How To Buy Quality Furniture: Upholstered Chair Buying Advice

What to look for when buying an upholstered chair or other quality types of furniture: Learn about craft, construction and fabric options.

Buying an upholstered chair is a major purchase and it is important to understand what you are buying. Quality is determined by several factors such as how the frame is constructed, type and design of spring coils, padding, and fabric. Paying attention to the small details will ensure that you get the best value for your dollar.

Chair Construction

The frame should be constructed of hardwoods (as opposed to softwoods) that have been kiln dried. Softwoods such as pine are not as durable as hardwoods like maple or cherry. The joints of the frame should be double or triple doweled, and held in place with screws and glue, with wood blocks securing each corner.

Webbing, made of strips of jute, linen or synthetic materials, is located between the frame and the spring coils. It should be tightly woven with no gaps or sags.

The type and design of the spring coils that are used is probably the most important factor in determining the quality of an upholstered chair. There are three types of coils, single, double, and sinuous or zigzag coils. Sinuous type coils are often used in the seat back where support is not as critical. Generally sinuous type coils in the seat proper are associated with lower quality. Spring coils are tied together with metal ties, clips or twine. The higher the number and the closer together spring coils are, the higher the quality. Spring coils that are hand tied to the frame in eight locations are considered top of the line and offer the best support for the seat.

High density foam, cotton batting, and down are the best materials to use for padding in the cushion, back and arms, and around the frame of upholstered chairs. There are advantages and disadvantages to each.

Many types of fabrics, both natural (cotton, linen, silk, wool, and leather) and synthetic fibers (nylon, rayon, polyester or vinyl), are available to use for the upholstery. The choice of fabric depends on how the chair will be used. Fabrics that wear well such as velvet or are tightly woven such as cotton twill are excellent for chairs that will get a lot of use from children or pets. Delicate fabrics such as silk are more appropriate for bedroom chairs, which are not used as frequently.

What to Look For

1. Pay attention to details, especially how the piece is tailored. Seams should be neatly finished with no stray threads. Decorative touches such as buttons, tufts, or quilting should not be loose. If there is a skirt, it should hang straight. The welt cord, a decorative trim often used to cover seams, should be sewn on straight and firmly attached.

2. The cushion should fit snugly into the corners of the seat and should not be lumpy. Examine the cushion carefully and unzip the seat cover. There should be a muslin fabric cover over the padding in the cushion.

3. Fabric patterns (stripes, plaids, and floral prints) should match up at the seams. Fabric with a pattern repeat should be centered on the back of the chair and on both sides of the cushion. The size of the pattern should be in proportion to the size of the furniture.

4. The muslin fabric under the springs and webbing should not be flimsy or torn.

5. Metal or sharp edges should not protrude from the furniture.

6. When buying at auction or from an antique dealer the muslin fabric under the seat is often torn out so that buyers can see the how the chair is constructed. When buying from a showroom, choose a reputable dealer, as you will need to rely on the salesperson for an accurate description of how the chair is constructed.

7. Last but not least is comfort. Sit on the chair. The height and depth of the seat, as well as height and angle of the back of seat should be comfortable to the people using it.

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