A beautiful fabric and stylish frame may be the reasons you fall in love with
a sofa or chair, but if you ignore what's inside, your affections may
fizzle over time.
To help consumers understand the variations in interior workmanship and
materials that impact both price and durability, the American Furniture
Manufacturers Association offers tips for consumers who want to purchase the
best quality within their price range.
"There is quality-constructed furniture for every budget," says Jackie
Hirschhaut, vice president of the American Furniture Manufacturers Association.
"Understanding interior features will help you make the best purchase in your
Four basic components create the comfort and durability of your upholstered
furniture: the frame, the supporting foundation, the cushioning and the fabric.
Historically, the more durable frames were made of kiln-dried hardwood, such
as oak, alder, birch or maple. Drying ensured the frame would resist warping,
and hardwood species were preferred because they hold pegs, screws, staples and
nails securely in place for a long time.
However, because of technological improvements over the last decade, frames
made of hardwood plywood are now among the most durable. Other materials that
perform well include steel, plastic, strand board, softwood plywood or some
combination of materials.
Regardless of the framing material, more durable pieces are constructed with
reinforcements that are glued and screwed into place at critical joints and
stress points. Less durable pieces may only staple the support blocks in place
or contain none.
- Ask what materials are used in the frame.
- Make sure it feels sturdy, sits squarely on the floor, and doesn't creak
- Look at the underside for interior corners that are braced with corner
The frame style and the amount of support desired determine the type of
foundation used in constructing upholstery. Eight-way, hand-tied, coil spring
construction was once considered the hallmark of quality upholstery. In this
type of foundation, each coil spring is placed in the seat by hand and tied into
place with twine in a series of interlocking knots.
Although eight-way, hand-tied coils are still a mark of fine craftsmanship,
other construction techniques, including new steel spring configurations, offer
equal comfort and durability. In general, the number of springs and how they are
reinforced determines cost and quality.
- Ask how the foundation is constructed.
- For more resilience, look for steel spring construction, whether coil,
zigzag or some other configuration.
Depending on the product's design, the back and seat cushions may include a
combination of springs, cotton or polyester fiber, foam or down. Most upholstery
cushions are made from some type of polyurethane foam. Density is used to gauge
the durability of foam, and, generally, the higher the density the more durable
(and more expensive) the cushion will be. Better quality upholstered furniture
uses foam with a density rating of 1.8 to 2.5.
Foam cushions should be wrapped or covered to protect the foam from direct
contact with the upholstery fabric.
- Sit. Slump. Sprawl out! The best way to tell if the cushioning is right
for you is to feel it in just the manner you'll be using the piece at home.
- If durability is a key factor in your purchase, find out how cushions are
made, including the density of foam used.
Options for the color, pattern and texture of your upholstery are virtually
unlimited, but cover components fall into just two basic categories: natural and
synthetic. Natural components include cotton, linen, silk, wool and, of course,
leather. Synthetics include acetate, acrylic, nylon, rayon and polypropylene.
Many fabrics are woven with a combination of natural and synthetic fibers.
Fabrics combining a tight weave and durable fibers like nylon or
polypropylene are a good choice for active use. Leather is also a popular choice
- Ask about fabric components. Look for high percentages of durable fiber
- For very active use, look for tightly woven fabrics or leather.
One Final Consideration
For fire safety reasons, make sure new upholstery carries the gold UFAC tag.
This tells you the piece was manufactured according to fire safety standards
developed by the Upholstered Furniture Action Council. These standards reduce
the likelihood of upholstered furniture catching fire from a smoldering
cigarette, which is the leading cause of upholstery fires in the home.
"When you are purchasing seating for a room that is the hub of family
activity, a little knowledge about upholstery construction makes it easy to
select just the right pieces," Hirschhaut said.
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