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What To Look For When Buying A New Sofa

Hickory White Sofa (To The Trade)
When you’re in the market for a new sofa, the choices are overwhelming!  Furniture stores, in their weekly ads, offer a wide selection of styles, prices, and finishes.  However, rather than purchasing a low-quality…yet inexpensive…sofa, consider this an investment to last over the years.  Throw away furniture may last well for a year or two, and then you’re stuck with another search and more money down the drain.
In searching for qualities of well-made furniture from many of the quality line manufacturers, I ran across this article that was very helpful in a generic sense.    Of course, there are lots of options that the quality lines offer–down cushions, varied seat firmness options, higher grade upholstery or designer patterns and custom wood finishes.  Each of these are perks for the basics that are outlined in this article by Kyle Dudley.   Arm yourself with knowledge when making your next furniture purchase and enjoy your sofa for many years.
A sofa is likely one of the ten biggest purchases you will make in your life. In addition, you will likely only buy a handful of them during that same span. So doesn’t it make sense that you would want to get the best quality possible for your dollar? It seems a lot of people do not know how to shop for a quality sofa, or they simply think that you get what you pay for. That is not always true, and if you know what to look for in quality you will know what is worth your hard earned dollars and certainly what is not.

When shopping for a quality sofa, there is one thing you should check before you even get into a quality check. As you approach a floor model that looks good to you, before you do anything else, make sure it will fit in your home. That doesn’t necessarily have to do with the quality of the sofa, but it will influence whether or not you are wasting your time looking at it. Measure your room, measure your space, and then check the measurements on the sofa before you do anything else.

The Sofa Frame

Once you know the sofa will fit, it is time to decide if it is a well made sofa. The most important factor is going to be the frame. The frame is the wooden “skeleton” of the sofa. You want to first make sure that it is made of a hardwood. Oak and alder are common frame woods and are both fine. This should probably even be the first question you ask to a sales person when you are shopping for a quality sofa: what is the frame made of? Once you confirm that the frame is made from a hardwood, find out if it is kiln dried. A quality sofa should have a kiln dried hardwood frame. The drying keeps the wood from warping or cracking during seasonal changes as well as changes in the humidity.

In addition, the wood should be thick and heavy. To check this yourself, you can reach under the front of most sofas and feel the front of the frame. Make sure that this area is at least 1” thick, but preferably about 1-1/4” thick. If everything checks out, then you have found a quality sofa frame.

The Spring System

Next, check on the spring system. These are the metal systems that are located below the cushions and will affect durability in that it will take the brunt of the abuse as people sit on it. It should be made of sinuous wires, which are S-shaped steel wires that should run from front to back on the sofa seat. You may hear talk from sales people or someone in your family about “eight way hand tied” seating. This is an old process in which twine is tied eight ways to create the seating surface below the cushions. Nostalgia and the idea of “hand” work have kept it alive, however; it is also expensive and no more durable than a good sinuous seat.

If you remove the cushions from the sofa, you should be able to feel the springs. They should feel strong and, as was mentioned before, should always run front to back. Push on them, and even stand on them if you like. Just make sure it is solid and will take the abuse.


Since you already have the cushions off of the sofa, feel the weight. Heavier Dacron, the foam used in most cushions, is better Dacron. So when you shop for a quality sofa, look for one with nice heavy cushions.

If you look at a pillow top cushion, which is one with an extra pillow of foam sewn onto the top, you should realize how it will behave. In nearly every sofa, good or bad, with pillow top cushions, you will see a wrinkling happen as you use it. That is just part of the softening of the foam coupled with the slight stretching of the fabric or leather cover. This will happen, so if that is something you don’t want, then stay away from pillow tops.

You should also know that a sofa cushion will soften with time. If you like a firm seat, know that the one you feel on the show floor may not accurately depict what you will get once you are home. If it has been out there a while, yours may be firmer when it arrives. If it is newer, then it will feel firm on the floor compared to how yours will at home over time. If you are really serious about a firm sit, a sleeper may actually be the way to go. The bed inside keeps the seat firmer since it essentially bypasses the sinuous spring system.

The Cover

When shopping for a quality sofa, obviously you want a quality cover. You should know going in that nothing will be as durable as good top grain leather, but obviously leather is not for everyone. As for fabric, look for good tight stitching around the piping and along seams. Also, feel the fabric. Quality can be felt as much as anything since, strangely enough, fabric price and quality are rarely related. The price is usually based on the dyes more than the fabrics themselves, so it is going to be about reeling. If you are a pet owner or have kids, you may want to look into a microfiber. Microfiber furniture is becoming increasingly popular because they are almost completely stain proof. The fabric is backed with a tight weave that keeps almost all moisture out of them. They also usually have a very nice “suede like” feel to them. No matter what fabric you end up with, just make sure that it is both heavy and well sewn.


Lastly, when shopping for a quality sofa, ask about the warranty. Warranties on sofas vary a great deal. As a general rule, top manufacturers will warranty their sofa frames, cushions, and fabrics against defects for at least a year. However, there are some who will go up to “lifetime” on the frame and five years on the cushions. Also, inquire about any store warranties that may be in effect and about what they cover.

Once you know you have a good frame, solid spring system, quality cushions, and the right cover, you will have found your quality sofa. Educating yourself is the best way of ensuring yourself of a successful shopping trip for a quality sofa. Take your time and ask a lot of questions to make sure you know what you are getting. Once you know what you are getting, you will know if you are paying the right price. You only buy a few sofas in your life, so make sure the ones you do are the best ones for your dollar.

Trade-Only Upholstered Furniture Available Through Gina McMurtrey Interiors:
Bernhardt           Harden          Hickory White
Kravet          Baker           Woodmark
Fairfield         Pearson        Leathercraft
Hickory Chair        Stanley
…and more
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