The Debate Over Quality in Upholstered Furniture

The debate over quality construction of upholstered furniture

Okay, debate may be overstating it. Nevertheless there are a lot of opinions about what features to look for in quality upholstered furniture. Just how do you compare quality when shopping for sofas, sectionals, recliners, chairs and ottomans?  Here is our take:

We get the consumer’s problems:

  1. You can’t see inside a sofa to see how it is put together.
  2. The industry jargon doesn’t mean a darn thing to you.
  3. Will it be as comfortable in a year as it is today?
  4. Will the fabric last as long as the frame?
  5. Will the cushions flatten?
  6. And on and on…

We’ve looked on the web for consumer information on quality construction. And like all things on the web there is a lot of it. But, much of it is simple cut & paste journalism. Most of these “knowledgeable” people have searched the web for articles and simply regurgitated the standard pap:

“look for kiln-dried hardwood frames”

“Make sure the corners are blocked”

“buy only 8-way hand-tied spring frames”

“Custom-made sofas feature padding of horsehair and burlap, which retain their shape, topped with layers of goose down.”

This information is badly outdated! Besides, any list of even the best techniques can lead you astray. Because, in the final analysis, shoddy execution can ruin the best design. Your first defense is still to do business with someone you trust who offers great warranties. But, good construction does matter – so here are some things to look for as well as some expert information for you engineer types:


  • Sit on it. Each and every cushion. For a while. 5 minutes or so. Curl up if that’s your thing. Here comes the technical part: is it comfortable?
  • Wiggle the back rail and arms. There shouldn’t be much.
  • Give the frame a little twist by lifting at one front corner while someone holds down the opposing arm. If it twists very much – shout.
  • Stores may have a cut-away section or an illustration of their construction techniques showing corner blocks, glue, screws and nailing details. If you are buying a floor model, you can probably get someone to remove the bottom dust cover near one leg so that you can see these details. Legs are screwed into the frame are fine. Legs that are part of the frame may be stronger but are harder to repair.
  • As we said above, kiln-dried hardwood or furniture-grade plywood can denote high-quality materials. But they can’t make up for poor workmanship.


  • Run your hand along all of the “edges” of the piece: rails, corners, and arms. There should be a layer of padding to keep you from feeling sharp edges.


  • Unzip a seat cushion and peek inside. Go ahead, you know you wanna. You should see foam covered with polyester batting, enclosed in a muslin or nonwoven pillowcase.
  • Removable back cushions that contain loose filler should have a casing that is stitched into multiple compartments to minimize fill settling.


(I always get that mixed up, like feed a cold, starve a fever. ??)

  • Press down hard on the deck (the area under the seat cushion) to sense if seat springs are evenly spaced and equally resistant to pressure.
  • Silence is golden — you shouldn’t hear any squeaks.
  • “Eight-way hand-tied springs” are no longer synonymous with comfort or high quality. Other types of springs–coil, cone, S-shaped, and grid–can be just fine; they mainly influence how comfortable the sofa feels to you. We’re in subjective land here. The only thing that matters is your opinion.


  • The best tailoring costs you more in three ways. 1) It takes longer to execute. 2) It takes more highly skilled, expensive workers. 3) It uses significantly more fabric to attain that flow-matched look. Your choice, but you need to know what that extra degree of excellence is costing you.
  • Stripes and plaids should appear straight while other patterns should flow from one part of the sofa to the next.
  • Welted seams should be straight, skirt pleats evenly spaced, zippers hidden or color matched to the upholstery.

6.  A Trustworthy Store. These are all great points.  But we believe that the best way to insure high quality is to do business with a high quality retail furniture store.  If you’ll choose us, we intend to be that store for you.

Wood Industry site