How can you be sure your next sofa is as beloved as the current one?
Fast Sofa Facts
You have stood in the family room for the last time and thought, “That sofa has got to go!” The condition of the sofa has you feeling sorry for the poor thing! It has lived a long and glorious life, but now it’s time to go! Fond memories linger with the sofa like an old friend. It has been a makeshift bed for a sick child and the place everyone plopped for Sunday’s take-out pizzas. You’re sad to see it go, and yet shopping for a new one has to start tomorrow—as soon as the stores open!
How can you be sure your next sofa is as beloved as the current one? (Or, how can you avoid repeating a terrible mistake you had to live with for the last five years or more!) When purchasing a sofa, be sure to consider the following: quality, frame, springs, padding and upholstery, leather or leather-like covering. And by all means, before you head out, measure your room and doorways plus bring along some paint chips, pillows or other pieces that reflect the color palette of the room it will reside in.
Quality certainly is involved with the pricing of a sofa. You get what you pay for with most furniture pieces. Don’t be duped into thinking that a piece of furniture that seems ridiculously inexpensive will hold up to daily use for long, because it probably won’t! Treat this purchase for what it is—a large one! You are a very smart cookie, gorgeous, and we both know it!
The quality of upholstered furniture is a bit tough to evaluate because the construction is completely hidden with padding and fabric or leather. So many poorly constructed sofas were purchased in recent years that I fear our landfills will start to look like a used furniture store. Cardboard and Styrofoam were never meant to be part of the engineering incorporated into a sofa, but in some sofas they are. Try flopping and dropping on that sofa, and one day you will land on the floor. As I always say, “If you can move the sofa across the room with just your knee or lift it straight up in the air alone, then ask yourself what is under the upholstery or leather!" If a 4-year-old can help you rearrange the furniture, that should make you scratch your head. A good frame has some weight to it!
The frame is such an important aspect of the sofa; it is literally the foundation of the piece. The stronger the frame, the longer it will last. Frames that will last a lifetime and are worthy of reupholstering a few times and are constructed from kiln-dried hardwoods such as oak and maple. Joints that are glued and double-doweled with corner blocks that are glued and screwed into the frame are true signs of great craftsmanship. This was the norm years ago, but as with a lot of things, cost cutting has come into play and manufacturers have compromised in some areas of construction.
Go down a price point and you start to see softer woods such as pine or even plywood. (Watch out for the new manufacturer buzzword: engineered wood.) Plywood can be very strong, but it should not serve as a substitute for the hardwood. The predominant wood in the construction of the sofa should still be hardwood. If proper attention is used with the bracing in major areas such as the corners, the seating platform and arm attachment to the frame, the use of plywood in some areas should not be an issue. Pine is generally reserved for creating the curves of the arms and back of the sofa, which should not affect its stability.
Now let’s take a peek at what goes into the least-expensive sofa’s frame. These manufacturers tend to use pine or even plywood for the entire frame. The question then becomes this: Did they brace the support areas well enough to allow for normal use? A sofa constructed of pine or plywood will last for several years—provided it is not moved often or allow children to use it as a trampoline! These types of frames don’t hold screws or staples well and they eventually manage to wiggle loose and develop squeaks and loose arms. Obviously, comfort becomes compromised.
In all honesty, I have to say that there are situations in which a relatively inexpensive sofa can suit your needs. For example, think about a room where you allow kids to be kids (and the related cruelty to the sofa is OK with you). Or, think about a temporary piece for a college apartment that you would never consider reupholstering.
Springs should be somewhat bouncy, but they shouldn’t allow you to feel the frame. There are three basic types of springs:
Sinuous or S-shaped springs that usually go from the front to the back.
Drop-in springs that are pre-assembled coiled units that are dropped into the frame as a whole unit.
Eight-way coil springs are hand-tied to springs on either side, front and back (eight ways), and they are the most expensive.
Cushions and Padding
Like the frame, the cushions and padding are hidden under the upholstery. This often-overlooked aspect of the sofa will affect the sofa’s life. More padding means that the sharp edges of the frame are completely covered, allowing the fabric to wear longer. When padding is skimped on, the fabric comes in contact with the frame and starts to wear out. A higher-end sofa will be padded all the way around, including the sides and back, so the fabric rests against the padding. Lower-priced sofas usually are not padded in these areas.
Sometimes, a sofa’s fabric appears to be wrinkling. The cause of this is poor quality or insufficient padding that breaks down so the fabric is no longer stretched tight. Some manufacturers have even started using cardboard covered with some type of rubber or foam to round out an arm. And, you guessed it: The first time someone perches on the arm, the cardboard crushes and your sofa now has a misshapen arm. Oh, not pretty! Always ask the salesperson for a cutaway of the internal aspects of the sofa. If the seller is proud of the fabrication, they will confidently show you a picture. A picture is worth a million words in this case!
Upholstery or Fabric
I have to admit that the most common reason most people select a sofa is because they just love the fabric. We navigate to pretty and then start the question-and-answer process. What you really need to know about the fabric is how long it will last. I almost hesitate to include this fact about fabric, but I am here to arm you with information and information you shall have! What you need to know is the fabric’s Wyzenbeek rating. In this standard durability test, a machine goes forward and then back (a double rub) using cotton duck fabric as the abradant against the fabric being tested. When the fabric begins to tear or when a few fibers break, the test is complete. This is what you really need to know for your purpose as a shopper: Most of the time, 15,000 double rubs is considered suitable for heavy use in a residential application. I would love to have a video of you the first time you ask an inexperienced salesperson about the Wyzenbeek of a sofa’s fabric. Oh, sweetie, you are going to look so savvy smart!
Some manufacturers use fabrics that are already pretreated for stain and soil protection, be sure to inquire when purchasing your sofa. If you are ordering a custom sofa some furniture lines offer protection from the "proseal plus" company in Lithia Springs, Georgia. Pro Seal 2 from "proseal plus "is the most durable and permanent stain repellant available today. This is the preferred fabric treatment providing superior stain protection for all fine fabrics. Pro Seal 2 is great for all silks, chintz, moirés, and velvets. It will not change the feel or color of any fabric. There clearly will be an additional charge for this high quality fabric treatment. Your selected fabric is sent from the fabric manufacturer to the "proseal plus" company, it is treated and sent on to the sofa manufacturer for the fabrication of your sofa. If staining is a concern please ask the store about options when purchasing.
Make sure you understand the details of the sofa’s warranty. Different parts of the sofa will have different time limits—for example, most manufacturers only warranty the fabric for a year. Also, if the sofa purchase needs to be registered to activate the warranty, please make sure to do so.
Sofas are one of our favorite pieces of furniture. We snuggle with our grandchildren, watch romantic flicks with our honeys and enjoy lovely conversations with neighbors. So take the purchase seriously and be a well-informed shopper. A sofa can last you 20 years if you make a wise choice, and yes, investment too!
Have wonderful week and I’ll be there for coffee on Saturday!
Jan Colvin has been a professional interior designer for over 25 years (Allied ASID). She accredits her mother Pat Robinson and Lucille Chase for her intense interest and love for design.
She has taught interior design at the college level and operated her private design business since 2001. Look for her new book soon!
Jan welcomes questions, which will be answered in her columns. Send your questions to: email@example.com