Would it surprise you to hear that one of my first lessons about furniture wasn’t how to arrange it in a space? It’s true. My education in furniture started with how quality furniture is made.
I told you interior design isn’t just about the aesthetics. 😉
When it comes to your home, getting the best value for your investment is a top priority. If we (or you) know what to look for, we can ensure your furniture is built to withstand many seasons of life.
This is also one of the main reasons my team and I travel to the US’s biggest furniture fair in High Point, North Carolina twice per year. We inspect how the furniture is made and how comfortable it is, so we know what we should and shouldn’t order for our clients.
So what should you look for when hunting for that perfect piece? Let’s talk about it.
1. The Sturdiest Frame Options
How long a sofa will last, and retain its shape, depends largely on the frame. A high-quality sofa will always have a strong, sturdy one. Better yet, choose a frame made of kiln-dried hardwoods.
The process of kiln-drying, to make a long story short, removes all moisture from the frame, enabling it to retain its shape and stability over a long period of time.
Just be sure it’s a hardwood like oak, ash or beech. Softwoods like pine can warp over time.
Highest-Quality: Kiln-dried hardwoods (like oak, ash or beech)
Low-Quality: Not kiln-dried, softwoods (like pine)
How to Test: Request the item’s info from the manufacturer or vendor
2. Furniture Joinery for the Long Haul
Your furniture’s joinery is also important. Whether your piece has “mortise and tenon” joints or “dovetail” joinery, a sofa joint that uses interlocking joinery is going to be built to last.
Wooden dowels, wooden corner blocks or metal screws and brackets also indicate a sofa is solidly constructed.
You will find lower quality furniture that uses particleboard and knotted wood, which can shrink or crack. Some manufacturers even cut costs by — gasp! — using watered down glue.
Staples and nails may be used for extra reinforcement in a quality sofa, but never, ever buy a sofa that’s held together solely by staples, nails, or glue… unless it’s for little Jacob’s first dorm room. 😉
Plushy on the outside; built to last on the inside
Highest-Quality: Interlocking joinery (mortise and tenon, dovetail, etc.)
Low-Quality: Particleboard, knotted wood, staples-glue-and-nails combo
How to Test: Lift one front corner or leg of the sofa off the floor. By the time you’ve raised it six inches, the other front leg should have risen too. If it’s still touching the floor, the frame has too much give; it’s weak.
3. Non-saggy Seat support
Nobody likes saggy seating, so let’s talk about seat support. The best option, hands down, is the eight-way hand-tied springs system. Huh? Yep, 8-way hand-tied springs.
In this process, the craftsman connects each spring to the adjoining one with a strong twine. The twine passes front to back, side to side and then diagonally in both directions thus tying each spring securely.
I visited the manufacturer who makes our Blakely Bench Made furniture and saw this in action. It’s quite a craft.
8-way hand-tied springs (source)
Another seating support system is sinuous spring construction. Most sofas have this type of seating support – which are pre-assembled units of snaking wire. They’re nicely supportive and are more budget friendly, but they can press on the frame or sag over time.
Sinuous spring suspension (source)
The third option is web suspension in which bands of webbing cross the seat and back. These are then attached to the frame to make a platform for the cushions.
Web suspension (source)
The worst seating situation? Cheap sofas with no springs, just webbing or mesh. They’re uncomfortable and flimsy – avoid them at all costs!
Highest-Quality: 8-way hand-tied springs
Low-Quality: Webbing or mesh with no springs
How to Test: Sit down firmly on a corner or outside edge of a sofa you’re considering. Squeaks and creaks suggest that springs are incorrectly placed or hitting the frame.
4. The Best Cushion Filling
There’s quite a bit of science behind the plushiness of cushions, but let’s stick to your best options:
- Spring down cushions are much better than just foam, in comfort and longevity. Choose a high-resilient foam nestled in a layer of down for low-maintenance cushiness.
- Top of the line cushion filling contains goose down mixed with feathers. It’s yummily plump, but it does require frequent fluffing to keep its shape.
The Verdict Is In…
If you take the highest quality investments from every category the winner is clear:
Kiln-dried hardwood frame + interlocking joinery + 8-way hand tied seat support system + spring down cushions or a down and feather blend.
If you’re thinking, “Wow, I have to research this level of detail for everything I put in my home?” — you can rest easy. If you work with an experienced design professional, this knowledge of materials, quality levels, and value is baked into what we do every single day.
We know exactly what to look for in products and finishes, and which will be the smartest investments for your budget and goals. In other words, we’ve got you!
Speaking of having your back, don’t forget to download our Interior Design Project Planner. It shares valuable inside info that is difficult to find anywhere else. 😉