Your Furniture Buying Guide

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Furniture Buying Types - Furniture Buying Guide

Three Classifications of Upholstered Furniture

  1. Fully Upholstered Furniture: No visible wood with the exception of perhaps the feet and a few decorative touches.
  2. Partially Upholstered Furniture: Seating areas are upholstered with exposed wood, metal, or plastic frames.
  3. Dual Purpose Upholstered Furniture: Concealed motion mechanisms within upholstered furniture. This includes sleeper mechanisms and reclining mechanisms.


There’s more to a frame of your furniture than meets the eye. 

There’s support, craftsmanship and strength to ensure that your living room suite will survive countless rearranging, misuse by children and adults, as well as service beyond the  call of duty when obese people plop down on them.

The frame is the outline of the sofa’s design waiting only to be molded into a thing of beauty in by the cushions, springs and fabrics. 

The frame is the skeleton of your furniture and just like a human skeleton it must absorb abuse.  So take a look at what goes into the strength and design of the frame, before you buy, and then you can take comfort in your purchase decision.

Plywood Frames: More and more plywood is being used in upholstered furniture framing. When built to quality standards, it has proven to be very durable.

Kiln – Dried Hardwood Frames: This type of frame is still the basis of most upholstered furniture. NOTE: Just because a manufacturer uses this material in their construction does not make it the best of quality.

Three factors will determine the quality of the frame.

  1. Engineering: This determines the strength of the frame.
  2. Proper Proportions and Scale: This determines the seat pitch and the depth. A deeper pitch makes for a deeper seat and a shallow more upright pitch makes the piece easier to get in and out of.  (Which do you need?)
  3. Types of Joints and Fasteners: The best known joint is double doweled, and glued with a corner block that has been glued and screwed into place. It is still the best for most frames and it is also one of the most expensive methods.


While the frame is the backbone of your piece and is probably the most important's not the one you're most concerned about.

To you, the cushions are the most important.

It's the first ting you try out when you're in the showroom.  And, unfortunately, many times it's the only thing you're concerned with.

Being you put so much emphasis on it let's learn a little about cushions.

Where the butt meets the furniture:

Latex Foam Rubber: Latex cushions were first used in furniture around 1950. By 1960 it was being used in over one-fourth of all upholstered furniture.

By the 1980's things had changed... latex foam was rapidly being replaced by urethane foam in furniture.

Why is that?

Latex foam proved to rot with age and develop an odor as it deteriorated. (and you blamed that smell on uncle Max)

New processes have eliminated these effects, but latex foam has not regained wide acceptance among upholstered furniture manufacturers.

Polyurethane Foam: Urethane foam was first used in furniture around 1950.

Improvements in  the chemical compounds and methods of production have been improved on over the years.

 By 1990, more than two-thirds of the cushions and padding, used in the upholstered furniture industry, were polyurethane foam.

Fiber Down: Polyester batting was first used for padding in upholstered furniture in the early 1960’s...cotton synthetic blends came into use about 1975.

Today, these two forms of padding account for about one-fourth of all padding and cushioning used for upholstered furniture and almost always are used in conjunction with urethane foam.


The spring system used in your sofa, loveseat, chaise or chair must stand  the test of time and provide you with long lasting support.

Four different methods of springs are used in living room furniture.  Below, a brief description of each method from sinuous to hand-tied.

Hand-Tied Coil Springs: Used in the seats are still considered, by many, to be the best.

Drop-In Coil Springs: Pre-built coil spring system that are dropped into the frame and affixed to it.  These are machine tied rather than hand tied.  Many consider them to be just as good or better than hand tied.

Sinuous Springs (a.k.a. ‘zigger wire’): ‘S’ Shaped springs that are attached to the top and center rails of the frame using metal clips or nylon bushings, the clips are often Teflon coated.

Strap Springs or Web Bases: Historically, interwoven straps of heavy burlap were tacked to the seat and the back frame.

Flat bands one inch to two inches wide, made of spring steel, interwoven and attached to the frame with small helical springs were used mostly in contemporary furniture.

In the last decade of 1900, as an alternative to metal springs, elastic type bands of high-grade materials became widely used in Europe...they are being used more and more by U.S. manufacturers.


Fabrics are derived from four different origins.  Each blend carries with it it’s own unique characteristics, touch and feel. 

  • Animal Origin: Wool, silk, mohair, leather.
  • Vegetable Origin: Cotton, linen, jute.
  • Chemical Origin: Acetate, nylon, rayon, polyester, polypropylene, etc.
  • Mixed Origin: Combinations of any of the above as well as fabrics made of aluminum, or with silver or gold threads.

You’ve read the specifications and gained the knowledge needed to understand just what goes into your furniture. 

Now let's take a closer look at just what makes up a good piece of furniture, a better piece of furniture and the best piece of furniture.


  • 8-way hand tied (or machine tied) spring unit (approx. 27 coils per sofa)  (The difference between hand tied and machine tied is that machine tied coils are tied with metal rather than twine.

  • Heat tempered springs.

  • Webbing suspension may be used.

  • Cushions come in two basic types...

    • 2.0+ density polyurethane foam core with poly-down fill encased by muslin type wrap.

    • 2.0+ density polyurethane wrapped innerspring variety.

  • Solid hardwood kiln dried frames...glued, doweled and corner blocked.

  • Frames are padded heavily to keep fabric from being stressed against the wood frames.


  • High gauge and high quantity sinuous coils, more springs per seat and tighter turns/curves in the coils.

  • Drop in spring systems are also sometimes found in this category.

  • Heat tempered springs.

  • Cushions are 1.8+ density polyurethane core with Dacron wrapping that has been encased in muslin type fabric.

  • Kiln dried hardwood used in the for the frames.

  • Light padding used on the frames to keep fabric from direct exposure to the wood of the frames.


  • Low gauge and low quantity sinuous coil springs, fewer springs per seat and looser turns/curves in the coils.

  • Non-heat tempered springs...may sag over time.

  • 1.5+ density polyurethane foam core with unattached Dacron wrap.

  • Air dried frames (removes 70% of the woods moisture content, the process takes about 6 months).

  • The type of wood used varies from manufacturer to manufacturer and sometimes even within a line of furniture from a given manufacturer.  Price and availability are the deciding factor.
  • Frames are stapled and glued for the most part.


You get what you pay for.  Choose the fabric for beauty, and wear ability...chose the frame for longevity.

Additional Furniture Buying Types
Leather Furniture
Distressed Furniture
Foundation and Box Spring
Furniture Types
Cases and Chests
Measuring Tips
Joinery Tips
Leather Basics
Leather Markings
Manufactured Wood
Mattress Tips
Style Guide
Wood Finishes
Wood Types

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