Buyer's Guide to Upholstered Furniture
Beneath the obvious fabric
covering any sofa or chair, three hidden elements exist; the frame,
springs and padding. It is the combination of all four that make the
piece as comfortable and durable as it is (or isn't).
A kiln-dried hardwood frame is a
must in ensuring durability in your piece of upholstery. Oak,
maple and ash are woods most commonly used. A good frame is
joined using dowels as well as corner blocks glued and screwed
together. The legs should be an integral part of the frame and
center legs should be used for additional support.
There are two primary spring
systems used in constructing upholstered furniture; eight-way
hand-tied and sinuous. Eight-way hand-tied springs are used in
the base of better quality pieces and are often considered a
sign of quality. These three dimensional coils are attached to
webbing on the bottom of the sofa or chair and tied with twine
at the top to each of the eight adjacent coils to prevent them
from shifting. This system gives the product an even comfort
level and has the advantage of never "bottoming-out" no matter
how big the person is that sits on it.
Sinuous springs are two
dimensional "S" shaped wires that are fastened to the top of the
front rail and run from the front to the back of the piece every
few inches apart. This spring system offers a somewhat softer
seat and can be used in pieces that sit lower to the ground as
in many contemporary designs. While less costly to produce, it
is not necessarily the sign of an inferior product. The quality
and quantity of springs utilized is more an issue than which
system is selected.
The way a frame is padded will affect not only its comfort, but
also its durability. Prior to applying the fabric, it is
important that the frame be padded so that at no point will the
fabric be touching wood. This will prevent untimely fabric wear
and also add a subtle softness to the piece. Cotton and
polydacron are the most popular frame padding materials. Seat
cushions are filled with one of the following combinations of
High density polyurethane foam wrapped in Dacron is the most common
(and least expensive) seat core. The density of foam and quantity of
Dacron will determine the softness of the seat.
Spring-Down cushions consist of innerspring coils surrounded by foam
and wrapped in Dacron. This whole unit is then inserted into a
muslin bag of channeled blendown. The springs give the unit support,
while the blendown gives a luxurious surface feel.
Blendown cushions offer the softest seat, utilizing a combination of
down and feathers sometimes wrapped around a foam core and then
encased in a muslin bag. This cushion does not retain its shape
without an occasional fluffing. Back cushions are primarily filled
with Dacron fiber. Encasing the filling in a bag will help the
cushions keep their proper shape. Occasionally, in better quality
pieces, blendown is substituted for a more luxurious feel.
fabrics for upholstered furniture, keep in mind that tightly woven
fabrics tend to wear the best. Durability is determined by the
number of threads per square inch rather than the thickness of the
yarn used. Generally, fabrics that have their pattern woven in will
wear better than printed fabrics.
There are many types of fiber.
used in the manufacturing of upholstery fabrics. They each have
unique attributes that must be considered in making a selection
based on the planned usage of the piece. In addition to their look
and feel, factors to consider are wearability, cleanability and
sensitivity to direct sunlight.
Prized for their soft " hand"
and versatility, the natural fibers remain popular as coverings for
color well, soft and pliable, blends well with other fibers, durable
with unlimited styling potential. However, continuous exposure to
direct sunlight will cause the cotton fiber. to disintegrate. In
damp climates, cotton may tend to mildew. It is somewhat less stain
resistant than synthetics.
strong, cool, crisp " hand", linen is one of the most durable fibers
available. It has a tendency to resist color and is often found in
natural coloration's as a result. Linen reflects heat somewhat
better than cotton, but will disintegrate in intense sunlight. It is
at the higher end of fabric cost.
Naturally springy and
resilient, wool is extremely durable. It tends to take color softly
and has good resistance to abrasion. Wool has natural stain
resistance, but should be mothproofed before using.
the most beautiful, yet fragile of all upholstery fabrics. Soft and
lustrous, strong light will tend to discolor and disintegrate the
fiber. Difficult to clean, the fibers will tend to mildew in damp
Made of processed cellulose,
can be woven to emulate silk or linen. Its low cost and blendability
with other more expensive fibers make it a popular choice. The
fiber. is reasonably colorfast and abrasion resistant, but will tend
to rot under long exposure to direct sunlight.
These petroleum-based fibers
have been developed over the last sixty years as an alternative to
natural fibers and are often blended with them in an effort to
achieve the best properties of each.
Polyester: a polymer that
takes vibrant colors well. Polyester is strong and cleanable and
stands up well under direct sunlight. Flame and abrasion
resistant, it is often blended with natural fibers to soften its
feel. Recent developments have led to a finely extruded polyester
fiber. that resembles the look and feel of silk.
Olefin: known by many people
by the trade name, Herculon. Strong, with natural stain resistant
properties, olefin is a bulky fiber. with a coarse "hand" that
does not hold up well to direct sunlight. Often it is used to
create heavy textured causal fabrics. These fabrics when loosely
woven require a latex backing for added strength.
Nylon: The strongest and
most dirt resistant fiber., nylon is used often in commercial
applications where it will take a beating. Until recently, nylon
typically had a high luster, but now it is often available with a delustered wool look and feel. Its only drawback is its
sensitivity to sunlight.
While a few fibers have flame retardant properties, most others must
be treated with fire retardant chemicals prior to being used
commercially. Some states are now requiring this treatment on
residential upholstered furniture as well.