Sofa shopping can be intimidating. Choosing style details can be overwhelming, but comparing quality can be even more so since upholstery has a whole set of its own vocabulary, and the quality levels vary from store to store and even within a store or brand. Largely, price is an indication of quality level, but not entirely...there is some murky territory in the middle where many popular brands mix a few quality elements in with cheaper materials or construction so they may sound higher quality than they really are. Upholstered furniture can be found at pretty much any price point, so how do you determine how much to spend?
The answer to that question depends on a number of factors…
How do you plan to use the piece? Is it going in a room you only use occasionally, or only for adults making polite conversation over fancy cocktails? Or is it destined to be a family room workhorse where you will relax every night, where kids will make forts out of the pillows and jump on it like a trampoline when you’re not looking, or teenagers will vault over the back of it and land with a thud into couch potato position for TV viewing or web surfing on their electronics? How much do you have to invest?
Generally speaking, the harder you will use a piece, the more it makes sense to invest in the best quality that you can.
There are several things that factor into the level of quality of an upholstered piece, and most of them are not visible on the finished piece, but what IS visible will give you some clues. Look for welting that lays smoothly, seams that are straight and even, fabric patterns that are matched so they appear continuous from the top to the bottom of the piece, and cushions that fit the frame snugly. Anything that doesn’t meet those very basic outside criteria will almost certainly not have much quality in the parts you can’t see.
The more invisible factors are ...
- budget – particle board or plywood
- average – hardwood, possibly joined with dowels and blocks
- best - kiln dried hardwood joined with dowels and blocks
The seat support:
- budget – no support
- average - spring coils or sinuous springs
- best - 8-way hand tied springs
The cushions and back fill:
- budget – polyfill and foam
- average – possibly higher quality foam, possibly down and spring core options
- best - will be customizable in content depending on what level of softness or firmness you want in your “sit” with an assortment of combinations of spring cores, best quality foams, and down or synthetic down substitutes. There are spring cores with firm or softer foams, and all-down fill or down jackets on spring core or foam fillers. Back cushions should be baffled to keep the materials evenly distributed and may contain down, down blend or synthetic down substitutes. All high quality cushions have down-proof ticking beneath the upholstery fabric so that any filling doesn’t work its way through to the surface of the upholstery.
NOTE: Don’t be fooled by a polyfill cushion that feels soft and cushy when you sit on it in the showroom – lower quality pieces use lower quality softer foams and polyfill batting in place of more expensive materials but those break down very quickly upon use.
The throw pillows:
- budget – not included
- average – may be included, but are often polyfill batting
- best - down or down blend filled so they stay plump and offer additional comfort as well as style.
Ever wonder what’s lurking under the upholstery fabric? Here is a peek at the innards of a high quality upholstery piece:
The fabric you choose for your piece can crank up the cost on what started as an inexpensive piece of furniture, and more expensive fabric does not always equal higher quality fabric. Fabric pricing reflects costs of the fabric’s design, construction, fiber content, country of origin, and finish, not necessarily it's durability. Beware: putting a pricey fabric on a lower quality piece might end up costing you almost as much as putting a simpler fabric on a higher quality custom piece.
Price range you can expect (for a sofa):
- budget - under $1000
- average - $1000-$3000
- best - $4000 and up
There are upholstered furniture choices available to fit every budget and circumstance. If you don’t want to commit to the style of a sofa for more than 5 years, or you are not going to use it that frequently, then it may be more cost effective to buy a mass produced average quality sofa. But if you need a hardworking piece that will get constant use, then buy the best quality you can afford. We highly recommend classic custom upholstery whenever feasible because we feel the quality pays for itself in longevity. Buying a classic shape covered in quality fabric will allow you the versatility to have it work in a variety of spaces and with a variety of styles as your home and tastes evolve.