Updated: Sep 12
In a world of flat-boxed, assembly-required furniture, how can one detect a quality piece from an inferior, poorly made item? Today we’re a transient and impatient society. We don’t like to wait, so levels of product have emerged to suit our differing lifestyles and timelines. Good furniture is readily available and good enough for the present. Better furniture is semi-custom with a lifespan of 10-15 years. Best furniture is totally custom, heirloom quality, and built-to-last.
There’s a reasonably well-made product to satisfy every consumer’s patience quotient and budget. So before making the decision to purchase a piece of upholstery, consider how long you want the next sofa or chair to last and that will influence how much you want to invest in the piece.
Here are a few key things to look for that will help you distinguish a quality made upholstered piece from an inferior one:
Begin with sourcing suppliers whose craftsmanship is impeccable and who have a good reputation
Look for furniture from the standpoint of comfort and stability. Dining room chairs: look for single-piece wood backs and legs or opt for a more substantial metal leg; a cross bar between the legs also adds strength and stability. Look for broader seats to accommodate extra girth. To avoid ‘sinking’ in a sofa, look for extra webbing or a padded deck that reinforces the frame and supports the cushions. Dacron seats offer more support than down or feathers. Deeper seats or higher backs will provide better neck support if you like to pitch back and watch TV. But make sure large custom sofas will fit through access doors!
Look for kiln-dried hardwood frames. Every wood piece is a living thing, and it will shift and move over time. Harder woods like the fruit woods – cherry, maple, walnut, and mahogany are good choices. Avoid pine because it’s soft, but oak maybe a safe choice. Try to go for solid woods over veneers as much as possible.
Look for 8-way hand tied spring support. This is the traditional style of support for the seating of a sofa. In such construction, a series of twine is hand tied in 8 different directions. The resulting web of twine acts as the support for the seating on an upholstered piece. Your upholstery can hold up to 50 years with this method of construction!
A good upholstery company will have several quality fabric options available with the ability to add a stain and soil resistant finish
Do these things while you are out shopping for your upholstery:
Pick the piece up; if it’s light, be wary. Well-made furniture feels substantial. Turn chairs over and inspect the joints. Seat frames, at each corner, should be reinforced with wooden blocks. Look for dowels, not glue.
Beware staples and gauze on the bottom of chairs. Staples can be hiding a disaster.
Bounce on sofa cushions. If they don’t move, the cushion is solid foam and may settle over time. If there’s a slight give, there is supportive webbing that will increase sofa life. When you sit, make sure you can’t feel the hard frame edge on the bottom of your thigh.
Check the seams on the upholstery. The stitching should be straight and there should be no puckering on the fabric. Are the corners executed finely?
Inspect the bottoms and legs of all furniture to be sure that adjustable glides are present. Adjustable glides will help you level furniture. Frames may warp over time if furniture isn’t level.
Run your hand over the length of any exposed wood. Check for smoothness and look for even finishes. Roughness and changes in color indicate shoddy work
A good rule of thumb that I sometimes share with clients who are unsure of how to compare the cost for a good quality versus a not so good quality is:
If you plan to keep the sofa or chair say 10-15 years, divide the cost by the years you will keep it and compare that to a less expensive sofa or chair you may need to replace in 5 years. Again, divide the cost by the number of years to get the cost per year for owning that piece. You may find that it can cost the same or possibly less over time, and then you don’t have to replace it as often…especially if you chose a neutral fabric.
So if you are in the market for a new sofa or chair, these tips should help you decide on the perfect piece at the perfect price.
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