If somebody asked you to think of a Chesterfield sofa, there is a very good chance that you would picture something in dark leather with elegant rolled arms and intricate detailing. Perhaps it would be next to a roaring fire or taking pride of place in the centre of a grand living room. This reputation is well deserved, as the Chesterfield is a British classic and has been the sofa of choice for those looking to create a timeless décor in their homes for hundreds of years.
With the reputation for class also comes a reputation for quality. The very best Chesterfields have always been handmade with only the finest wood, leather, and fabric available, and this high standard is very much alive today (read our history of the Chesterfield article to discover more about the rich heritage of this furniture style).
Unfortunately, with the increase in mass-produced furniture that has saturated the market, there has been an increase in the number of Chesterfield-like pieces that share similar looks but lack the premium materials and superior craftsmanship of the sofas they are imitating.
At first glance, a good-quality and a cheap Chesterfield may appear identical, but if you look closer you will begin to see the differences that set them worlds apart. In addition, as you make use of a poor-quality Chesterfield over time, it is inevitable that you will become aware of the difference in craftsmanship. To help you to make an informed decision, we’ve put together this guide to spotting a quality sofa. You will be able to use the advice here to make sure that your new sofa meets the high standards you should expect from a piece in the Chesterfield style.
When it comes to purchasing a new sofa, you may find some manufacturers offering what seems like an inexplicably low-cost piece of quality furniture — and sometimes it’s extremely difficult not to be blinded by the discount.
Unfortunately, when investing in a cheap Chesterfield you will most likely get what you pay for. These manufacturers will often purchase second-rate furniture from Eastern Europe or the Far East and pass it off as their own, which means the price of the item is normally reflecting its poor quality. Even furniture produced in the UK can be inferior, with many manufacturers using below-standard materials and inexperienced staff to turn out furniture that simply won’t stand up to the test of time.
In the mass-production of furniture, the whole process is undertaken by an unskilled or semi-skilled workforce where each employee has only one area of the item to work on. Their individual task can be learned within a matter of hours. The finished item will resemble a Chesterfield, but close inspection will reveal flaws.
Although buying a cheap Chesterfield sofa may be easier on your bank balance, what you’re saving in monetary terms you’re giving up in comfort, durability, and the iconic style of a lovingly handcrafted sofa. This false economy means that you may well find yourself shopping for another sofa before long — cheap furniture tends not to stand up to everyday wear and tear, and the support and comfort it provides at first is likely to decline under use.
When producing cheaper Chesterfields, some companies will cut corners with raw materials and production processes so they can offer a lower price. These cost-cutting measures will manifest themselves over time, the result of which isn’t always obvious from a photograph or a quick inspection.
Although the furniture may appear similar, in person there will be many differences — the vast majority of which will be hidden under the leather or fabric. To make things easier, we’ve complied some of the key features of a Chesterfield sofa, with guidance for what to look for in a good-quality piece and what to watch out for in a poor-quality piece.
The frame is the skeleton of your Chesterfield sofa, allowing it to maintain its shape and integrity. It provides support for all of the other parts of the piece, making it vital that it is both durable and strong.
A good-quality Chesterfield sofa will have a frame made of seasoned beech hardwood, with chunkier rails to stand up to the rigours of everyday use. Beech hardwood is chosen for its straight grain, which gives it extra solidity for a lifetime of use. Additionally, screw-fixed strengthening corner blocks should be used to maintain the integrity of the frame’s shape.
On the other hand, a cheap Chesterfield typically has a frame made of mixed timbers, chip board panels, and rails of minimum thickness. Such a frame will not be as robust, chiefly due to its inferior timber strength and the skimping of wood thickness. Shaping pieces will often be fastened together with staples and glue rather than using dowelled joints, which also compromises the overall solidity.
There are a variety of cushion fillings commonplace for Chesterfield sofas, including foam, polyester fibres, and feathers. The filling is a key part of the piece, as it provides the bulk of the comfort and support for the person sitting.
One of the most common cushion fillings is foam, with good-quality Chesterfields making ample use for maximum comfort. The padding over the frame should be a combination of different foam densities, which provide a soft outer feel while ensuring that the frame will never be detectable when sitting. The foam padding composite should be fixed in place on the frame by hand to keep it as secure as possible.
The use of other fillings like feathers and polyester fibres should be substantial, with more than enough volume to make the sitting experience pleasingly comfortable. Feathers and fibres are often used together or with foam to build up high-quality hybrid cushioning.
Paying less for your Chesterfield means you can expect there to be less materials used in the build of your furniture. The foam used for the padding is typically of the minimum density sufficient to provide an initially acceptable feel. However, over time it will be possible to begin to feel the frame through the flattening foam fillings, which makes for a very uncomfortable piece of furniture.
In addition to less cushioning being used, the filling is usually of an inferior quality. Using foams as an example, the cheaper materials on the market will lose their ability to return to their original shape more quickly than high-end foams. This also plays a big part in the loss of comfort in a cheap Chesterfield sofa.
Together with the cushion filling, the quality of the suspension in your sofa is one of the factors that will determine how comfortable your piece will be and for how long it will remain that way. There are a variety of suspension systems that are used in Chesterfield sofas, including coiled spring units, high-grade Elastobelt webbing, and serpentine springs.
A good-quality piece will have a suspension system that is made with high-grade materials and is fit for purpose. Different types of Chesterfield require different types of suspension system, and an experienced craftsman will be able to gauge which is needed and what level of resistance it should offer.
Using the right amount of springs beneath the cushioning or using premium webbing will also ensure that your suspension will be able to stand up to the rigours of day-to-day use without collapsing.
As with the cushioning, when you pay less for a Chesterfield, you are more likely to get a sofa with less springs or lower-grade webbing — just one of the ways that budget manufacturers save on costs. A suspension system that is not up to the task will easily fail at some point, especially when used every day. You will be able to immediately get a sense of whether a sofa’s suspension is just right, as it shouldn’t be too springy and it should not feel almost hollow beneath the seat.
The material that your Chesterfield is upholstered in is also hugely indicative of the quality of the sofa. Not only does the upholstery affect the piece’s visual appeal, but it also has an impact on the comfort and lifespan.
A leather Chesterfield sofa creates a classic look, but it’s important to look for the use of premium materials to ensure you are buying a quality sofa. The leather should have been applied by a skilled craftsperson, who will have hand-tacked it to produce an even spread and attractive detailing. The leather used will be full hide, not split hide or imitation material, which is of poorer quality.
You can find out much more in our leather sofas buying guide, which provides an insight into how the material is made, as well as the different types.
Fabric Chesterfield sofas are also popular, upholstered in non-leather materials like wool, tweed, and linen. The best sofas will be covered in fine fabrics from premium mills — don’t be put off from asking about where your material is being sourced from if you want to know more.
Our fabric sofas buying guide has much more information about the types of fabric that work well.
One of the biggest indicators of a poor-quality Chesterfield is the use of imitation leather in the place of the real thing. A good indicator of quality is to see if there are any natural imperfections in the hide — if there are then the chances are that it is genuine and of good-quality. Artificial hide usually has a repeated pattern embossed into it, and therefore contains no natural imperfections. Additionally, many of the antiquing effects applied to poor-quality Chesterfields are simply sprayed and stained onto the leather. These areas are susceptible to wear and tear, and can be rubbed off to leave a patchy appearance.
You also need to be aware of sofas that are sold as ‘genuine leather’ but are not fully so. In these cases, the cover on the arms, back, and cushions will often be real, but vinyl is sometimes used on the underarms and outback. The leather will sometimes be from full hides or as offcut pieces sewn together to make larger sheets — often referred to as a ‘demic’. The stitching on this type of material can pull loose over time, leaving gaps in your sofa covering for dirt to enter.
The detailing on a Chesterfield is what sets it apart from regular sofas and gives it the distinctive look that has been so popular for so long. Deep buttoning, attractive studding, and rolled arms are all hallmarks of this classic design, so it makes sense that a lot of care needs to go into their creation.
The deep-buttoning on a Chesterfield is what gives it the sofa its shape, as well as forming part of its style. The art of deep buttoning is difficult and can only be completed to a professional standard by experienced craftspeople. Each button is precisely positioned, while the downward pressure holds the neat pleats in place. Buttons are firmly secured against the frame to ensure that the iconic effect is held in place for the lifespan of the sofa.
Studs are mainly used in the building of a Chesterfield to add detail to the rolled arms and across the body of the sofa. A good-quality piece will have hand-tacked studs, each of which have been individually driven through the upholstery and into the frame. Through this method, the craftsperson can be sure that every stud will remain securely in place.
When it comes to deep buttoning, the main problem with cheap Chesterfields is that they are not sunk deep enough. Where buttons are traditionally secured to the frame, mass produced sofas are often only sunk into the cushioning and attached to the frame around the edges. This can allow movement in the buttons over time as they become detached, creating sags and creases in the material. Eventually, the sunken button effect will disappear completely.
As hand-tacking each stud is a time-consuming and painstaking task, cheaper Chesterfields will often employ strip studding, where only one in every few studs is hammered into the frame. This leaves the studs in between ‘floating’ on the surface, creating a less secure detail that is more susceptible to everyday wear and tear. Investing in a sofa with individually hand-tacked studs rather than strip studs will also allow you to choose from styles with more intricate patterning, which can only be achieved through individual studding.
Here at Sofas by Saxon, we are one of the longest-established sofa manufacturers in the UK, where we have been producing bespoke, hand-built Chesterfields for over 30 years. Over this period of time, our staff have been able to build up an unparalleled level of experience when it comes to putting together a Chesterfield, and it’s also given us an insight on the many corners that can be cut to produce a sofa at a knockdown price.
Because of this, we can safely say that you will struggle to find a Chesterfield sofa of a finer quality than the ones we build in our Lancashire workshop. Every member of our team possesses a fine level of expertise, and has been trained in each area of production. Why not head over to our meet the team page to discover the passionate craftspeople behind our furniture?
In addition to our sofas, we also make Chesterfield chairs, corner sofas, sofa beds, and footstools, which means you can enjoy this timeless style no matter what type of furniture you require.
Furthermore, each piece of furniture that we produce has been created with premium materials that have been sourced from the finest tanneries, mills, and manufacturers. Plus, if you're looking for a green, white, or grey Chesterfield sofa (or another colour) you'll be happy to know our materials are available in a variety of shades. Find out more about our leather and fabric collections, or order a sample to help you decide on which you prefer for your sofa.