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Helpful Hints - Purchasing a Sofa

Unless we can take a chainsaw to all those showroom sofas in order to really “see” what’s inside, how are we supposed to know what we’re buying? Why is there such a wide range of prices out there?

A client once expressed the frustration she and her husband were experiencing as we shopped for a sofa together. I had led them to a “quality” store, and the tag on the sofa she liked was $3,000.00. “I just don’t get it”, she agonized, “Last weekend Stan and I saw this sofa at “_ _ _’s” (discount store). It looked exactly like this one, and it was only $799.00. Why should we pay $3,000.00 at this store?”

I sympathize. It can be confusing, and more than a little tempting to save that $2,200.00, and settle for the discount store version. After all, how different can these two sofas really be?

In a world where a sofa can sell for $799.00 or $7,900.00 (or much, much more), how can one know what’s a value, and what’s a rip-off?

Just as in purchasing a car, your sofa can be of poor, adequate, good, excellent or superb quality. And it will be priced accordingly. You must decide which price range will suit your needs, and go for the best manufacturer in that niche… as you would when shopping for your car.

The truth is, that the sofa at the discount store is probably a more extravagant purchase than the one priced at $3,000.00. Why? Because there is an overwhelming likelihood that the materials and construction in the discount sofa are of a low quality which will not withstand the day-to-day wear and tear that a sofa receives under normal use. The “better” sofa will continue to look and feel great for many years. The “bargain” sofa will look worn quickly and will be in need of replacement within its first year. No bargain !

Let’s get out that imaginary chainsaw and look at the “anatomy” of a sofa:


  • The frame is the sofa’s “bone structure”.
  • A quality sofa frame is constructed of kiln dried hardwood. Birch, Ash, Gum, or Maple are strong hardwoods suitable for this purpose.
  • Kiln drying is an expensive process but one that is absolutely necessary to assure that the frame will not crack under climactic and/or humidity fluctuations.
  • Manufacturers of cheaper furniture skip this important process to keep costs down. This could easily result in a cracked rail in a very short time.
  • In addition, a sturdy frame (such as those in quality sofas) is reinforced for durablility. It is corner-blocked, then screwed, then glued.
  • Manufacturers of lower quality, on the other hand, will often choose to make their frames of cheaper woods such as Fir, Poplar, or even particle board. And corner reinforcement is often poor or non-existent, causing the sofa to creak and “rack” early in its life.


  • In quality traditional sofas, 8-way hand-tied coils continue to reign supreme. There are, however, sofas which have lower, straighter, more contemporary lines, may require alternative spring systems. When executed by a quality manufacturer these will be of high integrity as well. Have a seat. A quality sofa is quiet and luxurious.
  • Manufacturers of cheaper sofas use spring systems of a lower gauge and coarse construction. The “feel” of a cheaper sofa can never compare to the comfort and luxury of one of higher quality. Also, there is often a “tinny” sound or squeak in the sofas of poorer construction. While sitting in the sofa, bounce up and down lightly. Listen for any creaks and thumps, which could indicate that the springs are hitting the frame.


  • Sofas are made with a variety of cushion styles. The one thing quality sofas have in common is the consistent use of high-grade materials.
  • The highest quality seat cushions are made with an inner core of springs which are encased in a plain fabric cover, and then wrapped in a layer of polyester batting. They are then wrapped in thick, premium-grade urethane foam, enclosed in another plain fabric cover, and finally zipped into their decorative fabric covers. These cushions will continue to look great for a very long time.
  • Another excellent seat cushion construction: solid pieces of premium-grade urethane foam are wrapped in a layer of plush polyester batting, sewn inside plain fabric coverings, then zipped into their decorative fabric covers. This provides that cozy, soft, "curl-up" feel that so many of us prefer these days.  
  • Manufacturers of lower quality items, on the other hand, will cover a solid piece of inferior-grade (less dense) foam directly with the upholstery fabric. This slab of foam will flatten out in a short time, and will shift in its casing.
  • Even lesser manufacturers will create seat cushions with shredded urethane foam. When new, these cushions may appear to be plump and bouncy. But in a very short time they will begin to “deflate” and look terrible.


  • “Better” manufacturers usually offer a variety of fabric choices, and in addition, allow you to use your own fabric (referred to as “C.O.M”). While these choices will vary in their durability, in keeping with the high standard of the company, they will all be of fine quality.
  • Patterns and stripes will be carefully matched.
  • Lesser quality manufacturers, by definition, offer lower quality fabrications. Often the sofa will be available in only one fabric.
  • And since matching patterns and stripes is time consuming and labor-intensive, this practice is non-existent, or poorly executed, in low-end manufacturing.

So don’t be fooled by exteriors. Know what you are purchasing. Stick with manufacturers who enjoy a fine reputation for producing quality within their price-range. Ask a lot of questions.

Save money by spending a little more!

-Karen Saloomey


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