How to Shop for Upholstered Furniture

Cadillac Sofa by Rugiano

Cadillac Sofa by Rugiano

With the right questions – and answers – you can choose a new sofa or chair with confidence.

What should you look for?

Start by insisting on a kiln-dried, solid hardwood frame. You might never see the wood frame of your sofa or chair, but you should know what it is made of. Kiln-dried hardwoods like oak, alder, birch and maple are preferred because they hold pegs, screws and nails securely in place for a long time.

Buying good upholstered furniture – and keeping it – helps the environment too. Landfills are overflowing with inexpensive sofas that are left on the curb after just a few years of use.

Frame Construction

Does the underside of the sofa appear to be made well? Look for joints that are reinforced with blocks or dowels (small wooden pegs). The best furniture has blocks that have been glued or screwed for added strength. Avoid pieces that have been stapled.

If you’re buying an upholstered piece with exposed wood legs or arms, note your color and species options, as well as the quality of the stain and finish.


The number of springs and how they are tied and reinforced determines cost and quality. In better furniture, many coils are used in close formation.

Furniture manufacturers offer a variety of spring support systems. Many companies offer either sinuous S-shaped springs or drop-in coil springs as their standard. Both of these types affix to the frame to support the seat deck. They make the seat firm because they move in only one direction – up and down.

Eight-way, hand-tied springs have been considered a mark of top quality for decades. They are hand-tied front to back, side to side and diagonally (eight ways) to provide the most comfort and durability. This process costs the most because it is the most time-consuming.


Cushions are made of cotton, polyester, polyurethane foam or down. Cushioning should be evenly distributed and should conceal the feel of the springs and frame.


Express your taste in colors, patterns and textures. The choices are unlimited. Fabrics fall into two general categories: natural and synthetic. Natural choices include cotton, linen, silk and wool. Synthetics include acetate, acrylic, rayon, nylon and polypropylene.

Fabrics that blend natural and synthetic fibers often combine beauty and durability. Fabrics with tight weaves and durable fibers like polypropylene or nylon typically stand up to the most active use. More formal fabrics like satins, brocades or damasks are best reserved for seating where practicality is less of a concern.

Test Drive

To test for strength, try pulling the fabric sample in several directions. The yarns should not separate. Run a fingernail over the fabric to see if it pulls or marks easily.

Never buy a sofa without trying it out. Sit on it and bounce lightly. Does it creak? Loud creaks or thumps may mean the springs are hitting the frame. Try lifting a sofa or chair, does it feel solid and heavy? The heaviest pieces usually are made the best. Check out the bottom of the sofa. The best have legs that are part of the frame, rather than simply glued on.

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