When it comes to shopping for your new sofa, the first thing that will usually catch your attention is an attractive design. Finding a piece with a striking look can often be a case of love at first sight, and you may find yourself already considering how it can fit into the look of your home.
However, the saying that beauty is only skin deep applies to sofas too. There is plenty of mass-produced furniture out there that might look nice, but in a matter of months it will begin to sag and fade, leaving you regretting your purchase.
Here at Sofas by Saxon, we want you to buy with the utmost confidence and knowledge that you are investing in something that not only looks great, but will last for a lifetime. To help you do this, we’ve created this guide to the five key features that make up a quality sofa and why they are important. Read on to find out more.
Any quality sofa needs a well-made frame that will allow it to maintain its overall shape and integrity. The frame is the skeleton that keeps every part of the sofa together, and for that reason it is incredibly important that it is strong and robust — able to stand up to everyday use without compromising on comfort.
Many manufacturers use either metal or wood composites for frames in their contemporary designs, but the traditional craftsman’s choice is hardwood timber, a material that has served sofa makers well throughout history and to this day. Metal frames can be sturdy, but they can also be prone to oxidation with seasonal changes in humidity. Wood composite frames are cheaper to produce, but lack the strength of hardwood or metal.
At Sofas by Saxon, we maintain that traditional timber frame methods are the best choice for manufacturing a high-quality piece of enduring furniture. More specifically, we prefer beech hardwood, which is well known for its solidity and ease to work with. Simply put, quality beech timber guarantees a long-lasting and reliable frame for sofas.
The reason that beech hardwood is so desirable for sofa craftsmen is down to its natural qualities. The tree has a long, unbending trunk with few side branches, producing a hard timber with a straight grain. This type of grain allows the wood to keep its shape over the years, as there’s no variation in the grain that could encourage warping or twisting. The lack of side branches on the beech tree also means the timber has consistent strength throughout its length, as knots can be weak points.
In recent years, it’s become more common for manufacturers to use a mixture of timbers for frames. This is purely a cost-saving exercise and has no basis in good design or construction. At Saxon, we only ever use solid beech rails in the construction of our frames.
While a strong frame material like beech hardwood can give you the strength along the length, width, and height of your sofa, how each piece is connected together counts for a lot too. The right type of joinery, carried out by an expert craftsman, can further enhance the strength and durability of a sofa’s frame.
Modern pneumatic machinery means timber can be effectively connected together using metal staples. This cost-saving method is commonly used in mass-produced frame construction. However, there’s no question that the resulting product has less strength and durability than the traditional method of connecting timber by proper jointing with wooden dowels and specialist wood glues.
Here at Sofas by Saxon, all major construction joints within our frames are both glued and dowelled, with the addition of strengthening screwed corner blocks in vital areas. We sometimes use metal staple fastenings to attach shaping pieces in non-stress areas.
The cushions will provide you with the support you need to relax, as well as giving your sofa form and volume. The intended feel and look of a sofa will determine which cushion filling is used. The most commonly used are foam, feather, and polyester fibre — each have their own properties and will add different qualities. There are also instances where two or all three of these filling materials will be used to achieve the desired result.
Foam is formed by mixing an assortment of chemicals that cure and then rise into a large block shape, like an oversized sponge cake. The greatest advantage of this material is that it provides a soft feel while having an inherent pliability, which allows its shape to recover after someone sits on the furniture.
The stiffness or softness of the materials used, and the amount of air bubbles formed during the curing process, determines both the overall feel and the density of the resulting foam. The more material and less air there is in foam, the greater its density. As a result, the opposite is also true. Generally speaking, the higher the density, the more expensive and better quality the foam.
At Sofas by Saxon, you can rest assured we only use the best-quality foam in our furniture. This is an area that some companies skimp on in an effort to reduce costs, but when cheaper material collapses under use you will be left with a poorer performing sofa.
Polyester is a fine filament produced from oil-based chemicals, which has the qualities of being both extremely robust and adaptable. While the filaments on their own don’t have any natural resilience or softness, when a large number are combined as a padding, they gain such properties by virtue of the air trapped between the strands.
Unlike foam, polyester fibres do not automatically resume their former shape after pressure is applied, and need regular plumping up to allow the air to be replaced. Whilst initially feeling soft by virtue of the air trapped in between their filaments or fibres, they’ll compress easily as the air is squeezed out.
Similarly to polyester fibres, feather-filled cushioning provides a slightly softer and less firm feel than foam. Likewise, they also require regular plumping as feathers are prone to clumping — doing so helps to avoid cushions taking on a lumpy, shapeless appearance that can spoil the look of your sofa.
Feather fillings are quite often used alongside other fillings in a hybrid cushion. Popular combinations include feather-clad foam, which consists of a foam filling being wrapped in a layer of feathers to give a firm yet soft feel, and feather and polyester fibre, which can be mixed to reduce clumping and increase comfort.
A good quality sofa relies on a first-rate suspension to deliver comfort and resilience. It makes up the inner part of the seating area, and, combined with the cushion filling, defines what your new piece of furniture feels like to sit on. Additionally, a good suspension system must be capable of withstanding the continuous impact of someone sitting down throughout the life of the furniture, so robustness is an important factor to consider when choosing your sofa.
Before the invention of latex and polyurethane foams, sofa craftsmen did not have access to the soft and resilient material we are used to today. A standard of comfort was achieved through the combination of coiled metal springs beneath horsehair or feather-stuffed cushions. As these fillings did not provide any natural resistance, that job was left to the springs under them.
Thankfully, today we are able to enjoy the luxury of having naturally resistant cushion fillings, as well as more advanced suspension systems, which can lend a quality sofa an unparalleled sense of cosiness. There are three main types of suspension used in premium sofas.
Coiled spring units
With conical metal springs attached to metal laths, these two elements combine as a single unit to suit the individual seating space. The result? A softer sitting experience. This method is mostly used with the less resilient feather- or fibre-filled seat cushions. However, it’s also used on better-quality fully buttoned seats that don’t have extra seat cushions.
Serpentine or no-sag springs
Individual metal wires are used to form a zigzag shape, which creates a spring. These are then attached from front to back within the frame’s seating space before being linked together. This is the most widespread suspension method used today and can be combined with a huge range of seat cushion fillings.
Combine polyester fibres with elasticised threads and you’ll end up with a durable and extendable suspension belt. It’s woven from side to side and front to back with the frame’s seating area. This provides an even suspension unit. This method is widely used as a combination with resilient foam seat cushion fillers.
Matching the suspension to the cushion filling
When creating a quality sofa design, the furniture designer must consider which fillings and suspension to use, as the right or wrong combination of the two can affect the overall comfort of the piece.
In basic terms, the more resilient the cushion filling, the less movement or softness is required within the suspension. In other words, if you were to put a very springy cushion on top of a soft suspension with lots of movement, then it would feel very bouncy.
The same can also be said for the use of a less resistant material, such as a polyester fibre or feather-filled cushion. In this case, the suspension would need to be of a softer and springier type to make up for the filler’s lack or resilience. Otherwise, the seat would feel too hollow.
Striking the right balance will produce comfort with the correct amount of support and durability — one of the hallmarks of a quality sofa.
Once all of the superior aspects of a quality sofa’s interior have been assembled, it is time to consider the material in which it will be upholstered. This is another key part of putting together a first-rate piece of furniture, as whatever is chosen for the upholstery will also have an effect on the comfort, feel, and look of the sofa.
A quality sofa will make use of premium materials to create a piece of furniture that you will be proud to call your own. Watch out for mass-produced furniture that is often upholstered in materials that are inferior and prone to wearing out quickly, leading to premature signs of aging and fading. This kind of upholstery can also swiftly lose its ‘new sofa feel’ as it diminishes, leaving you with something you no longer enjoy sitting upon.
There are many types of materials that make great upholstery choices for sofas, including a wide range of leathers and fabrics. Each type of upholstery will have its own look, as well as practical advantages and disadvantages, so it is important that you choose one that suits your home’s décor and living situation. When the time comes to make a decision, it is worth taking a look at our guide to leather sofas and guide to fabric sofas, which will help you to make an informed choice.
Quality sofa checklist
A sturdy frame made with quality hardwood
Frame joints that have been glued and dowelled, with screwed corner blocks in vital areas.
Premium foam, feather, or polyester fibre cushion fillings that are supportive and comfy. Can also be a combination of two or three of these fillings.
Coiled spring units, serpentine springs, or Elastabelt webbing that offers the right level of resistance for maximum comfort.
High-quality upholstery material that looks and feels luxurious.
Sofas by Saxon craftsmanship
A good way to measure the quality of a sofa is by taking a closer look at the work of the person or company who manufactured it. The majority of mass-produced sofas these days are manufactured in individual parts and then assembled. This usually entails an unskilled workforce each covering one specific piece part with no understanding of the whole item.
On the other hand, a sofa that has been built by a team of skilled craftspeople with premium materials is much more likely to produce an end product of high quality that you are very happy with. Here at Sofas by Saxon, each upholsterer is trained in all aspects of constructing each product and takes great pride in having created a finished piece of furniture they know will stand the test of time. Each piece of furniture that we supply can be traced back to the skilled person who constructed it.
Head over to our meet the team page to get a unique insight into the craftsmanship that goes into each piece of our furniture and to meet some of the experts that make their production possible.
If you are looking for quality furniture, take a look at our sofas, chairs, corner sofas, sofa beds, and footstools, all of which are produced by our experienced team in our Lancashire workshop. Don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have any questions about our furniture or the process we go through when building them.