Find that Winning Piece of Upholstery

When it comes to upholstered furniture, you most often get what you pay for.  However, you must look beyond the fabric and really dig deeper to understand if it’s worth the investment.  With the Summer Olympics coming up, my competitive nature is wound up and I am inspired to share with you some simple things to look for when searching for that “winning” piece of furniture. 

Gold Medal:  Frame should be constructed of solid hardwood with tight graining that has been kiln dried.  Kiln drying removes access moisture and minimizes movement of the wood throughout the life of the furniture.  Joints should be glued, screwed (never nailed) and blocked or dowelled at the joints to provide more rigid support.   Eight-way hand-tied is the highest standard for spring supports in the seat deck.  Each spring is tied together (eight ways) to ensure little movement and less sagging and shifting and the coils vary in gauge to offer the best support.  Back supports are often constructed with a Marshall unit where the springs are individually pocketed in muslin.  Cushions themselves vary widely depending on the softness or resiliency you are seeking.  High density foams, spring down, feather and down wrapped foam, and all down/feather are common.  Keep in mind that each cushion provides a different level of comfort, support, and maintenance.  Typically, this level of furniture will feel heavy in weight due to the quality of materials and craftsmanship provided to make a piece that will last.   

Silver Medal:  Sinuous springs also called no-sag springs are made of heavy gauge steel in the form of a continuous “S” shape.  Sinuous springs move up and down only and provide a more firm “sit”.  This spring system is often used in more contemporary furniture where a lower profile is desired.  Frames are oftentimes made of the same quality materials though the techniques may not be as complete for providing support—screwing in corner blocking instead of gluing as well or using staples instead of screws. 

Bronze Medal:  Manufactured drop-in springs or pre-fabricated units are simply dropped into the frame and fastened in place.  Different from the eight-way hand tie in that the coils are the same gauge offering less support and can often squeak over time due to more metal-to-metal contact.  If you see lumpy padding or cushions and if you can feel the wood frame through the cushion or fabric, the frame is not properly protected and is a sign of inferior craftsmanship.  Beware of particle board, fiberboard or vague statements such as “finest materials” or “hand-built” that do not actually provide you with information on the quality of product used to make the furniture.  Inferior techniques are also used to build this furniture and the furniture is not built to last.

Keep in mind, that the Gold Medal is not always the best choice for every project.  It is important to understand what you want to get out of the furniture (2, 6, or 20 years?) and how much you are willing to invest.  Knowing what you are paying for is the key to making the best choice.