What To Look For When Buying Upholstery

By Designer Vincent Kinsler, Good’s Home Furnishings Charlotte, NC Showroom

Vincent Kinsler Designer Good’s Home Furnishings Charlotte, NC Showroom

Most consumers, who are in the market to purchase furniture for either a new home or just to spruce up an existing one, find that shopping for upholstering can be an overwhelming experience.  The reason behind the anxiety is that the three things a consumer needs to know about purchasing upholstery, are the three things they can not see, which are as follows:

1. What is the frame?

 2. What is the support system?

3. What is the cushion core?

For most consumers, they find themselves at the mercy of the sales person who greeted them. Depending on how knowledgeable this person is can either decrease or increase your stress level. In most cases, after spending 20 minutes of your time with this individual, you realize that he or she knows as much about upholstered furniture as you do.  This can be very frustrating for the consumer, who graciously thanks the person for their time; only to have a repeat encounter with the next neighboring furniture store they visit.  It’s no wonder consumers walk into furniture stores with their hands up and an eyebrows raised and tell the person greeting them that, “We are just looking.”  As animated as the story just told, the reality, however, holds true for most consumers. How does one then overcome or avoid this type of experience? 

Rule #1
Do your homework before leaving to go furniture shopping. Know that most quality upholstery is going to be hand made by skilled Artisans, who generally use hard rock maple for the frame. The frame is skillfully hand crafted using Mortise and Tenon and Dowel Construction to add strength and durability. Today it is easy to Google and watch videos of how this is done in order to better understand the process in building this type of frame. It’s very similar to that of building a house. Very few consumers, who have ever built a house, would rush their contractor through the framing process of their home. In keeping that mindset, neither should someone rush the process for a handcrafted piece of furniture being built. Depending on the company making your furniture, prepare and accept the fact that you may have to wait 8-16 weeks before it is completed. Remember, if it is worth having, then it is worth waiting for.  Another option to frame construction is laminate. A laminate is a material made from hardwoods such as birch, maple, walnut, and oak. It consists of 3-7 thin layers of plywood, in which industrial glue is applied between each layer to give it strength and support. *It is important to note that any frame that is made with a laminate cannot be recovered.

Rule #2
The Support System that fits inside the frame is as important as the frame itself. In hand made upholstery, the best support system is an 8-Way-Hand-Tie. Each coil or spring has eight hand tied knots that is connected to the next coil beside it. The process is repeated until reaching the outside of the frame where it is then nailed down. The advantage to this type of construction, especially in a sofa, is that when the person sits on the furniture, his or her weight is supported and distributed across the entire frame. It is highly recommended that a person over 225 pounds, who is frequently using a piece of upholstery, should highly consider going with an 8-Way-Hand Tied Support System.  As there is an alternative in regard to frames, so is there is an alternative to support systems in upholstery. This is referred to as a Sinuous or “No Sag,” spring.  Some refer to it as an “S” spring that runs vertically from the front on the sofa’s frame to the back of the frame. These coils are either stapled or screwed down with a clip. Industry standard can be 3-9 inches apart between each coil. Some manufacturers may use two coils, or sinuous springs, on the ends of a sofa for example; in order to give it additional support where most people sit.  If you have ever undone a paper clip, so it is with a sinuous or “S” spring.  Once it is bent by a child jumping on the furniture or someone heavy who flops themselves down on it, it’s time to start looking for its replacement. 

Rule #3
The Cushion Core is the third concern to have when looking at overall construction. If you are buying a hand made sofa, most cushion cores will be spring down, which are encased in a Muslin wrap. This is the best core that you can purchase. An easy way to quickly identify if the cushion is spring down or not is to see if the cushion crowns or is flat in appearance. A flat cushion core is more than likely to be foam. For consumers who are allergic to down, there are alternative cores that will still give you comfort without sacrificing quality. As with the frame and support system, so it is with the cushion cores. Instead of a spring down cores, most manufacturers use foam. A Universal Standard foam cushion core is a 1.8 density foam, the higher the number, the denser the foam, and in most cases, greater longevity as well.

In having a better understanding about the three things to look for that you cannot see when buying upholstery, now it is time to learn about what you can see. That is to make the decision as to whether to use fabric or leather on the frame you just selected.  Believe it or not, this subject is more cumbersome than the three things you just learned about in the construction of upholstery. It’s also an area of buying which will determine how much money is going to leave your wallet, or how much you are going to keep in it based on what you know about this topic. That, however, is a workshop for another time. As a closing note in the meantime, take a legal pad with you to each furniture store you visit.  Have notes you have made from doing your research at home and have questions ready for the sales person or designer helping you. This will give the appearance that you are shopping, well informed, and serious about buying.  It will also save you time spent in each store by quickly identifying whether you know more than the sale person helping you. Make furniture-shopping fun!  When that sales person greets you at the door and says, “May I help you,” don’t tell them you are just looking, but put them to the test.  In the end it’s going to save you time and money for being prepared for the inevitable.

Email Vincent Kinsler 
Charlotte, NC Showroom 11735 Carolina Place Parkway 704.910.4045

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