How to Buy a Quality Sofa Part One: Construction


There are few pieces of furniture that receive more use than a sofa. It is the place you relax at the end of the day, cuddle with your significant other during movie night, and turn to for comfort on sick days. This is why it is important to buy a sofa that is not only comfortable, but durable enough to withstand constant use. Don’t fall prey to stores that offer five years zero interest financing. In most cases those stores are selling the financing, not the furniture, and you are lucky if the furniture lasts much longer than the time it takes to pay it off. Instead, look for the following qualities to ensure your sofa will last for years.

Kiln-Dried Solid Hardwood Frame

Wooden Sofa Frame

Hardwood frame by Carolina Custom Leather

What a sofa frame is made of is the most important factor to determine longevity. If the sofa is made from particleboard, plastic or metal, walk away. The sturdiest sofas are made of kiln-dried solid hardwood, such as ash, oak or maple.

Corner Block

The proper way to construct a seat deck using corner blocks (the diagonal piece of wood with the screws).

Look for hardwood frames that are corner blocked, screwed, glued, and double doweled. This refers to how the frames are joined together. Screws hold fast and glue reinforced dowels keep corners tight. Stay away from frames put together with nails, which tend to shake loose over time.

There is some debate between solid hardwood frames and plywood frames. While many prefer hardwood frames, seven-ply plywood frames can be just as durable. Seven-ply means there are seven layers of wood in the plywood. These layers run perpendicular to one another, and so are less likely to warp. Plywood frames are often found in medium-end sofas.

Tip: To check the stability of a frame, lift one corner of the sofa off the floor. If at six inches you notice the leg beside it is still on the ground or the frame has twisted, then it is not a quality sofa.

Eight Way Hand-Tied Springs are the most durable

Eightway handtied

Eight-Way hand-tied springs in the seat deck. Photo from ‘Behind the Scenes at Hickory Chair’ from Dering Hall and the McGrath II design firm

Springs are located in the seat deck of a sofa or chair. The seat deck is that hard area beneath the sofa cushions and above the feet. The most durable spring system is eight-way hand-tied springs. For heavily used sofas, this is the best choice.

Eight-way hand-tied springs, as shown in this picture, are coil springs that have been tied with string eight times to the surrounding springs and to the wooden frame. What that means is when you sit on one end of the sofa the strings distribute your weight throughout the entire length of the sofa. Springs will last longer because the same springs are not always taking the full load. In fact, a solid-hardwood sofa frame with eight-way hand-tied springs can last fifty years.

Tip: Look for eight-way hand-tied springs. Stay away from sofas with no springs or mesh.

If possible avoid sinuous wire springs

sinous wire springs

Sinuous Wire Springs

Sinuous wire springs are s-shaped springs that are stretched from the front to the back of the seat deck. When you sit on a sinuous wire sofa, only the springs beneath you take the weight. Over time, these springs start to sag. If you have ever sat on a sofa and found yourself in a hole, most likely you are sitting on a sinuous wire sofa. This is such a common issue that whole industries have sprung up to deal with saggy seats. Today you can buy hard plastic sheets that fit beneath your cushion and prevent you from falling into the hole.

But, sometimes sinuous wire is the way to go…


While eight-way hand-tied sofas are the most durable and comfortable, there are times when sinuous wire is the only option. Eight-way hand-tied springs require a deep seat deck. Many chairs with exposed wood-frames or sofas with long legs have to use sinuous wire because the seat deck is narrow, as shown in this picture. In this case sinuous wire is the preferred option.

Frame Padding

Last but not least, give the frame a squeeze. Feel the back corner of the sofa, behind the cushions, can you feel the wooden frame beneath? If so it means the manufacturer took shortcuts. Push down on the arm of the sofa until you feel the frame. If the padding on the arm is thin, it will quickly break down and become uncomfortable. Check the side and back of the sofa; there should be a semi-firm layer of padding. If you find the fabric billows as if it has been stretched across the frame with nothing behind it, walk away. With no support, the fabric on the back and sides can be easily stretched or torn.

In part two of “How to Buy a Quality Sofa” we’ll look at cushion options. Part three covers how to determine the quality of a sofa by simply looking at the upholstery technique.

Featured image courtesy of C.R. Laine Furniture


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