We’ve all got plans for our money and everyone places value on different things. I think spending a few hundred on a once-in-a-lifetime meal is totally worth the expense, but many of my friends think it’s crazy to ever spend more than $20 at Applebee’s.
Sofa shopping is also like this prioritization. Confusing the issue even further is the fact that photography and photoshoppers are both amazing these days. So how can you tell the difference? Let’s try to think of upholstery in three broad categories: short-term, medium-term, and long-term. Because what you’re mainly paying for is quality of construction, longevity, and ability for customization. Here’s what to expect at each level…
Short Term Sofas
Maybe you’d rather go on a luxurious vacation than invest in something that, by definition, encourages you sit in one place. Or you’ve heard standing is much better for your health than sitting- that’s cool too. We’re not here to judge (and we sell these sofas too). Here’s what you get if you plunk down roughly $500-$1400 for a sofa:
In this price range, the marketing department crunches a lot of numbers. The whole equation here for the sellers is numbers: how cheaply they can get it made, and what selling price will excite you enough to quickly add one your shopping cart.
What You Get:
- Frame: some sort of particle board, wood substrate, use your imagination. You’re getting a killer price, who cares?
- Seating Support: Probably elastic webbing, which is a nice term for plastic straps, perhaps some sinuous wire suspension; whatever’s on sale to the maker.
- Cushioning: Straight foam, no wrapping. The quality of foam varies widely in price. Basically the cheaper the foam, the faster it breaks down (and turns to dust, eww), and the sofa starts feeling sitting like a board. If you’re a foam aficionado, here’s a comprehensive look at the stuff and how it wears. Kind of interesting, if you’re into that sort of thing,
- Fabrics: What you see is what you get. Seriously, if you can live with it for awhile, it’s probably something very durable, since man-made things like polyester microfibers are very sturdy.
Since this whole venture depends on economy of scale, these sofas are usually made overseas, thousands at a time. Remember the I Love Lucy episode with Lucy working at the candy factory?
The whole process is about speed and how expensive it is to pack it on a big ship in a container. You might have to assemble some parts of it.
if you go up a notch from here and spend about double, you get something made in the USA, and you’ll get to choose from a handful more fabrics
Compared to the short-term sofas, everything here is more substantial and durable. If you push on the arms or the back, they shouldn’t flex or bow. And you can often upgrade a lot of the little things that will make it last longer (when you special order).
What You Get
- Frame: some type of kiln dried wood, which removes excess moisture from the wood
- Seating Support: Some people call it a sinuous suspension frame. It’s easier to show you a picture of this type of construction, which can be made by a machine.
- Cushioning: Higher density foam wrapped in some sort of ticking wrap to keep its shape and resiliency longer. If you can request adding springs inside the cushioning, it’s the best money you’ll ever spend as part of a sofa. We’ve learned this through the years,
- Fabrics: A whole lot more choices than the short-term category, but if you choose something patterned, you’ll be paying for the waste incurred as well. Sofas at this level may or may not match patterns, it’s considered on an individual basis that we check ahead of placing your order.
These sofas are built to a standard instead of a price point. You’ll see manufacturers proudly using their names on these sofas (don’t worry, they’re not visible like a logo or anything) because they’re the pinnacle of sofa construction
What You Get
- Frame: A hardwood frame that is double doweled, glued and screwed at stress points is common at this level, and why sofas here can be recovered years down the road.
- Seating Support: The best sofas use a technique known as 8-way hand tying, a laborious effort that yields a seat where you can’t feel what your sofa neighbor is doing next to you. The individual spring coils are hand-tied and bound together in eight separate directions using polyester cording. The cording is then securely anchored to the frame. Fine sofas have always used this construction, so it’s tried and true.
- Cushioning: At the long-term sofa level, you can choose exactly the type of firmness you’d like: spring and down, spring and fiber, down and fiber, etc. Here’s where we take you to trade showrooms in person and ask you to sit, politely.
- Fabrics: You can do just about anything you want, but if you pick a fabric independently from the sofa, that’s called COM, or Customer’s Own Material. They’ll put anything you want anywhere with this option, but it does get expensive. If you want the quality of long-term sofas without breaking the bank, try to stay with something the sofa factory has on-hand.
So looking at sofas online doesn’t really tell the complete picture of what’s inside. You’re looking at the body only, and there’s lots of variables “under the hood.” We have our favorite brands that we’ve worked with for years, and have seen how they wear over time. If you need more detailed advice, drop us a message!