How to buy a sofa

Ok, maybe you are thinking 'how hard is it to buy a sofa??' Well, it’s not hard to buy a sofa when you know the facts about what you and your family is going to be sitting on. Using my experience in selling sofas and also learning about the quality you should look for by taking classes, here is the round up of facts you should know...

Let’s talk about the important aspects that you don't see from the outside. The inside materials are usually what determines the quality and the price.  This is the most important part.

Opt for a kiln dried, hardwood frame. Kiln dried means that the hardwood is dried in a kiln to a certain level to take out all the moisture. The level that it is dried to is roughly 8 percent, which means that there is only 8 percent moisture left in the wood, which is low.  If the moisture level is next to nothing, and it is properly kiln dried, the wood in the sofa will not warp.  Moisture is what makes wood warp.  Hardwood means just that; non-engineered wood. Engineered wood is the chip board, particle board, hardboard and millboard.  You will also be able to tell if its hardwood by moving or lifting the piece, but be careful because it will be heavy. The weight of it will also come from thicker pieces of wood being used as opposed to thin lesser quality wood.
Also, if you are environmentally friendly, look into manufacturers that are environmentally sustainable.  Some manufacturers are FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified.  One of the many benefits to being FSC certified is that when trees are cut for these pieces of furniture, more trees are planted to replace them. Check out FSC Canada for more information.

The hardwood, kiln dried frame with the serpentine springs and jute strapping.

What kinds of springs are involved?  Eight-way hand tied double coil springs are most commonly used in seats.  Dining chairs most generally have the double coil springs in the seats. These springs are fastened to jute straps that are at the base of the seat and then fastened to the Hessian lining separating the springs and the foam padding.  On larger pieces, we are seeing serpentine springs in the back and they are also putting serpentine springs in the deck as well (the deck is the bottom frame of the sofa where the seat cushions go).  A well-made spring system has reinforced springs where people most commonly sit, near the arm. The wire in the springs are thicker or there are just more of them, either way, it’s a good feature to look for in the springs.

Serpentine springs

Foam is something that is usually misconceived in terms of the lasting quality determined by firmness or softness.  Firm foam doesn't last any longer than soft foam; they will have the same wear.  The only reason that people should opt for firm foam is if it is recommended by a physician to help with back problems or you just generally like a firm seat.  The foam is wrapped in Dacron to create an even softer feel and to improve wearing. Another great feature of a well made sofa is that the foam has cut edges that create the edges of the foam to be more round. Round edges form to the cushion cover which results in less friction and prevents the foam to break down faster. Down-fill is also a great feature for those 'sink-into' sofas, well worth the up charge! (Mostly recommended for the seat).
Also, a big trend now in sofas and chairs is that the back cushions aren't attached. This is for appearance and more importantly for the simple fact that you can 'fluff' up the cushions and flip them around to get maximum wear and longevity.
Same as the wood frame, there are environmentally conscience manufactures that create bio-foam.  This is definitely something to ask the sales representative about it if that is of interest to you. 

Foam (yellow) with a layer of Dacron.

but wait... where is it made??

Whether they are Canadian made or made in the United States, you are getting quality.  North America follows different standards and it is always great to support locally made products.  You may think that you will be spending a fortune on a Canadian made sofa but with anything, you get what you pay for.  It is cheaper to buy one sofa that will last you 10+ years than to continually buying lesser quality sofas over the course of 10 years.

The fun stuff...

A lot of Canadian made sofas come custom. Custom means that you can change almost everything about it; the fabric, the foam, the legs, add tufting, attach the backs, etc.  My favourite thing about customizing a sofa is changing the fabric and having the ability to change the seat cushions from either 2 or 3 cushions to a bench seat for a more tailored look, and of course, add piping.  When you are customizing, make sure you really love it before you buy it, and play around with your options because there are so many options when buying a sofa now.
When a sofa is custom made, they are either using cutting guides or starting from scratch.  To ensure quality is coming out of their factory with every sofa, do some research to see if the manufacturer is ISO certified. If a company is ISO certified, it means that the production line follows the same procedures with every piece to ensure that each piece is made consistently. This also is a high standard in terms of how the factory operates and carries out every day business.  To learn more about ISO, take a look.

Remember to ask about...

Does this thing have a warranty? It should and it should cover the sofa for a long time. What does that warranty cover?  In a quality built sofa, the warranty should cover the frame, fabric, foam, springs, and if the sofa is a sofa-bed, it should cover that mattress and the mechanisms in the frame.  Most likely the warranty will cover these different aspects for a different number of years. The exposed wood may only be a year and the fabric also has a lower time coverage, more than the exposed wood, but the frame should have the longest coverage, what the manufacturer calls 'Lifetime'. Also, read about the fabric, if you get the sofa sprayed with a scotch-guard, it will void the warranty in some cases.

Take care of your sofa. No matter where you got it or how much you paid for it, take care of this piece because it is a major furniture staple in your house and it is a big piece that you can't hide from company. 'Fluff' the cushions, flip them over, use proper solvents when cleaning your sofa and it will last you a 'lifetime'.