What to Consider When Buying Upholstery
When it comes to purchasing a new sofa or other upholstered piece, it can be hard to evaluate long-term comfort and durability. So much of what makes a quality sofa or chair is hidden on the inside. To make your shopping experience a little less stressful we’ve put together some helpful buying tips.
Naturally, the first thing on your mind is whether you find the piece attractive. Original designs, classics, and reproductions are all nice—if you like them. But, once you’ve found a style you love, these tips will help you know if it’s made to last. Let’s start with the frame.
Really good upholstery usually has a unique hardwood frame for almost every shape, while lesser quality manufacturers use foam to help create a silhouette. Beware that this foam breaks down over time. To make sure your frame lasts, you’ll also want to look for reinforced butt joints. The best brands glue, double dowel, staple, corner block and screw their butt joints into place.
So, how do you know how a frame is constructed? Ask a sales associate who should be well-versed about a manufacturer’s process.
A significant portion of the cost of making premium upholstery is in the fabric. If you have an inexpensive sofa, you have an inexpensive fabric - and that might prove to be a poor investment. Premium upholsterers also use hand-cut fabrics that are hand sewn and basted like a custom garment. To assess the skill level of your upholsterer, check what tailoring options it offers. Plenty of options and quite a bit of work with Customer’s Own Material (COM) suggest a higher skill level.
Insider Tip: When ordering pieces in a patterned fabric, it’s especially important to inquire about the cutting and sewing process. This is because you want your pattern to match at the seams. And, if you are ordering a set of matching chairs, you’ll want them to be identical pattern matches, so ask if the same person will hand cut both.
When we talk about upholstery comfort, we tend to spend a lot of time talking about the spring base and cushion. You want a sofa that’s firm where it needs to be, soft where it should be, and made to stay that way.
The highest quality brands will inventory coil springs of different gauges and heights. This allows them to create custom coil spring layouts to ensure the best possible sit. A single item may require the use of 5-10 different sizes and gauges and 4 coil springs per row. This means that an upholstered chair may have as many as 16 springs in its base.
Below is an example of a well constructed base. The 4 coil springs in the center of the chair will be the highest gauge, which means the springs are the softest. The back 4 springs and 2 front corner springs and the lowest gauge and the tallest. These will be compressed more, which helps keep you centered on the softest, middle springs. The remaining 4 springs are medium gauge. These are designed to keep you from slipping into the sides or sliding forward.
Eight-way hand tying is the only way to fasten coil springs of different gauges and heights. Each spring is tied from the front to the back of the seat and from side to side. Additionally, the twine is run diagonally across the springs for a total of 8 knots per spring. Beware of springs tied in only four knots; these springs won’t last as long and are likely to pop loose.
Insider Tip: To tell if a manufacturer uses different spring gauges and height, sit in a variety of positions and places on the upholstery piece. You should be supported where you expect support and feel soft comfort where you need it most.