Beauty and the Best: Buying Upholstery

The Thomas Pheasant Collection - Sofas and LoveseatsWhen I visit our locations, there is almost always a customer wrestling with the question of how to buy upholstery.  This unsanctioned, almost unscripted, note is the advice I would offer my mother.  She likes the truth, and she likes it to the point.   And, I like her chocolate chip cookies.

If you ask an upholstery professional, they’ll tell you it’s all about “500 things for $1, rather than 1 thing for $500.”  Just nonsense.  For sensible people who think “cotton batting” should actually be made of cotton, it pays to focus on four big ideas—Look, Intent, Feel, and a few special Tips for those intrepid souls still reading.  LIFT.  Now that’s something you can remember!

The Bill Sofield Collection - Sofas and LoveseatsLook means you should find it attractive.  Original designs, classics, and reproductions are all nice—if you like them.  Of course, you might want to know that really good upholstery usually has a unique frame for almost every shape, with hand-cut fabric, literally pinned and “basted” like a custom garment.   You might also want to be sure the maker offers plenty of options and does quite a bit of work with Customer’s Own Material (COM).  Those things would suggest a higher skill level.  So, we start with the Look—as we want it today and tomorrow.

Verdi Lounge Chair - No. 3769Intent is about ensuring that what pleases the eye also pleases the use.  A formal living room, a great room and a family room are three very different things.  Being certain about the use is a big step toward success.  Then, there is fabric selection — which really can’t ignore the use, like a chenille for a casual room, a linen for something more formal, or a delicate silk for a fashion statement.  Why would anyone want silk on an everyday sofa?  Then, there are practical considerations — color versus soiling, seat depth versus the tall husband.  Intent matters.

The Baker StandardFeel means comfort.  That begins with geometry— and particularly the pitch, the slope of the back.  While that tends to reveal itself right away, the best combination of the spring base and cushion is more subtle.  Premium upholstery uses a difficult eight-way hand tie to position more of the right springs in more of the right places.  Coupled with a selection of ingenious blend down cushions, that is how you get a seat that is firm where it should be, soft where it should be, and likely to stay that way.  If a salesman starts telling you about “drop-in units” and “sinuous springs”, you are now in the world of what’s easiest for the maker rather than what’s best for you.  Premium upholstery should Feel just right.

Finally, a few Tips might help.  First, please understand that much of the cost of making premium upholstery is in the fabric.  If you have an inexpensive sofa, you have an inexpensive fabric— and that might not be good.  Second, take the time to sit in a sofa for 10 minutes before you take it home for 10 years.   When in doubt, please revisit the last sentence.   Finally, there is something to be said for the test of time and the bitter taste of trouble.   The elite names usually do make an elite effort.

So, there it is.  LIFT.  Look, Intent, Feel, and Tips.  The ticket to “beauty and the best.”

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2 Responses to Beauty and the Best: Buying Upholstery

  1. wow thanks for this great article

    will we subscribing

    and check out you other posts :)

  2. Sydney says:

    Thanks for sharing this information. Enjoy all of your wonderful photos. I just about live outside, so here are a few thoughts you need to think about. Wood rots and falls apart over the years. You want to treat it every year, which is no fun. And you must treat every nook and cranny on each piece, because water will find a way in. Resin will discolor and need to be bleached to clean, but it is [reasonable. Plastic can be kind of uncomfortable. The choice patio furniture is wrought iron. And if you get a quality set. It’s worth the money. I’m a long time lurker and first time commenter!

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