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Tips for Finding Quality Upholstered Furniture

You can find upholstered furniture at secondhand sources. But for sanitary reasons, you may want to strip off the old upholstery and padding down to the frame, and then rebuild with new padding and upholstery. If you plan to reupholster, choosing furniture without exposed wood frames can save a lot of money in labor charges, because exposed wood frames are more difficult to cover. If upholstering is a skill you have, there’s no limit on the pieces you may want to redo.

When buying upholstered furniture, keep the following points in mind:

  • High-quality upholstery frames are made of kiln-dried hardwood, as opposed to lower-quality frames made of less durable pine. Because it’s impossible to see a frame, manufacturers supply this information.

  • Steel coil springs should be hand tied (not machine clamped) in as many as eight different places where the adjoining coils and the frame meet, for greatest stability. Some newer technology uses flat S-curves. New furniture supplies this information on a hangtag. If not, ask the dealer.

  • Layers of cotton batting or polyester fiberfill, a quilted pillow of high-quality foam, and a layer of muslin should cover the steel coil springs. (Ask a salesperson to explain the differences in foam quality.)

  • You can specify the degree of softness of your sofa seat if you have it custom-made. Otherwise, take the time to try out every sofa until you find the one that seems most comfortable. Expect sleeper sofas to be harder, more rigid, and heavier than other types of sofas.

  • Upholstery fabric should be upholstery-weight velvet, tapestry, woven wool, leather, or another heavy-duty material.

    If you’re choosing a fabric, look at fabrics available in all price ranges. Compare the thread count (threads per square inch). The greater the density (the higher the count, the more tightly woven the thread), the stronger the fabric. A quick test of density is to hold the fabric sample to the light. The less light that passes through, the denser and therefore stronger the fabric is.

  • Your sofa and chairs don’t need to be the same style or covered in the same material. They should have compatible styles and coordinating coverings, for the sake of unity. To flank a sofa, for example, pick two side chairs in different styles, perhaps a straight-backed Queen Anne and a shield back covered in identical fabric. The effect offers both unity and diversity.

  • For longevity, choose neutral-colored upholstery coverings in durable materials. Neutral colors never go out of style. Add a dash of color with patterned pillows (they can easily and inexpensively be changed).

  • If you choose a distinctive pattern (such as a bold stripe) for your sofa and chairs, the pattern should match at the seams and align on the pillows and skirt (if there is one) to create an unbroken pattern.

  • Sofa pillow edges should align smoothly, without gaps between pillows or the sofa back and arms.

  • Make sure the frame of the furniture is sturdy. The sofa shouldn’t flex in the middle when it’s lifted by the ends.

  • All exposed wood parts should be smooth, without any discernible air bubbles (indicating a poorly cured varnish) or blemishes (indicating poor-quality wood).

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