Quality Matters: Upholstery

Even if you only have one area to invest in quality home furnishings, upholstered goods will always be the way to go. These pieces are usually shown the heaviest use, and there is a huge difference in both comfort and longevity when it comes to quality levels of upholstered goods.



Choose kiln-dried hardwood. Always. The best materials are birch, maple or ash. Most of the furniture on the market today is made of pine, poplar, fir and (a designer’s worst nightmare) particleboard or fiberboard. Particle board is strong at first, but is prone to splitting and chipping, and fiberboard is just a cheap material used in cheap furniture so it can be sold at a cheap price. If you are not sure about the wood quality, check the weight; if a chair or sofa is made with hard wood it will feel nice and heavy as opposed to light or flimsy.


Opt for mortise-and-tenon or dovetail joints. In mortise-and-tenon construction, one piece slides into the other, and in dovetail construction there are finger like projections that fit together like gears and are then secured with glue. These types of joints fit tightly with no gaps, and that’s the way it should be. Butted, screwed, stapled and glued joints are nowhere near as strong, and are a sure sign of inferior construction.

Inner construction

Look for pieces with steel coil springs that are hand-tied where they meet the adjoining coils. This type of construction will offer the best stability and comfort. Seat cushions with zig zag, wave shaped or interwoven bands are more likely to sag and lose shape.

Cushion Construction

If the piece has removable cushions with a foam core you should see the foam wrapped in Dacron or cotton, and a protective inner cover (typically made out of muslin). I prefer cushions that have a layer of down included between the foam and Dacron for extra comfort. There are also different densities of foam (you want a 1.8-lb or higher density).  A good way to test this is to squeeze the arms and back of the furniture piece. You should not be able to feel the frame through the padding.

Let us know what you think makes a quality piece of furniture by liking, commenting and sharing this post. If you haven’t already, be sure to subscribe to receive future design posts like this straight to your inbox!

Designing spaces you love to live in,

Robin's Signature

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