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WV Design Team: Get down with upholstery

By By Mimi Wells
WV Design Team
Crisp pleated tailoring on the corners of the frame, precise tufting on the back, pattern matching on the ottoman, and a centered pattern on the pillows, are signs of attention to detail and evidence of quality construction on this tufted sofa from Vanguard, manufactured in North Carolina.
Pride in craftsmanship is reflected in this Hancock & Moore chair, hand-built in North Carolina. Every chair is built according to the customer’s specifications with choices in fabrics, leather, finishes and trims.
Construction details of an upholstered frame: It’s what inside that counts. There are things you c
Eight–way hand-tied seating construction is a labor-intensive technique that distinguishes manufacturers as quality craftsmen producing quality furniture.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — It’s like buying a car. You look for what appeals to you, the color and the style. Then you sit in it. Is it the comfort level you expect to feel?

But until you lift up the hood, kick the tires a little, and get a basic understanding of how it drives, its parts and how it’s made, you won’t know if it’s the quality of merchandise you are expecting.

So it is with buying new upholstery for your home.

Catherine Pfost, interior designer at Wells Home Furnishings, has been helping her customers find the perfect upholstered pieces for their homes for over 21 years.

Catherine says most of her customers have ideas about colors and fabrics that they want in their homes. They also can share with her some great ideas about how they need their upholstery to function for their lifestyle, the comfort and durability they expect, especially when children and pets are in the home.

However, making buying decisions simply on what we see and feel does not always end up being the best decision. Therefore, Catherine feels that educating her customers with regard to buying upholstery is key in helping them make the best buying decisions.

What is underneath all that beautiful fabric will make a difference in how comfortable and durable a sofa is in the long term. A basic understanding of upholstered furniture construction is good to have before you shop for your new sofa.

Here are a few things to inquire about regarding construction when you’re shopping:


The best sofa frames are constructed from kiln-dried hardwood.

Kiln drying removes the moisture before the craftsmen begin to shape the frame, ensuring that the sofa will maintain its shape and stability over the long term.

Quality frame construction also includes glued, doweled and screwed joints. Corner blocks are reinforcing blocks that should be attached in side the corners of the frame for extra support.

Plywood and particle-board constructed frames held together with staples will not stand up over time and should be avoided.

Seating support

Eight-way hand–tied springs have long been considered the premium choice for sofa construction, and still today this construction method is found in most higher-end quality manufacturing processes.

This method involves a craftsman who hand ties each coil spring to the other springs and to the sofa frame with twine. The twine crosses the frame from front to back, from side to side, and across both diagonals, thus creating the “eight ways.”

Other forms of spring construction, such as sinuous springs, can provide good-quality support as well and may be preferable in some cases. For example, a sleek modern sofa sitting low to the ground is better served by sinuous spring construction since it requires less space in the frame.

Web suspension is a form of seating support that may be used alone or with coil springs. While web suspension alone is considered the least preferable frame suspension, the quality among the web-only sofas will vary.

No matter the seating support choice, when you sit on the sofa it should feel stable. Too much wiggle in the seat means that the springs are not attached well.

If you choose a spring sofa, the quality and the quantity of springs are the best measure of a sofa’s construction, so compare the construction specifications before you decide.


Several different materials can be used to fill the cushions of sofas, alone or in combination with other materials. Down and feathers create the softest cushions and are considered by many to be the premium choice for cushions.

High-quality down cushions should include down-proof ticking under the upholstery fabric. The ticking is a tightly woven fabric that prevents the tiny down feathers from poking through the fabric and escaping the cushion.

Cushions filled with nothing other than down require a great deal of maintenance with frequent, even daily, fluffing. They also carry the highest price tag.

More commonly, down is used in combination with other materials. Blendown is a mixture of down, feathers and polyester fibers. Pads of blendown are wrapped around high-density foam or foam-encased springs. This creates a soft surface over the support materials.

High-density polyurethane foam is the most common cushion filler. The higher the foam density the firmer the cushion will be. Foam can be wrapped in down, synthetic-fiber (Dacron) batting, or cotton for a softer seating surface.

Dacron-wrapped foam is the least-expensive option, but it will have a limited lifespan.

Spring down combines the softness of down, the structure of foam and the resilience of springs.

Coil springs are surrounded by high-density foam edge supports, and the whole is wrapped with down pads.


A wide variety of shades and textures is available in upholstery fabrics. But before you choose the fabric for your upholstery, take some time to think about your lifestyle so you can choose the best option for you.

You may love the nubby texture of chenille, but if you have a cat with claws, you might want to reconsider. A household with children, pets or adults who like to eat their dinner on the sofa should look for a low-maintenance performance fabric.

Natural fibers such as cotton, linen, wool, silk and rayon are comfortable as upholstery, but often require more maintenance that synthetic fibers. Many natural fibers can be damaged by exposure to sunlight or mildew in humid climates.

Blends of natural and synthetic fibers are a great way to get a soft feel, but improve the hardiness of your sofa.

Synthetic fibers such as polyester, olefin and nylon are strong, stain-resistant options. However, olefin and nylon are susceptible to sun damage.

If you choose fabrics made of these fibers you should use window coverings to block the sun’s rays. Energy-efficient windows coated to protect from or absorb the sun’s rays will also help protect your fabrics from fading. These fibers are also apt to pill when they receive a lot of heavy use.

If your natural/synthetic blend upholstery fabric contains more than 50 percent of these synthetic fibers, then expect it to pill.

Microfiber fabrics (made of polyester or nylon) are a popular option for upholstery. They are soft to the touch and tightly woven. Thus they are durable and stain resistant.

Pile fabrics such as chenille, velvet and boucleé are popular for their ability to mask dirt and resist wear in high-traffic areas.

Cotton velvet does have problems with crushing and can show track marks. Denim and twill are great options for a casual feel that stands up to daily use.


The ability to customize your upholstery is truly a sign of a quality manufacturer. Choices often include fabrics and leathers. Also stain and artisan finishes on exposed wood. Seating options and finishes, seating options and even arm and leg styles, as well as detailing options as in contrasting welts, fringes and nailhead trims are available from manufacturers of quality upholstery, e.g., Hancock & Moore, manufactured in North Carolina.

Once you understand what goes in to the construction of an upholstered piece of furniture, you can make a more-educated buying decision based on your specific lifestyle.

For more information, visit or call the store at 304-343-3600. Follow Wells Home Furnishings on Facebook and on Twitter at @WellsHomeFurn. Email questions or comments to Mimi Wells at

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