What’s Under Your Sofa Cushions?

July 30th, 2014 by Kathy Barry

And I’m not wondering about crumbs, loose change, pencils, dirty clothes and last week’s homework! What is the construction of the frame under your sofa cushions? This month I would like to take the opportunity to talk about furniture construction and why some sofas cost $699 and others $3,000 or much more.
The least expensive way to construct the support for the seat area of your sofa is with a “trampoline” style piece of synthetic material stretched across the area under the cushions. You may not notice a difference in the way it sits, unless you have a bad back, right away. This type of support is not durable, however, and after time, will start to sag. Particularly if someone in your family is large or you have children, especially teenagers, who bounce when they sit down.
Somewhat better than this is a “no sag,” serpentine type of heavy wire support running front to back. Most of the low to moderately priced upholstery available uses this system. Even some better stores carry lines that use this support system to keep the price down.
The “gold standard” in good construction is 8-way hand-tied springs. Your weight is evenly distributed when you sit on it because of the inner connection between the springs. It is the most comfortable and durable of the support systems. It also offers the best support for your back. Under the springs you should find webbing. Under the webbing you should find steel bands running front to back. A contract or commercial quality support system will also have steel bands running side to side.
The wood frame itself is also important. Thicker diameter and a harder variety of wood equals a heavier and more durable frame. The better quality is solid maple. Pine or plywood are not as durable but even some of the best manufacturers are using plywood in the frames in some of their collections. The corners should be blocked and screwed or doweled for strength and stability.
Where the quality of a piece shows immediately is in the tailoring. Cotton felt is better than foam sheeting on the arms, for example. It holds its shape best and gives a sharper corner. The arms should feel firm, not too spongy as with the foam sheeting. The type of fabric also affects the price of the piece. Some fabrics are costly to manufacture because of the type of weave or fiber content (like silk, for example) or surface embellishments like beading or embroidery, they may be imported from Europe, or have been designed by someone well-known and so cost more. Higher price does not equate with good wear ability, however. Some of the most expensive fabrics are a light wearing fabric and shouldn’t be sat on regularly. Be sure to look for a pattern match, or flow, all around the piece. Sometimes a corner will be cut in not matching the sides or back. Another sign of good tailoring is a mitered skirt so it hangs perfectly straight. If you are looking at a leather sofa, make sure it is top grain cowhide and not a bonded leather. Hang tags that say “genuine leather” may be describing a thin layer of leather bonded to a synthetic backing. This will not wear well as it separates from the backing within a couple of years in the wear areas. If you’ve ever bought an inexpensive leather purse or belt, you’ve probably seen this happen.
Within the cushion itself you should find a foam core wrapped in a piece of batting and/or down feathers and enclosed in a case of muslin for a high crown on the top of the cushion. One step up from that, some manufacturers use a spring/down unit within the seat cushion, standard or for an upcharge. This is the ultimate in comfort and durability.
My advice is to buy the very best you can afford in a classic style as a good quality piece can be reupholstered many times over and saves money in the long run. And anyone who is environmentally conscious knows that throwaway furniture is not good for our planet’s health. With upholstered furniture you truly, “Get what you pay for.”

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