How to Choose a Sofa That Will Last
What makes for a sturdy, long-lasting sofa? Here’s all you need to know!
An upholstered sofa is made up of three main parts: the frame, the suspension and the cushions. When choosing a sofa, it is important to find out as much information as possible about these three elements. They’re the key factors in determining whether a new sofa will wobble, sink in or flatten out.
Frame material. Look for kiln-dried hardwood or engineered hardwood when it comes to upholstery frames. Engineered hardwood as a category can be broad, so look for it to be made from at least seven layers of solid wood pressed together. That’s what is needed for a strong, warp-resistant frame. Avoid medium-density fiberboard (MDF), particle board or standard plywood.
Frame construction. Just as important as the frame material is how it is joined together. Frames can be put together in a variety of ways, so look for terms like “mortise and tenon,” “double dowel” and “corner-block-reinforced” (where an extra piece of wood is installed at the corners). Avoid frames that are mainly held together with screws and glue or that use metal connectors attached to two pieces of wood. They will wobble over time.
One good indicator that the frame was put together well is if the piece of furniture has a lifetime frame warranty.
The suspension refers to the part of the sofa under the cushions. There are many different types of suspensions and just as many opinions on which is best. Let’s break it down:
Eight-way hand-tied. This technique has long been considered the gold standard of suspension. It is the most labor-intensive and costly option, and generally is the mark of a high-quality piece of furniture — except when it’s fake, which I’ll explain later. With this option, coil springs are supported by metal or fabric webbing and secured to one another with twine tied in eight different spots by hand. The twine ensures the springs don’t shift and won’t start squeaking over time.
If you’re unsure if a sofa is eight-way hand-tied, pick up the cushion and push on the seat deck. You should be able to feel the separate springs through the fabric.
Drop-in and pocket coil springs. Drop-in coils are a less labor-intensive version of a spring suspension. The coils are mounted on a metal frame and added to the sofa as a single piece. There is no additional support on the bottom, so it will start to sag before other suspension types. Plus, there is a lot of metal-on-metal contact which means it will most likely squeak as well.
Remember when I mentioned fake eight-way hand-tied suspensions? Some manufacturers take these drop-in suspension systems and add twine, saying they are eight-way hand-tied even though they are far from the real thing.
Pocket coil suspensions are similar to what you find inside a mattress, and consist of coils wrapped individually in fabric. It’s not a very popular option with manufacturers, but seems to be higher quality than the drop-in coil method.
Sinuous springs. The most common suspension type in low-to-mid-priced sofas, sinuous springs are made of zigzagging pieces of metal set in rows perpendicular to the front of the sofa. It is believed by many that this option can perform just as well as eight-way hand-tied, and at a lower cost.
While it is true that sinuous-spring sofas are less expensive than eight-way hand-tied, we’ve found that if properly made they generally perform better than drop-in springs suspensions or fake eight-way hand-tied suspensions. Be sure that the wire used is at least 8-gauge and there are at least two silent tie wires running across and clipped to each spring.
Grid and webbing suspension. Less common than other suspensions, grid (or flexolator) suspension is available on some mid-priced pieces of furniture. They are made of wire grids attached to the frame with springs on the side (similar to a trampoline). Avoid this suspension if possible. The wires are not very quiet and often break.
Webbing suspensions, commonly found on the lowest-quality furniture, are made by weaving fabric or elastic strips in a grid-like pattern. Although not recommended as a seat suspension, the method works perfectly for supporting back cushions.
As the most visible part of the sofa, and that which you come in contact with directly, the quality of your cushions is very important. It becomes apparent very quickly whether cushions are going to hold up or flatten out. The main factor is cushion construction, and there are several options.
Seat cushions. Typically consisting of a foam core wrapped in polyester fiber or down, choose a seat cushion with a foam core that is at least 4 inches thick. (The overall cushion will be thicker because of the material wrapped around the core.) If you want a higher-grade cushion, look for one with an inner core of individually wrapped springs, like a mini mattress. This option has a firmer seat that will hold its shape well over time. Avoid cushions that are all foam or all down. They don’t hold their shape and are uncomfortable.
Back cushions. These cushions are typically filled with either polyester fiber, down or a combination of the two — no foam core. They should be made from down-proof ticking and sewn with channels so that the filling will stay in place.
A sofa is a big purchase that you want to last. With a little bit of research, you can ensure your money is well spent.