Do you know what is inside your sofa and chairs? I'm not talking about the remote control or even a litter of kittens, but the things that are supposed to be in there, the guts. Knowing what's inside aids in making decisions about your own upholstery as well as in helping you guide your clients into making good furniture investments.
The inherent problem with buying upholstered furniture is that, unlike a car, you cannot look "under the hood." The whole thing is covered in fabric. That stuff is pretty hard to see though. It's all those details hidden under the fabric that add to the quality and, ultimately to the price of furniture. Paying for quality upfront will save money in the long run. The upholstered furniture will last longer and provide a really comfortable seat with fewer hassles.
What's inside? These terms will get you "in the know."
Frames: Kiln dried frames that are made of hard wood are far superior to other types of frames. Kiln drying makes a difference because frames of green wood will dry out once they are placed in your conditioned interior causing them to be unstable and wobbly at the joints. Green wood can also crack and split as atmospheric conditions together with humidity affect the wood.
The joints should be glued, doweled and screwed with the corners further strengthened by the addition of reinforcing blocks that provide even extra support. Mortise and tenon joint construction is found in high quality frames and assures the joints will not break down under weight. Chipboard and staples are used in lower quality furniture and should be avoided.
Seating Support Systems: The best seating support is the eight-way hand-tied springs system. The furniture craftsman connects each spring to the adjoining one by hand using a strong twine. The twine passes front to back, side to side and then diagonally in both directions until each spring is tied securely. Each spring is tied in eight directions. It's this hand labor that adds to the piece's cost. The number of springs, their individual quality and how they are reinforced also determines their superiority. Lower quality pieces may advertise that they are eight-way hand-tied but use a inferior spring and space the springs too far apart to offer good support.
Eight-way hand-tied springs also balance and even out the weight placed on them. Have you ever been bounced by someone sitting down on the opposite end of a sofa? This happens with sinuous springs that are spanning the width of the sofa. Sinuous suspension uses "S" shaped wires that are strung across the platform. These are the preferred seating support option for streamlined, modern sofas because there usually is not enough height in the overall design to fit tied coil springs into the seat. Since it is affordable option, sinuous springs are also used in regular style sofas to reduce production costs. These hold up fairly well and provide a softer (less firm) seat than eight-way hand-tied. Often, a sofa that develops a sinkhole at one end has sinuous springs that have popped loose or broken down. Sinuous springs are frequently used to provide back support in sofas and chairs.
The very low-end construction is a web-suspension (like a hammock) that is attached to the frame creating a platform. It is more affordable, but will not last as long because it lacks support. In quality pieces, webbing is used in combination with the spring system.
Filling: Higher end furniture has quality padding or foam and Dacron batting wrapped around the frame to smooth the hard edges and cover all the corners. This not only rounds out the piece but protects the upholstery fabric from unnecessary wear from rubbing on wood.
For a really soft, luxurious seat consider down cushions. These are considered to be the premium choice and are also among the most expensive. Pure down requires maintenance, hand-fluffing, to keep them looking their best. There are different combinations of down fill which will lower the cost. Often black down will be used instead of white since it is less expensive and provides the same results. High quality cushions will also have down proof ticking (fabric covering around the cushion) to prevent feathers from poking through the upholstery fabric.
Spring down cushions have a more supportive spring center surrounded by foam and then topped a layer of feathers encased in the down proof ticking.
There are various densities and firmness of foam. High-resilient (HR) foam is Dacron wrapped to smooth the edges and provide a nice crown to the seat. Foam cushions can also be surrounded with a sumptuous down wrap for a plush crown. All foam compresses over time but a quality HR foam will provide a much longer lifespan.
Regular polyurethane foam is inexpensive and will not last. For a sofa or chair that only needs to hold up for a few years or is in a space that receives little "seat" traffic, this type of cushioning is good enough.
Asking questions about the construction of the furniture you are considering and knowing what should be inside will assure you get what you pay for. Understanding what goes on inside a quality piece of upholstery will help you make educated choices about your furniture and enable to you to purchase wisely.