How to Choose Upholstered Furniture

July 27, 2015

How to choose upholstered furniture

The upholstered furniture in your house, from sofas and chairs to the mattresses on your beds, are usually big-ticket household investments.  Thus, it's important to understand the basics of furniture fabrics and construction before you buy, and to take good care of your furniture once you bring it home.  Here are your options.

How to Choose Upholstered Furniture

1. Upholstery fabrics

Upholstery fabrics are tough as well as good-looking. Blends of natural and manufactured fibres, treated to block stains, make upholstery long-wearing and easy to clean. Here are some fibres and their common characteristics.

  • Cotton is a versatile fibre, used for prints and wovens, and is comfortable to use in all climates. It, as well as any untreated natural fibre, is less stain-resistant than synthetic fibres.
  • Linen, a high-end fibre, is prized for its crispness, strength and durability.
  • Wool is strong, durable, soft to the touch and naturally resists water.
  • Rayon is a smooth, soft, lustrous and comfortable manufactured fibre. It wrinkles easily when used alone. Blended with other fibres, it adds silk-like lustre to the finished fabric.
  • Nylon is strong and abrasion-, rot- and mildew-resistant. It has a low absorption for water and other liquids.
  • Acrylic, a manufactured fibre, can offer many of the qualities of wool, a natural fibre. It is often used in plush or fleecy fabrics. Acrylic resists fading but is prone to pilling, the creation of small balls of fibres on the fabric's surface.
  • Olefin is a strong, soil- and abrasion-resistant manufactured fibre that is used alone or blended with other fibres.
  • Polyester is a strong, resilient and abrasion-resistant fibre that adds lustre when blended with other fibres.
  • Silk is a strong, resilient, luxury fibre with a natural lustre. Fibre size varies from fine to heavy, as in raw silk.

2. Support systems

Springs, webbing and padding are the invisible but critical elements of upholstered furniture. Traditionally, expensive furniture has been constructed with hourglass-shaped, individually tied coil springs.  Many manufacturers now use "zigzag" or sinuous-wire springs, or rubberized webbing strips — less expensive but strong alternatives. The soft innards of upholstered furniture come from stuffing placed over the springs and padding under the outside fabric. Separate cushions on high-end pieces use either down feathers or a feathers "plus" combination, though foam, covered with a layer of fibrefill, is the most common cushion stuffing.

3. Zigzag upholstery

This arrangement mirrors coil-spring upholstery in every way except in the spring structure itself. Zigzag springs are a modern flexible support system. They run the width of the back and length of the seat. Their ends fasten directly to the frame using special clips that are nailed closed. Knots in spring twine link one zigzag spring to the next. No webbing is required underneath.

4. Slip- or drop-seat upholstery

With this simplest of upholstery arrangements, tacked strips of woven jute webbing are covered with a layer of burlap.  Foam, felted natural or synthetic hair stuffing is the layer above the burlap.  A muslin liner is sometimes installed over this in high-end furniture. Padding — a layer of cotton batting or polyester fibrefill — will be next, just under the fashionable upholstery fabric.

Understanding these basic guidelines will help you choose the right upholstered furniture for your home.

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