – a cheaply made sofa may look good and even have 8-way drop-in springs and feel sturdy, but if the frame is not well-padded it will wear quickly. The wood on the frame will wear through the fabric from behind. Some manufacturers put cardboard under the foam padding on the arm, since they know consumers will be feeling for the wood underneath. Once that sofa is in your home and someone sits on the arm, the cardboard breaks and the arm goes flat. Better made furniture has several layers of firm and soft foam glued in place; a high density foam will stand up to years of pressure and keep the wood from wearing through the fabric cover. If you have a busy household and people sit on the arms, it is well worth it to buy a high-end sofa, chair or recliner. You may find yourself reupholstering it in ten years or so, but the quality padding and hardwood frame will stand up to heavy use. This recliner has a heavy gauge sinuous spring back and a coil-spring seat cushion with down and feather wrap. The doweled and glued wood frame will stay square to preserve the integrity of the reclining mechanism:
The biggest complaint we hear from furniture shoppers is that cushions on their sofa did not last well. There are so many different kinds of cushion construction, and they all sound great, so what to choose? All cushions should have an inner liner of muslin fabric – unzip the cushion in the showroom, and if you see bare foam or loose stuffing, move on. Under the cover should at minimum be white-colored High Resiliency foam, with a soft layer of Dacron fiber or feathers encased in ticking like a comforter. You’ll want to ask about the density if the foam – it should be a dense 2.0 rating for support. The wrapping around it gives it softness and loft, and creates a “crown” on the top of the cushion for a nice sinking-in feeling. Foam and down cushions are popular today, and will last for many years.
Inner spring cushions are another option. They offer long-lasting support, since there are coil springs in the center of the cushion, followed by a foam layer, then feather-down in a fabric ticking cover. They have the cushiness of a crowned feather cushion, and the firm center of coils can last a lifetime.
The most overwhelming area of upholstered furniture shopping is the fabric choice. Most manufacturers don’t offer durability information on their fabric samples. You can’t really tell how durable a fabric will be by looking at it. You’ll need to know its Wyzenbeek rating – yes, there is a machine that rubs the fabric and tests durability, and that rating is available on many fabrics. If you order furniture through an interior designer, you’ll be able to find out. A Wyzenbeek rating of 25,000 rubs or more is recommended for a family home; we often use 60,000 rub fabrics on our furniture to give the clients long-lasting pieces.
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If you take the time to visit a designer’s showroom, you can learn a lot by asking about frame construction, cushions, and rub-rating of the fabrics. For a sofa or chair that will last for years, we like to use hardwood frames with hand-tied or Morley springs, high-density foam and down cushions, and a heavy duty fabric. We also like to visit the home to make sure everything will fit. Having our furniture made in America allows each client to choose the features that work best for them, and receive their pieces quickly. In the area of upholstery, American craftsmanship is still the best, and we’re proud to be part of the process.