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When shopping for your home, it can be difficult to decide where to invest more money and where you can get away with less. And just like in fashion, not everything in home interiors requires splurging. But when it comes to the pieces in your home that you use daily — like that pair of jeans you’d wear every day if they were always clean — they’re certainly worth the investment. Upholstery is the hardest working furniture in the house and we’re here to tell you that you really do get what you pay for. So before purchasing your next upholstered piece, let us break down all of the important things to consider.
The quality and comfort of your upholstery is dependent upon its construction and there are a few key elements you should look for in the frame, seating support and cushions.
To build something that lasts, you must start with a strong foundation, and upholstery is no different. A well-built piece should be constructed of kiln dried hardwood such as maple, alder or birch, as opposed to soft woods like pine, poplar or fir. And while particleboard is strong, it’s prone to splitting, chipping and likely won’t stand the test of time. Joints should always fit tightly with no gaps, and corner blocks are the highest quality frame reinforcements.
The coil system in the seat of an upholstered piece gives it firmness, stability and greatly impacts how long it will last. Although 8-way hand-tie (coils are tied eight ways, from side to side, front to back and diagonally) is widely considered the gold standard due to the superior stability and support it provides, sinuous springs can be equally comfortable and durable if made from thick gauge steel and rows are packed tightly from left to right. The clips that secure these coils to the frame should be bolted or screwed into the wood — not stapled — so they remain firmly in place.
If you’ve never done it, we encourage you to unzip the seat cushion on your sofa to reveal what’s inside. Typically you’ll find a foam core encased in an envelope of polyester fiber, feathers and down or a synthetic down alternative. Although foam density varies depending on the style of the piece, when shopping for new upholstery, make sure whatever foam is being used is high resiliency (HR) and therefore less likely to break down over time. Unlike seat cushions, the back cushions do not include a foam core and instead are much like a pillow insert. Most standard back cushions are filled with a polyester fiber insert but just like the seat, there are many upgraded options available such as polyester fiber and feather blends, feathers and down, and faux feather synthetic alternatives. Regardless of which fill you choose, make sure the inserts are channeled to prevent shifting and clumping.
• DID YOU KNOW? •
What does kiln dried mean and why is it important? A kiln is like an oven, and in the case of furniture it is used to remove excess moisture from hardwoods. As a result, kiln dried wood is less likely to warp, twist, and break, making it the most durable and highest quality wood to use for upholstered furniture.
There is much to consider when selecting the right fabric for your upholstery, but it all comes down to form and function. First, pick a color that compliments the overall interior of your home. Try sticking to neutral tones for large pieces like sofas and sectionals and save bold hues and fun patterns for occasional chairs, ottomans and pillows. Where the piece is going in your home is critical to fabric selection. Choose fade resistant or lighter colored fabrics if going in a room that gets lots of direct sunlight. If you have pets, avoid using fabric with lots of texture that could easily be scratched at or snagged. Although darker fabrics can mask dirt and spills from heavy use (and kids!), white cotton denim is a great option as it can be easily cleaned and even bleached. Also, keep in mind that cotton and linen are ideal for slipcovering whereas heavier fabrics like wools and velvets should be used when upholstering.
• DESIGNER TIP •
Before buying, make sure the piece can fit through your front door! When measuring, be sure to consider passageways and determine the max distance at all points, taking into account the width between molding and lock set and ceiling and door heights. If getting the piece into your space requires going through a window, you (and the delivery service) will want to be prepared in advance!
Basic maintenance goes a long way to keep your upholstery looking well-kept. People and pets tend to have favorite spots on the sofa, so to avoid indentations and worn spots, alternate and rotate seat cushions often. And be sure to fluff back cushions after a long lounge sesh to help them keep their form. Depending on the material, an occasional sweep with a vacuum or once-over with a lint roller keeps things fresh and tidy. If you have a dark fabric on your piece, pull the shades in the morning to help slow fading. Also, be sure to ask about warranties and protection plans at the time of purchase — there are even some out there that cover pet damage and the dreaded red wine spill.