Identifying quality upholstered furniture

05/12/2016
by Vladimir Prokhnevskiy

Identifying quality upholstered furniture

Upholstery can be like a big black box when it comes to determining how well it's made.  Sure it looks great on the outside because it may have an appealing fabric and it seems to look OK, but what's on the inside?   Here at Geitgey's Amish Country Furnishings we work hard on education and helping clients be aware of what constitutes a quality piece of upholstered furniture.  Whether it's comparing one of our new sofas or chairs to something else that is in the marketplace or trying to make a decision about whether it's worth reupholstering an older piece, let us walk you through the process to identifying quality -

Frame - This is the "bones" or skeleton of the piece and what you want to know here is if the frame is made from kiln-dried hardwood lumber.  Much of today's value furniture is made with plywood framing and this simply will not hold up.  Hardwood frames will typically be made out of maple, oak, poplar or birch.  Ask the salesperson if the frame is hardwood, what species are used, and if it has been kiln-dried to help reduce expansion and contraction due to moisture and temperature changes.  Better yet, ask them if there is a cutaway sample available so you can see the construction for yourself.  Furthermore, ask about the joinery used to connect the framework.  You want to know that the frame is screwed and glued and includes corner blocking - if the frame is stapled or pin-nailed it should probably be avoided.   Sit in the furniture and exert some pressure on the back and arms by bracing your feet against the floor and pushing back with your back.  Hear an excessive amount of cracking or feel too much give?  Also lift one end of the piece and try to flex it a little.  A well-built frame should not flex or creak excessively during this test.  Finally, check the exposed wood details such as the feet.  Where possible, it's best if they are integrated into the frame of the piece and glued and screwed.  If it's a smaller detail, like a bun or spool foot for example, make sure it is held in with a lag screw of the appropriate size, or several smaller screws and that it is made from a hardwood..  The ability to remove and reattach the feet may be handy when trying to get through a narrow door someday.

Springs and Support System - Think of these as the "muscles and tendons" of the furniture - just how strong are they?  Check that the spring and support system is sufficient by performing these tests.  Let yourself drop somewhat heavily into the sofa.  Do you hear any excessive noise or a "thunk"?  When you stay seated and bounce on the cushion do the springs return you to an elevated position each time or do they bottom out?  When you place your hand under the cushion and press down are the springs adequately padded so that you cannot feel the metal? We recommend eight-way hand-tied coil springs for the main deck as they offer the best weight distribution over the entire frame.  Pieces that feature sinuous (also know as zig-zag) coil units for the main deck are more than likely not going to last as long.  Sinuous coils are acceptable and common for the backs of most chairs, sofas and loveseats however.  Ask the salesperson about the type of spring system used or ask to read the manufacturer's literature. Finally, check to make sure that the cushions are of a high-density foam and that they are wrapped with a separate fabric layer to avoid direct contact between the foam and the main fabric which will accelerate the deterioration of the foam.

Fabrics and Leathers - And now for the "skin" of the furniture!  Many clients ask us about leather vs. fabric and our answer is that leather is wonderful but will be more expensive for full-grain or top grain leathers, which we would recommend.  Less expensive leather furniture features leather that is know as "split", "recast" or "vinyl added" and will break down more quickly.  A quality leather on a loveseat, sofa or chair can possibly provide a lifetime of wear.  If fabric is more to your liking, just make sure that you are choosing a fabric that fits your lifestyle.  Most better upholstery fabrics will be wear-rated for durability - ask the salesperson to show you the wear-rating for the fabric.  This is based on the blend of fabrics used, i.e. cotton, rayon, polyster, linen, etc.  Also pay attention to the cleaning requirements for the fabric - whether a solvent or water should be used.  For example, while cotton is great for that favorite worn pair of jeans, it may not be the best choice for a hard-used sofa due to it's tendency to wrinkle and hold stains.  A final word about the fit and finish of your upholstery covering - pay special attention to the tailoring that is represented on the pieces you are considering ordering.  Is care taken to make sure that pattern matching is done throughout the piece (i.e. arm panels match, pattern continues over the backside of the piece and vertically spanning cushions, decks, backs, etc.).  Is there any excessive puckering at corners, seams and welts that is not otherwise part of the design or fabric?  Do the cushions feature sippers that allow you to remove the cores cores for easier cleaning and fluffing?

If you would like to know more, please feel free to call or visit our store.  At our store we sell Clayton Marcus upholstery, as well as our Amish-made line of standard upholstery and finally our line of completely custom upholstered furniture that allows us to custom build frames to your specification.  All are proudly made here in the US.  Additionally, we offer reupholstering on select pieces and we would be glad to discuss the feasibility and cost of your project with you.

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