Whether you buy new, vintage, or antique furniture, quality construction and materials are the key concerns. To make the best choice for a long-term commitment, follow these guidelines. Start with the two most important factors, comfort and style.
As you shop, spend time sitting on each piece you are considering. Move around. Try different positions. Do the height and depth of the seat fit the length of your legs? Can you lean back comfortably? Can you easily get in and out of the seat? Are the arms at a comfortable height? As you start narrowing down your selection, compare construction and quality. Use the information on the following pages to learn how to choose quality pieces that fit your budget.
No matter how pretty the piece, unless the frame is strong and well made, the furniture won’t wear well. This may not be critical for pieces that are rarely used or are basically decorative accessories, but sturdy construction is vital for upholstered furniture meant for daily use. Before you purchase upholstered furniture, consider these buying points for frames.
The chair or sofa should not feel light or flimsy. If it does, it may tip easily. This can be a problem for families with children or for people with impaired movement who need support to get up or down. Larger pieces, such as sofas or love seats, should not sag in the middle. Sagging indicates a lack of proper support and bracing. The sofa may eventually sag even more or break at that weak point.
The coils in the seat (and sometimes back) of an upholstered piece behave like the box spring in a mattress. They give the piece firmness and stability and determine how long it will last. Zigzag, wave-shaped, or interwoven bands are more likely to sag and lose their shape than regular spring-shaped coils. Steel coil springs that are hand-tied where they meet the adjoining coils and frame offer the best stability.
Before ordering custom-made furniture, ask to sit in a piece that has the same frame and structure. Most stores have an example of each piece on the floor. Without this step you’ll never be exactly sure what the chair will feel like or if its proportions are comfortable for you. Be a savvy consumer. Read warranties on frame, fabric, cushions, and fabric finish. Ask how the store deals with problems and defective products.
Ask what options are available for your sofa or chair. These might include fabric skirts, exposed wood legs, choices in arm styles, piping around cushions, fringes or trims, extra pillows, and length of the overall piece. Most of your initial decisions will involve the size, shape, and style of your upholstered piece. Next you’ll want to consider arm styles and available fabrics.
Check Construction. Check that frame pieces fit together tightly with no gaps. Exposed wood arms or legs should be smooth, evenly colored, and blemish-free. They should also be securely attached to the frame. Shop for chairs and sofas with hand-tied coils, not crimped springs. For long wear and comfort, look for coils that are tied in as many as eight places. Those tied in only four won’t last as long and the springs may pop loose.
Avoid furniture that shows buckling between parts. Squeeze padded areas to be sure that they are adequate; you shouldn’t be able to feel the frame underneath the padding. Fabric patterns should match perfectly at seams. Fabrics should be applied smoothly and evenly across the piece without any gaps or gathers.
Test button, tassels, and trim to make sure they are firmly attached. Check piping. It should be smooth, cleanly constructed, and applied evenly throughout the piece. Finally, before you order, be sure to take the measurements of the piece home. Double check that the furniture’s size will work in your space.
Note on down-filled cushions: Although down-filled cushions look and feel plush, they may not be practical for everyday use since they’ll require constant fluffing. If you love the feel of down but need more wear from a cushion, consider purchasing down cushions with a core of springs or foam that can give them a more consistent shape.
Solid polyurethane foam with batting: More common (and more affordable) are cushions made of a solid piece of polyurethane foam covered in polyester batting.