Tips on how to select quality for where you take a seat.

Whether you long for the perfect work-life balance or a great piece of cheese cake without the calories, you can’t have it all. The same is true with sofas.

Growing up in a family in the furniture industry taught me a few things. There are many, and I mean many, sofas on the market at a wide range of prices. There are the mass market creations that can be big and bulky or too small and not cozy. And there are the incredibly stunning with an equally stunning price tag to match.

To navigate this plushy world to find the perfect fit for you and your derriere, the trick is to align your expectations with your price point because in the furniture world, like many others, you get what you pay for.

For example, a sofa made by Baker or Century Furniture or Kravet, or Silva (made right here in Toronto) is a different animal than what you find at West Elm, EQ3, or Restoration Hardware. Both can find a stylish fit in the right home, but it all depends on the budget, expectations and use of the space. Stymied by which style suits your look? I have shared some advice here, here and here.

Does that mean everyone can, should, or must buy the former? Well if you want it to last, love to avoid creating land-fill, appreciate fine craftmanship and can afford a piece that sits like a dream, with a flourish of style, then yes. Absolutely!

Maybe this it not an option for you right now, but that doesn’t mean some additional knowledge on the construction of sofas cannot be put to good use! Knowledge is our best defense against being sold a faulty bill of sale.

Here are some things to consider:

Budget

Budget is the biggest determinant, but style and lifestyle will factor in. Know your budget, but explore the different styles, fabrics and softness across price ranges to get a really good sense of what you like in style and comfort. A great deal on a sofa is only a great deal if you actually like the thing.

Comfort

If you, or your guests, are not comfortable sitting for extended periods of time on your sofa then it is not the right one for you. Some like the feeling of sitting on a cloud but that feather down softness comes at a cost. Are you a fluffer, and do you want your sofa to look neat and tidy? Down-filled upholstery comes with maintenance, but offers softness and a relaxed look like no other. Personally, I am a fan of a bit of structure and firmness. Although I don’t have back problems, family members of mine do and a supportive seat is essential for them. This is an area where spending based on your preferences pays off in the short and long run.

What to know about sofa construction:

The Frame

This is one of the most important components of the sofa as the type of wood used for the construction of the frame determines the lifetime of the sofa. Our suppliers use North American grown kiln-dried hardwood frames. Maple or ash are typically used.

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A good quality sofa uses kiln-dried hardwood, fastened with industrial adhesive, dowels, and screws, which lend to a piece’s sturdiness and durability, and can typically last more than 20 years! From our in-town supplier, a frame is warranted for a the lifetime of the owner. Kiln-drying removes all moisture from the wood before construction and this helps guard against cracking and twisting. It also enables the frame to retain its shape and stability for a long time to come.

A lower quality sofa uses furniture-grade plywood held together with staples. It’s a substitute for hardwood and costs less. Some manufacturers will use plywood with a combination of other lower grade wood which will give a piece with a shorter lifespan at a good entry level price-point. These pieces are great for setting up a first apartment when a young homeowner is still developing a sense of style and tastes are quite fluid.

How to check the construction:

Inquire about what type of wood was the sofa frame constructed from.

Hold the side-frame of the sofa, and move it from side to side. Do the same for the back-frame. A sturdy frame should not wobble or twist.

Lift up the sofa and feel the weight. It should feel solid, even heavy.

Test the frame strength by lifting one corner or leg of the sofa up to about 15cm. If the other leg is still touching the floor, then it means the frame is weak.

Corner Blocked for Strength – Cabinet corners are braced with blocks that are screwed and glued in place to add rigidity and prevent racking.
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Mortise & Tenon Joints – A centuries-old method of joining two pieces of wood. The mortise and tenon construction technique insures structural stability.
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The Seat

Seat Bed

Web and coil: 8-way hand-tied is the gold standard for upholstered seating. Some manufacturers are moving toward metal clips instead of the traditional twine, but many still use traditional web and coil. Either are fine.

Seat Fill

This is where we really get down to the Princess and the Pea. There is a range of products that are used to fill seat cushions.

While not exhaustive, this is a list of what you will typically find in a custom sofa.

Foam (soy) – different densities are available, a visit to our sofa manufacturer always involves the “goldilocks seat test”. Seat and back densities are offered in soft, medium, and firm. Luxury sofas offer coils within the seat cushions.  If you are up for the splurge, these offer the most luxurious seat.

Wrap – the seat cushion can be wrapped in either dacron or in a feather envelope. This gives it a softer line taking away from the squareness of the cushions.

Foam with Feathers in Down Envelope
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Back upholstery may vary more depending on the style of the piece of furniture. Some do not have loose cushions but instead use sinuous coils to provide springiness to offer a tidy tailored appearance. Still providing some structure some back cushions have loose cushions typically filled with foam wrapped in either down or dacron. A softer, more relaxed option are filled with a densely packed envelope of dacron.

English Fill – If you love the look of a well-loved English chair or sofa, chances are good both the seat and the back are filled with feathers and down.They sit like a cloud but once you stand up, won’t restore their shape like other fills. They require fluffing up the cushions regularly but provide a very relaxed look. Then we get into the details for customization. Choice of fabric, and fabric grading is a broad topic we’ll discuss in an upcoming post (stay tuned!). Durability and resistance to staining as well as ability to hide dirt, pet hair etc. are factors to consider. We’ll go into all of that. We want you to love it for a long time.

Upholstering and Tailoring:

Seams and welting (piping) should look neat and sit straight. No twisting or pulling.

Pattern matching will show attention to detail on a quality piece. The pride that goes into a quality piece is evident in these details.

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Custom Options are Endless:

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When weighing the options from fabric to accents, go for quality. Ask for and look for options that suit your style but will have longevity.

We hope this was helpful!

With all the options on the market, we all could use some friendly advice whether we are buying ready-made in the store or tinkering with the idea of custom.

If you want to to buy a sofa, give us call! We can help with that.

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