There’s much more to a good quality sofa than the way it looks in your home
Whilst you may fall in love with a rather striking piece, how can you be sure it won’t begin to sag and fade in a matter of months? How can you guarantee it’s been crafted by those who eat, sleep and breathe quality furniture?
By reading our comprehensive guide, of course!
Whilst the comfort of a sofa is entirely subjective, some prefer to sink right in whilst others favour something more solid, it’s important to determine whether the suite you’re paying for has been made by a charlatan or an artisan.
Here’s everything you need to know ...
The frame of any piece of upholstered furniture is its skeleton.
It’s responsible for maintaining the furniture’s overall shape and integrity. Whilst hard wood timber is the traditional material used, metal and chemical composites have been utilised by some manufacturers for more contemporary designs.
At Saxon, we maintain the traditional timber frame methods as the best choice for manufacturing a high quality piece of enduring furniture.
Any timber or timber-related board product could be used, but history has demonstrated that solid beech hard wood is the ideal material with which to guarantee a long-lasting and trouble free frame construction.
The beech tree has a long straight trunk with few side branches, which produces a hard timber with a straight grain. Frame rails cut from a beech trunk benefit from that straight grain by maintaining their shape over the years, as there’s no variation in the grain that could encourage warping or twisting.
The knots in timber arise when a side branch has been attached. Its interference to the integrity of the grain can be a weak point when that area is put under stress. In the case of the beech tree, the absence of side branches means timber rails cut from its trunk will have consistent strength throughout their length.
In recent years, it’s become an ever increasing case with some manufacturers that a mixture of timbers is used on some 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.
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.
All major construction joints within our frames are glued and dowelled, with the addition of strengthening screwed corner blocks in vital areas. Metal staple fastenings are sometimes used to attach shaping pieces in non-stress areas.
The use of oil based polyurethane foams became widespread in the 1960s. This 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 and has an inherent pliability that 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 individual parts for all areas of upholstered furniture are then cut from such blocks.
Specialised moulding of cured foam is also occasionally used for shapes that are more complex. 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 Saxon, you can rest assured we only use the best quality foam in our furniture. Some other companies may skimp in this area in an effort to reduce costs. However, whilst it’s not immediately noticeable, evidence will manifest over time, as the cheap foam collapses under use.
Polyester is a fine filament produced from oil-based chemicals.
It has the property of being extremely robust and adaptable. Whilst 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.
This kind of padding has many uses within the furniture industry to soften lines and create volume.
When a piece of good quality furniture is being designed, the requirements for feel, support, comfort and functionality will determine what different densities and firmness of foam (and/or foam and polyester fibre combination) are specified for the different areas of the piece.
A good quality sofa relies on a first-rate suspension.
Suspension is the inner part of the seating area and, combined with the chosen seat or cushion filling, is responsible for giving your new piece of furniture its overall seating feel. Before the invention of latex and polyurethane foams, there wasn’t any soft and resilient material to give a soft feel to a furniture seat.
Furniture makers previously achieved comfort by providing the resilience using coiled metal springs and then adding softness via a feather filled seat cushion on top. However, feather fillings don’t have any natural resilience and retain their flattened shape when the air is squeezed out from between the feather filaments. Coiled springs underneath provided the recovery, which produced the soft springy feel.
Today, there are three main types of suspension.
Coiled Spring Unit
With conical metal springs attached to metal laths, the two elements combine as a single unit to suit the individual seating space. The result? A softer seat feel. 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.
Cushion fillings can be foam, feather, branded polyester or any combination of these.
Foam fillers have natural resilience and spring back to shape after compression. Therefore, they provide great support by resisting compaction.
On the other hand, feather and polyester fibre fillers have no natural resilience. 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. They need regular plumping up to allow the air to be replaced.
More modern production techniques have created branded polyester fibres with a polished surface, which promotes the fibres to move apart when the compression is removed. This encourages natural lofting as the air is replaced.
When considering cushion fillings, the furniture designer must also think about the suspension method to be used, as it is this combination that makes the whole thing work.
In simplistic terms, the more resilient the cushion filling, the less movement or softness that 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 like being on top of an inflatable ball.
The opposite is also true.
When using a polyester fibre or feather-filled cushion, the suspension would need to be of a softer and springier type to make up for the fillers lack or resilience. Otherwise, the seat would feel too dead. The ideal combination will produce comfort with the correct amount of support and durability.
Furniture manufacture used to be a proud trade with a specified apprenticeship. Over the years, however, the need for cheap products and greater quantity has resulted in more and more mass production.
The advent of cheap imports has increased this trend even further.
The majority of mass produced products 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.
At 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 tests of time. Each piece of furniture that we supply can be traced back to the skilled person who constructed it.
For more information about quality sofas from Saxon, please feel free to get in touch with a member of the team – we’re always happy to help.