How to Be a Savvy Sofa Shopper

There are many times in life when you don’t know what you don’t know. Becoming a mom for me was one of those times, as was buying our first house, and even buying our first sofa.

I went for looks only and ended up with a cheap sofa that stained if you looked at it cross-eyed, was terribly uncomfortable, and wore out after 3 years of use. Not a good investment.

How are we supposed to know what lies beneath the beautiful fabrics and accent pillows in the furniture show rooms? And even if we had x-ray vision, would we have even known what was quality and what was junk?

You can’t tell by price, that’s for sure. I lucked out after that experience by becoming a designer in a furniture store that put me through an education on buying quality furniture as well as explaining to my clients what was important in choosing a sofa.

So today, I’m going to share with you some questions to ask and some things to look for when it comes to buying furniture that will last, without breaking the bank, so you don’t end up with a piece of junk like I did my first time around.

The Frame:

Ask if the sofa is kiln dried hardwood. Plywood and softwoods may be used to cut corners on costs, but you’ll end up paying for it down the road with a sofa that doesn’t last. Instead, shop for furniture that is made from kiln dried hardwood. It won’t warp and will be sturdy enough to withstand everyday use (like the kids using it for a trampoline!)

The Joints:

Stapled joints are another sign that the furniture is lacking in quality. Joints that are fastened with screws, dowels and glue will hold up much longer and keep the frame from getting creaky and wiggly.

The Springs:

The highest quality furniture contains 8 way hand tied springs, but sinuous springs (the s shaped springs) are adequate for most purposes. Webbing is also used in some furniture but is not as common and is not as comfortable for most people. Note: For heavier users, look for a store that will offer semi-custom furniture that offers the ability to add additional springs.

The Cushions:

The most common cushion filler is polyurethane foam that is measured in density, based on weight. The higher the density the firmer the cushions will be and the longer they will hold up. A density of 2.8 is great quality and when wrapped in batting will be comfortable as well. Polyurethane foam density below 1.8-2.0 will be softer and not as durable.

Down filled cushions are an alternative to polyurethane foam. They will be softer and more luxurious, as well as more expensive, but they will also require frequent fluffing to look nice.

The Fabric:

This is where you can let your creative juices flow, but the fabric choices for your sofa are some of the most important.

Factors to consider when you’re purchasing fabric for a sofa. How resistant is it to stains, fading, piling, snags, and wear? Ask your furniture sales person for this information. The weave, and fiber content will vary greatly.

Larger weaves will snag, chenille and plush fabrics usually wear pretty well because abrasion from normal use is on the ends of the fiber instead of the side of the threads as in a woven fabric.

Leather and microfiber are going to be the most durable and kid friendly fabrics for your sofa. Leather will require you to condition it regularly to keep it supple, but normal wear and tear add a beautiful patina to your leather piece.

If you’re shopping for leather, ask for top grain aniline died leather. That means you are getting the top layer of leather (the outer layer of skin) that has color died all the way through it. Some lower quality leathers are sprayed with die and will show a different color if scratched or scuffed.

Microfiber is a great fabric that looks like suede and is stain and wear resistant. This is a great choice for families with kids.

Welting which is the piping that is used as an accent around the edges of the cushions, arms and back of a sofa may look beautiful but will be one of the first places to show wear. That is something to consider if you’re choosing a more delicate fabric.

There is a double rub test that manufacturers will put fabric through to determine durability. A good rule of thumb to keep in mind is that 3,000 double rubs will equal about 1 year of normal use.

  • Fabric for commercial use should withstand 30,000+ double rubs
  • Fabric for heavy duty use should withstand 15,000+ double rubs
  • Fabric for medium duty use should withstand 9,000+ double rubs
  • Fabric for light duty use should withstand 3,000+ double rubs
  • Save your delicate fabrics for accent pillows, or window treatments.

Additional Places to Save When Buying Furniture:

  • Most furniture stores will offer stain protection as well as warranties on the frame, cushions, and fabrics. It’s worth the investment!
  • Ask if they’ll include free delivery or a discount if you purchase multiple pieces of furniture.
  • Check to see if there are special interest free financing options or discounts if you pay in cash.
  • Additionally many furniture stores will offer free interior designing consultations if you’re looking for decorating ideas for your home or are unsure of what size pieces of furniture you should buy.
  • And of course I’d be silly if I didn’t remind you to check FatWallet for furniture deals!

These tips should help you to buy an affordable sofa that not only looks great and is comfortable, but is also going to withstand the daily wear and tear of a busy family.

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