How to Buy a Quality Sofa Part Two: Cushions


In part one of “How to Buy a Quality Sofa” we discussed how a sofa should be constructed. Today, we move on to cushion construction. When it comes to cushions, there are a multitude of options available, but for simplification we will divide the cushions into the three most common types.


Taylor King Foam Cushion

Foam cushion cutaway Courtesy of Taylor King. Notice the thick core surrounded by thin layers of foam and Dacron wrap.

Solid foam cushions are by far the most common and least expensive option. The ideal foam cushion will start with a foam core. Surrounding the core will be layers of thinner foam; these layers will determine how firm or soft the cushion ultimately feels. Surrounding these thinner layers is Dacron wrap, a thin layer of polyester that looks like a bunch of white strings matted together. Occasionally, an additional layer of down (feathers or a feather/polyester blend) will be added to the top. A cotton down-proof ticking encases the entire cushion. This last layer of fabric will grip the cushion cover and prevent the cushion casing from shifting.

Foam cushions range from extremely soft to extremely firm, depending on the layers applied around the core. Firmer cushions tend to last longer and look better.

Tip: When buying a foam cushioned sofa, unzip a seat cushion to look at the cushion. If all you see is an orange block of foam, walk away. This is the cheapest way to make a sofa cushion, and it implies the manufacturer also used an inexpensive foam that will not hold up.


Spring-Down Cushions

Taylor King Spring Down

Spring-Down cushion cutaway courtesy of Taylor King Furniture.

Spring-down cushions are usually the most durable. The core of the cushion is comprised of individually wrapped coil springs. These springs are surrounded by a thick layer of foam, followed by dacron wrap, a layer of down, and encased in a down-proof ticking. Due to the layer of down, the cushions will need to be fluffed from time to time to keep them looking plump.

With foam cushions, the solid foam core will eventually start to break down and will need to be replaced. In a spring-down cushion, the springs hold their resiliency much longer. An older set of spring-down cushions can be rejuvenated by simply replacing the layer of dacron wrap and down.

Tip: Tilt a seat cushion on its side and push down. If the cushion bends in the middle, it is made of foam. If you encounter resistance, the cushion is spring-down.

Down Cushions

Down Cushion

Blend Down Cushion Cutaway Courtesy of Charles Stewart Company

As the name implies, down cushions are constructed of down or blend-down. Usually the down-proof casings are equipped with channels to keep the down from shifting. These types of cushions are extremely high maintenance; not only will you have to continually fluff the cushions to keep them looking full, but down-proof ticking is not 100% down-proof. You will constantly find feathers poking through the top of the cushion or drifting across your hardwood floor. Down cushions are the most expensive option available and also the least durable.

Back Cushions

Back cushions are usually made by blowing in a mix of polyester, and in some cases down, into a thin down-proof wrap. On the low end, back cushions will resemble a simple pillow case; avoid these cushions. Over time, the filling will settle at the bottom and the sides, providing little support and looking sloppy. Instead, look for cushions with channels sewn in. These channels keep the polyester in relatively the same position.

A few extra tips on buying cushions

  • The fabric you choose affects the feel of your sofa

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of buying a custom sofa is just how much the fabric you choose changes the feel. The more the fabric stretches, the softer the seat. The tighter the fabric weave, the firmer the seat.

  • The showroom cushions are broken in

When foam is made, tiny air bubbles are often introduced into the foam. These air bubbles initially make the cushion feel firm. After you sit on the sofa, however, the air bubbles begin to pop, softening the cushion slightly. Sofas on a furniture store floor may be new, but they have been sat on by countless customers and the cushions have been broken in. This is perfect for you when shopping, because it means you will be able to feel what your new sofa will ultimately be like. It often causes panic, though, when the new sofa arrives slightly firmer than the floor model. Give your new sofa two weeks of continuous use to make sure the cushions are broken in.

  • Take your jacket off when shopping

You won’t be wearing a jacket while watching television, so why would you choose a sofa while wearing a jacket in the store? You’ll be surprised how much more comfortable the sofa will feel without it.

In part three of “How to buy a quality sofa,” we will show you how to tell the quality of a sofa simply by looking at the upholstering technique.

Cover Photo: Chester Sofa by Norwalk Furniture



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