I’m the first tell you that I too, own inferior sofas. We bought them long ago when I didn’t know any better. Fortunately, we’re in the market soon as we reno our living room and will be able to buy a superior sofa.
Buying a sofa is tricky because you can easily be fooled. Cheap sofas can look good; in fact, many do. With so many inexpensive sofas out there people don’t have a realistic ideas what a good sofa should cost. They’re anchored to all the low prices they see.
I certainly fell into that camp.
When I learned what a high quality sofa cost, I admit I was a bit surprised.
Then I learned what all that went into making a good sofa and I quickly understood. A good sofa is night and day when compared to a lower quality or even mid-grade sofa.
Before I explain precisely what makes for a quality sofa, it’s important to address the number one question I get the most and that is…
If it’s not easy to tell the difference between a quality and mediocre sofa, why do I need a good sofa?
Consider the two sofas above. One costs under $500 on Wayfair. The other well above $4,000. They are similar in style. From photos you can’t necessarily tell from photos which is the higher quality sofa.
Can you tell which one is the $500 and which one is the $4,000 sofa? Find out at the end of the article.
You don’t unless you want a more comfortable sofa that remains comfortable for longer.
It comes down to two factors: comfort and durability.
Quality sofas are more comfortable for a longer time.
If you don’t mind buying a new sofa every five to eight years, by all means buy an inexpensive sofa. In fact, some people prefer getting new furniture every few years instead of investing in what I call “legacy” or “lifetime” or “heirloom” furniture.
Some readers of this are thinking that buying furniture to last 25 years or longer is not that smart because styles change. That’s true. It’s a valid point. However, if you go with a timeless design, it doesn’t matter. If you choose wisely, it will become more attractive over time.
What exactly distinguishes a superior sofa from an inferior one?
It’s actually a few details. I”ll set them out here.
1. 8-Way Hand-Tied Springs
Contrast the above with the following, which is sinuous springs. Not the worse but not as a good:
This is the one that got me because before I got into this interior design biz, I didn’t know about this time-tested, old-world technique for crafting superior sofas.
The origins of 8-way hand-tied upholstery are deeply rooted in the European artisan traditions of the 17th century. As the name suggests, this labor-intensive technique involves securing each coil spring in a piece of furniture with a series of eight knots, creating a finely tuned network of interconnected springs that offer unparalleled comfort and durability.
The tradition of spring-based furniture began in the mid-1600s, during the reign of Louis XIV in France. It was a time when the nobility sought extravagance in all forms of art, including furniture. To cater to this growing demand for luxury and comfort, French furniture makers began to experiment with the idea of adding coiled metal springs to seats and backrests.
This innovation provided an exciting leap forward from the horsehair or feather-stuffed cushions that were commonplace at the time. Springs offered greater durability and could be engineered to provide a more consistent level of support. However, they presented a new challenge: springs needed to be secured in place to prevent them from shifting or popping out of the furniture.
The solution came in the form of a hand-tied technique, where artisans would secure each spring to the furniture frame using a strong twine. This kept the springs in place and allowed for more precise tuning of the furniture’s comfort level. The method was continually refined over the centuries, eventually leading to the 8-way hand-tied technique.
The 8-way hand-tied system was a product of English innovation during the Industrial Revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries. As upholstery techniques became more sophisticated, British craftsmen developed a method of securing each spring to its neighbors and the frame in eight different directions. This created a highly stable and evenly distributed network of support.
The technique involves tying each spring to its neighbor and the frame in a specific sequence: front-to-back, side-to-side, and diagonally in both directions. This is repeated for each spring in the piece of furniture, with each knot hand-tied to ensure the highest quality. The result is a matrix of springs that move in unison, providing consistent support and preventing any one spring from bearing too much load. This extends the life of the furniture and provides a level of comfort that is hard to match with other techniques.
Despite its origins in the distant past, the 8-way hand-tied technique remains a benchmark of quality in the furniture industry today. Its persistence in an age of mass production is a testament to the artistry and expertise that goes into each piece of furniture. The technique represents a commitment to craftsmanship and quality, ensuring that each piece of furniture will provide comfort and durability for many years to come.
While other upholstery techniques have been developed in the modern age, none have been able to replicate the unique balance of comfort and longevity that the 8-way hand-tied technique provides. It is a hallmark of high-quality, hand-crafted furniture and a testament to the time-honored traditions of European furniture craftsmanship. In a world increasingly dominated by disposable products, the 8-way hand-tied technique stands as a beacon of sustainable and responsible furniture design.
2. Frame Construction
While I listed 8-way hand-tied springs number one, that doesn’t mean it’s more important than frame construction. A poorly constructed sofa frame will end a sofa’s days faster than any other feature.
What are the features of high-end sofa frame construction?
There are several you should look for (and ask about). They are:
- Quality Material: High-end sofas are typically made from hardwood like oak, ash, or beech. These woods are durable and can withstand heavy use over time.
- Kiln-Dried Wood: The wood used in the frame is often kiln-dried, which removes excess moisture and prevents warping or cracking.
- Joint Construction: The joints of the sofa frame are usually double-doweled, glued, and screwed for extra strength. Some high-end models also use corner blocks for additional support. What you don’t have are staples or just nails.
- Reinforced Corners: Corners of the sofa frame are often reinforced with additional blocks of wood, which can help to enhance the durability and stability of the sofa.
3. Quality cushions
One measurement you might read when sofa shopping is “foam density”. The numerical score does not pertain to how firm or dense the foam is. Instead, it scores durability; as in how long it will hold its shape.
A high-quality sofa will have a foam density score ranging from 1.8 to 2.5.
What makes for a quality cushion? Several factors such as:
- Quality Filling Material: High-end sofa cushions often use high-density foam, down, or a combination of both. High-density foam retains its shape well and provides good support, while down is very soft and luxurious.
- Feather-Down Blend: Some luxury sofas use a blend of feathers and down for the cushions. This blend offers a nice balance of support and comfort, and it’s often wrapped in a layer of foam for added durability.
- Spring Down Cushions: These are considered top-of-the-line and consist of a core of coiled springs that is surrounded by a foam box and then wrapped in a feather down blend. This combination provides the comfort of down with the support and durability of springs.
- Channelled Down-Proof Casings: In high-end cushions, down or synthetic down is often enclosed in a down-proof casing that has been channelled to keep the filling in place and prevent it from bunching up.
- Removable Covers: Many high-end sofa cushions have removable and washable covers, which makes them easy to clean and maintain.
- Tailored Fit: The cushion covers on high-end sofas are often tailored to fit the cushion perfectly, which gives the sofa a neat and tidy appearance.
- High Resiliency: High-end cushions are designed to be highly resilient and to bounce back to their original shape after use, which helps the sofa to retain its shape over time.
4. Quality Upholstery
The upholstery is one aspect of a sofa you see but when new, it’s not always clear whether it’s good or not.
Custom upholstery: When buying a high-end sofa you should be given the option to choose the fabric, whether from the sofa retailer or from a fabric retailer.
When you buy quality fabric, it is rated via one of two common fabric tests. Those tests are:
i. Wyzenbeek test, aka the “double-rub” test. The test rubs the fabric back and forth. The higher the number, the better the quality.
- 15,000 plus “rubs” is high quality (or heavy-duty). Commercial grade is 15,000 to 30,000. Residential is typically 15,000 or fewer.
- 9,000 to 15,000 is medium-duty.
- 3,000 to 9,000 is light-duty.
ii. The Martindale test: This is also a rub test except the fabric is put through a figure 8 pattern instead of a back and forth straightline as in the Wyzenbeek test. One full figure 8 is a cycle. A good martindale score is 20,000 to 40,000. Most
Other attributes of quality upholstery include:
- Quality Material: High-end sofas often use top-quality materials for upholstery, such as genuine leather, high-grade synthetic fabrics, or luxury natural fabrics like silk, wool, or linen.
- Durability: The upholstery of a high-end sofa is typically highly durable and resistant to wear and tear. It should be able to withstand daily use without showing signs of distress. This is kind of an obvious attribute. The underlying question is what makes a durable fabric. Here are markers for a quality fabric that will last a long time (and retain its color):
- Material: The type of material used plays a significant role in the durability of the fabric. Synthetic fibers like polyester, nylon, and acrylic are known for their strength and durability. Natural fibers like leather and wool are also durable but may require more care.
- Weave: The way the fabric is woven can affect its durability. A tight weave or a high thread count usually indicates a more durable fabric. Twill weaves are known for their durability as they resist wear, fading, and stains.
- Finish: Some fabrics have protective finishes that make them more resistant to stains, fading, and wear and tear. For example, a fabric may be treated with a stain-resistant finish or a fade-resistant finish.
- Weight: Heavier fabrics tend to be more durable. The weight of a fabric is usually indicated by its GSM (grams per square meter) rating. A higher GSM rating typically means a more durable fabric.
- Colorfastness: This refers to the fabric’s resistance to fading when exposed to light. Fabrics that are highly colorfast will keep their color longer, contributing to their overall durability.
- Resistance to Pilling: Pilling is when small balls of fluff form on the surface of the fabric. Fabrics that are resistant to pilling will maintain their appearance longer.
- Cleaning Instructions: Durable fabrics are often easy to clean and maintain. They may be machine washable or easy to spot clean.
- Abrasion Resistance: This refers to the fabric’s ability to withstand surface wear from rubbing. It’s often measured by a ‘double rub’ test in the industry. Fabrics that can withstand a high number of double rubs are considered more durable.
- Tensile Strength: This is the fabric’s resistance to being pulled apart. Fabrics with high tensile strength are less likely to rip or tear.
- Stain Resistance: Many high-end fabrics are treated to be stain-resistant, making them easy to clean and maintain.
- Color Fastness: The color of the upholstery should remain vibrant and not fade over time, even with exposure to sunlight.
- Texture: High-end upholstery often has a rich texture that adds to the overall aesthetic appeal of the sofa.
- Tailoring: The upholstery on a high-end sofa is usually impeccably tailored, with even seams and patterns that align correctly.
- Comfort: Despite its durability, high-end upholstery is also designed to be comfortable for sitting or lying down.
- Eco-Friendly: Some high-end manufacturers use upholstery materials that are eco-friendly and sustainably sourced.
- Fire Retardant: Many high-end sofas have upholstery that is treated to be fire retardant, adding an extra level of safety.
- Warranty: High-end sofa manufacturers often offer warranties on their upholstery, reflecting the confidence they have in their materials and workmanship.
As you can see, most of the features of a high-end sofa are not visible so it’s not easy to detect a quality sofa from an inferior sofa.
This is another feature you can actually note when shopping for sofas. High-quality sofa craftsmanship when construction pays attention to detail in stitching, patterns, and seams is a hallmark of high-end furniture. Patterns should align, seams should be straight, and stitches should be tight and evenly spaced.
Check out the following sofa:
Answer to which sofa is the $500 and which one is more than $4,000.
The one on the left is $500. The one on the right is over $4K.