In a recent report by the Sustainable Furnishing Council, researchers found that the most essential attributes respondents look for when purchasing furniture are style, quality, price, and eco-friendliness, but are retail furniture shoppers aware of what makes up excellent sustainable furniture, or do they simply believe what’s listed on the tag?
Before dropping serious money on a sofa, it is important to know what to look out for when buying sustainable furniture.
Dense Wood Is Worth It
Companies often describe wood as, hard, soft, kiln-dried, or FSC Certified – meaning the wood is sourced from responsibly-managed forests – but these words can feel like fluff and misleading marketing tactics. Describing wood as “hard” or “soft” generally just distinguishes the tree type, yet has nothing to do with its actual quality. Joshua Siegel, the owner of BSC Furniture, says he “doesn’t know a single company that doesn’t use kiln-dried wood. The same goes for FSC Certified wood.” Kiln drying is a standard procedure to remove moisture and avoid wood from warping. These buzzwords are often used to portray quality, but in reality, don’t do so at all. Source: https://www.nytimes.com/wirecutter/blog/sofa-buying-advice/
For quality wood, we recommend denser and slower-growing hardwoods like alder, poplar, maple, teak, and walnut. The use of these woods typically results in more durable furniture than that of faster-growing pine and Douglas fir. While these hardwoods are typically more expensive, they do a better job of holding joinery in place, resulting in less wiggling and deterioration. Because of their supreme durability, they are also ultimately more sustainable in the long run.
One $1,200 Crate and Barrel bed was described as “handcrafted in Italy of European hardwood and walnut veneer,” yet once disassembled, was found to be made of particleboard. To stray from misleading marketing like this, we recommend lifting up one leg of the sofa at the store. If it is heavy, it’s likely quality wood. Light wood alludes to hollow legs made of cheap, unreliable material that will give way over time. Also, push on the back and sides of the sofa – you should not be able to feel the frame. Source: https://secureservercdn.net/188.8.131.52/b63.2e9.myftpupload.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/05/pottery-barn-article.pdf
Quality Wood is Nothing Without Quality Joinery
Retailers love furniture that can be packaged flat because it reduces shipping prices, especially internationally. That said, it often requires the consumer to put together the furniture with screws, which can gnaw away at the lumber. As you attach a sofa leg to a frame and the screw digs into the wood, it can loosen and cause the chair to wiggle and eventually break.
Other poor forms of construction to be aware of are glue, dowel joints, and staples. Look for mortise and tenon joints, a rectangular peg and hole, for more stably-constructed furniture. They have a broader glue surface and stronger bond, which resists expansion and contraction.
Avoid Squeakiness and Stiffness
Springs serve as the secret ingredient in a sofa, providing comfort and functionality. The highest-quality springs that have survived the test of time are traditional, eight-way hand-tied springs. They are individual, hand-knotted hourglass-shaped coils that are tied to a strap with a cord across the frame. While this technique is quality, the craftsmanship is both time-consuming and expensive.
A sturdy and more common suspension system uses sinuous springs. These heavy-gauge, steel wires bend in a line of vertical S-shaped coils, show no sign of sag or wear over time, and are a reliable option for a snuggly sofa.
To inspect a sofa for solid springs, shift the outside edges of its cushions and listen for any noises. No squeaks likely mean it is properly aligned!
Consider Your Cushion Style
At the end of the day, cushions are what sell a sofa. Their comfort, texture, and design are what the user sits on daily, so it’s important to evaluate your preferences before making an investment.
Goose and duck-down cushions are filled with feathers or a mix of feathers and foam. While extremely comfortable and luxurious, they require rotating, flipping, and fluffing to maintain their shape. In choosing this style, it is important to check the filling make-up to ensure you get what you pay for.
Memory foam is a firmer-style cushion, often used for sleeping sofas. While their high density can be more durable, it is important to note that not all firm cushions correlate with quality and longevity.
Poly-wrapped foam is arguably the most widely-used cushion in sofas today. Cushioning filled with high-resiliency foam supports both comfort and structure, creating a soft, low-maintenance option.
Upholstery Can Make or Break a Sofa
If cushions sell a sofa, the fabric is what initially catches the consumer’s eye. Quality upholstery should have foam and batting on the sides instead of cheap cardboard or heavy paper. This technique, wrapped with high-performance fabric, can last well over a decade.
To ensure you choose a durable fabric, consider the Martindale or Wyzenbeek abrasion-test count and opt for 50,000 rubs at minimum and 100,000 at best. Choosing a textile with longer filaments and tighter weaves will result in less pilling. Natural fibers generally pill more at first, becoming smoother with time, while artificial fibers generally pill for longer and more evidently.
While it may seem like the perfect sofa doesn’t exist, it is important to find a furniture retailer you can count on as being truthful. Equipping yourself with this knowledge will be the first step in securing a quality piece.