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How is a consumer to know what is inside the sofa they wish to purchase? Is it eight way hand tied, sinuous spring construction, or does it have a web construction? Is the frame solid wood, kiln dried, blocked, screwed and doweled together? What are the cushions made out of, are they foam, down, spring, or a combination of these? Is it tuxedo, camel back, rolled arm, lawson arm, T-cushion, attached back, pillow back, or a chesterfield. Is the fabric a print, a solid, a woven or something else. Has the fabric been treated with Scotch Guard, Fabric Coat or something else.

Are we confused yet? Have I used terms that sound greek to you? How are you to know if the upholstery you are looking at is a quality piece? You can’t X-ray the piece to know what is inside. You must rely on the knowledge of the sales person you are dealing with. How do you know if they know all the answers? From my experience, very few sales people really know their product. You need to have some knowledge when you are going to shop for upholstery. I will try to give you some information to help you decide what is right for you.

First, let’s deal with the construction of a sofa. This deals with the frame. High quality frames are made of seasoned hardwood, kiln dried to prevent warping. The frame is joined using dowels and corner blocks that are screwed and glued together. Legs should be extensions of the frame and not attached with screws. Center legs can add additional support.

Next, let’s talk about springs. The spring systems in upholstered furniture are either hand tied coils or sinuous constructions. Eight way hand tied springs are the highest quality. These funnel-like coils are tied with twine to each of the eight adjacent coils and attached to a heavy-duty webbing underneath with steel clips. This type of construction gives even comfort and prevents “bottoming out” of the seat no matter how heavy the sitter. Sinuous springs are S-shaped, flat wavy bands of steel that are fastened to the front rail and run front to back a few inches apart. These have a firmer feel than coil springs and are often used in lower price lines. This type of construction is typically found in medium price lines of upholstery and will usually last as long as the fabric, typically 7 to 10 years.

Now, on to the cushions. The frame and the springs are the foundation for the cushions. A good frame is padded with cotton or poly-dacron so that the upholstery fabric never touches the wood. Quality seat cushions and loose back cushions consist of a combination of down and other feathers wrapped around a polyurethane foam core, or loose down or feathers for back cushions. Test the quality of a cushion by lifting it. If it feels light, it may be made of poor materials. A 2 x 2 foot cushion should never weigh less than 2 pounds.

Now that we have discussed quality of construction, we are on to style. The rest is personal preference. Some people like attached back cushions, some do not. If the back cushions are loose, you can fluff and alter their position to achieve maximum wear from the fabric. If they are attached, they do not move, therefore always staying in place. Therefore, there are arguments either way, it is merely whatever you prefer.

There is also a choice of one, two or three cushions. The one cushion fabric can get stretched resulting in a more relaxed look to the cushions. The two cushion always puts the seam in the middle, and no one ever likes to sit on a seam. But, if only two sit on the sofa, this is a good choice. And there is the three cushion . . . now we have two seams, but better placement for 3 people to sit on the sofa. And then there is the “T” cushion. It is when the two end cushions fan out where the arms stops short of the front of the sofa. Some people like this type of cushion, but I feel that it looks a little dated and also makes the arm too short for sleeping on the sofa.

Fabric on upholstered furniture is broken down into a range of price levels, called grades, of fabric choices. These grades are determined by the price of the fabric, not the quality. An important factor to consider when selecting upholstery fabric is durability. In general, tightly woven fabrics wear best. Fabrics with the pattern woven in wear better than printed fabrics. Look at the reverse side of the fabric. If it has the same colors as the face, this fabric has been woven, and this typically wears better since the color goes all the way through the fabric. If the pattern is printed on the face side, the pattern can wear off with use.

Natural fibers include cotton, linen, wool, and silk. Natural fibers are the most comfortable to the touch and can be very durable. However, they can stain easier, fade in sunlight, and wrinkle more. Wool must be moth proofed before use.

Synthetic fibers have been developed as alternatives to natural fibers and are often blended with them. Polyester is strong and easy to clean. It withstands direct sunlight and is flame and abrasion resistant. Rough in texture, it is often blended with natural fibers to soften its touch. Oleflin is used to create heavy, textured fabrics. It is a coarse and bulky fiber that is strong and stain resistant. However, it does no wear well under direct sunlight. Nylon is the strongest and most soil-resistant fiber. Recent developments in nylon give it the look and feel of wool, It, too, is
sensitive to sunlight.

Now that you know about construction, cushions and fabric, you will be an informed shopper and be able to make your purchases with confidence. Never judge the quality of an upholstered piece solely by the fabric you see on it. The frame and support system is what is underneath the fabric, and this is what really counts.

At First Fruit Collection, we carry Temple, Highland House, and C.R. Laine upholstery lines. All of these are 8 way hand tied and hardwood frame construction. There are many levels of cushion choices in each of these lines, but all are excellent quality. I hope this has given you an inside look at upholstery. We look forward to assisting you with your next upholstery purchase. Happy Decorating, Lisa

Posted by Meagan Walley at 3:11 PM