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Remember jumping up-and-down on your couch or sofa or whatever you called that big, comfortable piece of furniture in your living room?

Kids in the 17th Century would have had a hard landing;
upholstery was only in homes of the well-to-do.

And bounce wasn’t added until the invention of the furniture spring—-
in the 18th Century.

Coiled springs for blog

Perhaps no product requires ‘digging’ from the inside-out —more than upholstered furniture. We fall for pretty fabric at the expense of the most critical but invisible components.

Shopping for a sofa, I asked why information about frames, springs and fillings wasn’t on the label. The store owner said, “it would cost too much”.
Production tickets in every factory list all technical information
which can easily be reprinted for consumers.

In a privately owned furniture store, a salesperson understood all my questions and directed me to a sofa that had every element of quality I asked for.  I  later viewed the manufacturer’s on-line video; it confirmed the excellent raw materials materials and production techniques I required.

I ordered the sofa in full grain, drum-dyed full-aniline red leather.
It’s comfortable—and beautiful!


chair frames for blog
Frames must be kiln-dried hard wood of the same species because different species have different degrees of density which contract and expand differently.

Components must be joined with mortise and tenon or double doweling—nothing less, and chair legs must be secured to the seat rail/apron with properly screwed and glued corner blocks.

Frames must never be felt through fillings and upholstery fabric.
If you feel the frame, it will eventually protrude through the covering.
Do not compromise.


blog woven jute webbing
Better upholstery manufacturers use woven jute webbing as the
foundation for their furniture’s suspension.

Webbing strips are tacked to one side of the frame, stretched tightly and tacked to the other side. Cross strips are tacked, tightly woven, then stitched to provide a sturdy base for hand-tied springs and layered fillings.  

Some manufacturers use perforated flat steel webbing, corrugated steel webbing and corrugated jute combined with steel webbing—but these cannot provide the durability and comfort of  woven jute webbing layered with coiled springs and fillings.

coiled spring for blog
Steel wire in different gauges is coiled into springs of different sizes and shapes. Coiled metal springs absorb shock, add resilience and add spring. Varieties of springs are commonly used; spirals that widen at both ends are called’ double-coiled’.

springs sewn to webbing for upholstery for blog

Gauge numbers range from 00, the heaviest, to 15, the thinnest.
The heavier the wire, the stiffer the spring.

Coiled springs for better upholstered furniture seats range from 9 to 12 gauge and from 5” to 14” in height in hard, medium and soft tension. Back springs are 12 to 15 gauge and 4” to 10”.

I had read manufacturers use from 4 to 8 coiled springs per seat, so I asked
an artisan upholsterer why he was using so many more. He laughed saying, “Lady, how can you have rules like that when each style is different—you gotta  fill the whole area!”

blog entire seat of springs
The way springs are joined to each other is a critical component of quality.

Chosen for comfort and strength for each design, different gauges and sizes of coiled springs are first sewn to the webbing base and then joined to each other in a technique called ‘8-way hand-tied’—which prevents coils from shifting with use.

blog 8 way hand tied springs

Hand tying allows variation of the degree of compression according to the placement of the coils; some areas need to be more firm than others (e.g. when rising from a sitting to a standing position, springs behind the knees must be firmly tied ).  The twine has a waxed finish and is very durable.

Some manufacturers join springs with metal clips because it’s faster and cheaper–but this results in uniform spring tension, a quality ‘no-no’. 

The National Home Furnishing Association states, Eight-way, hand-tied remains the standard of excellence for those who want good quality.

Very slim styles of upholstered furniture cannot
accommodate the depth of coiled springs;
‘sinuous springs’ must be used.

blog sinuous springs

Sinuous springs are made of heavy steel—closely aligned in parallel rows for strength —and cross-connected with small steel helical springs that act together to counteract weight and provide comfort and stability.


blog fillings

Fillings give shape and comfort to upholstered furniture.

In better quality production, burlap is sewn over the springs to become a sturdy support for fillings that give a chair or sofa its shape.  Fillings prevent the suspension system and frame from being felt through the upholstery fabric. 

Chair and sofa fillings:

Fillings  depend upon the desired softness or firmness for end use.Chair stuffings for blog

Animal hair blends as mohair, hogs or cattle hair mixed with other fibers, foamed plastic or Dacron polyester available loose or in rubberized pads are preferred for flexibility and comfort. Horse hair, a more traditional filling, is quite firm.


Fiber mats from fibers of the sisal plant.
Moss from an air plant.
Kapok (silk floss) from seed pods; resilient and resistant to moisture.
• Foam rubber (flat sheets) available in compression: from medium to firm.
 Polyurethane foam (flat sheets) densities range from soft to high resiliency.

Padding is applied over filling materials—beneath the upholstery fabric
to create a smooth and perfectly filled and smooth surface.

Cotton padding—-excellent for durability and softness.
Polyester fiberfill —soft and resilient padding available in rolls of various thicknesses. It is also used to wrap polyurethane foam in cushions.

welting cord for blog

Soft cotton cord (welting) covered with bias-cut upholstery fabric is sewn into the seams of joined pieces of upholstery fabric to  define shape and prevent wear. Plastic welting is rigid; fabric coverings easily fray, especially at corners.

Good quality seat and back cushions should be cambric casings —
stuffed with a
good filling and covered with upholstery fabric.


Down: the under plumage of fowl, preferably goose. It is very soft, expensive and must be plumped after being sat-upon —to avoid ‘looking squashed’. Synthetic down fillings are beneficial to people with feather allergies. Don’t confuse feathers with down.

Feathers: listed as a filling can be misleading because quality judgments cannot be made unless the specific variety and amount of feathers is known.

Polyurethane foam wrapped in cotton or polyester padding is commonly used for cushion fillings.  Premium polyurethane foams provide soft resilient seating.  Qualities of foam are not equal; densities range from super soft to extra firm. The higher the density, the greater the durability.

Polyurethane foam topped with down, quality feathers or one of the better synthetic lofty products achieves resiliency with a luxurious hand.

Ready-made coiled spring units can be topped with down, feathers or a lofty synthetic product to achieve a desired softness or firmness with a luxurious hand.


We’re attracted to upholstered furniture by the color, pattern and texture of the fabric. You may like it—but how do you know if it’s good?

Animal, vegetable or mineral?
Did you play this word game?  You probably weren’t aware that textile scientists uncover and restructure fibers for textiles from each of these natural sources.

Highly complex and capital intensive global textile businesses have replaced the traditional homespun and cottage-industries of spinning and weaving. Technical specialists constantly strive to develop fibers that can be spun into yarns. e.g.bamboo is currently a popular textile fabric. 

Color can be added in either the fiber or yarn state.
Capital intensive technology is used to knit or weave
undyed or dyed yarns into piece goods—which can
be dyed a solid color or printed with colorful patterns
by hand or machine.

For decades, textile scientists have restructured existing natural and man-made fibers to create new products, e.g. micro fibers.  They have also created finishes for better end-use performance as stain-retardants, water-proofing solutions, etc.  Most of these processes are applied by the textile manufacturer or contracted out to specialists.




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Changes in temperature and humidity contract and expand wood;
furniture joinery can loosen and wood finishes can be destroyed.

Has the vintage wood furniture been kept in a cellar or attic?
How trustworthy is the seller?

Examine furniture with the professionalism of a home inspector.

The best way to gain leverage for price negotiation is to
describe inadequacies using specific terminology
that explain why the price is too high for the quality. 

Compromise becomes a treasure hunt when we apply timeless principles of quality to products we like.  We always win, especially when we find a less expensive product superior to one we can’t afford.

How old is the furniture?
Besides the condition of the furniture and how the wood was finished, AGE MATTERS. By the end of the 1940’s,  engineered particleboard began to be used as an economical substrate for both wood and man-made veneers.

As discussed in previous posts, I do not recommend furniture made with a fiberboard substrate.  Man-made substrates arouse my suspicion about all production methods, especially joinery techniques.

By the 1990’s, mergers and leveraged buyouts among branded furniture manufacturers enforced goals of volume and profit. For many, quality was negatively affected.

Did you get an honest answer about the age of the furniture?
Depending upon the seller, you may or may not learn who owned the furniture and the year it was purchased. Look beneath wood furniture to see if the manufacturer’s name or logo is embossed. You may be able to learn more about a manufacturer’s reputation for quality on the Internet.

How long does a wood chair —or any wood furniture—last?”
If well-made and well-maintained, wood furniture has no expiration date. International museums include chairs made by early Greeks and Romans.

Hand-crafted furniture and chairs from the 17th Century are the pride of the American Wing in the Metropolitan Museum and 20th Century furniture at the Modern Museum of Art is a product of modern technology and may last for centuries.

All of the above are in excellent condition although some may have been restored. Even if the vintage furniture does not have antique value, you’re justified in asking:
               “How old is this —chair—table—bench— desk– – bookcase?

What is the wood species? 
This is tricky. If a seller says the wood is cherry, is it solid cherry wood? cherry veneer? or cherry stain ?—on pine or other wood?  And if stain deliberately obscures the wood grain, the quality of the wood is probably less than furniture grade.

If you don’t get reliable answers to your questions, PASS—or bring a friend who’s a wood expert!

Where was the furniture made?
Imported furniture must have a country of origin label in order to pass customs into the United States. However, previous owners may have removed these labels.

If the quality of the craftsmanship is good, more important than country of origin is the condition of the wood and joinery. A lot of wood furniture made in the U.S. is embossed with the brand name somewhere beneath the visible surface.

Since the 1970’s, domestic and imported knocked-down furniture is becoming popular. Much of it is less-than-good—-even if you assemble it.

‘Vintage’—has many connotations. I use the term to describe ‘old’–but not yet old enough to have value as an ‘antique’.  But regardless of age,  if furniture is used —and if you suspect the quality may not be good,  give it a ‘rugged’ test.

What joinery is used?
If furniture has a dovetailed drawer, all of the joinery is probably good.  If drawers are not dovetailed, all joinery becomes suspect —and one has to guess what joinery has been used. If the furniture seems sturdy? okay. If it wobbles? pass.

If furniture has legs, there should be corner blocks.
Look beneath all furniture with legs to see of it has corner blocks where each leg meets the frame. Corner blocks are necessary for stability.

Don’t be afraid to be rough as you examine furniture to judge stability.  If furniture seems sturdy but has a loose spindle, simply use good wood glue and clamp the joined pieces until thoroughly dry.   But if many components are loose?pass.

Hardware quality?
If wood furniture has hardware, learn the name of the metal—and whether it is solid or plated. Plated drawer pulls or hinges are a wake-up call that shortcuts have been taken. If the quality of the wood and joinery are both good, hardware can be easily replaced.





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ENVISION A CHAIR -or other wood furniture-you’d like to own.
Is it comfortable for you?
Are the legs uniform in shape, size and height?
How are the component parts joined?
Is the wood grain visible?
Can you afford to throw money away?

Prices are baffling.
Labels don’t tell what you need to know;
nor can most salespersons.

It’s impossible to judge the quality of wood furniture without judging the quality of the wood, shaping and joinery of each component as well as the staining and finishing of the wood.  Comparison shopping similar furniture at all prices helps one develop a discerning eye and perceive differences.

1. Identify the wood species:
Woods are hard or soft depending upon the tree the wood comes from. Factory grade hard woods are recommended for furniture.  The natural grain of all woods has color and vitality and can be used as full-grain or cross–grain depending upon how each log is cut. If stain has been applied to the wood, it should not hide the grain.

Wood furniture can be made of solid or veneered woods. If veneered, it’s critical to identify the substrate –which may be wood — or a man-made fiberboard.  This information is probably not on the label.

Furniture should be made of wood having 6 to 8% moisture. Too dry, wood absorbs glue and doesn’t develop a bond; too wet, wood may warp and twist.

2. Production methods:
Furniture is the sum of its component parts. Identifying each component is key in how to judge each part for uniformity and quality of both shape and joinery. Wood joinery is a measure of furniture quality, strength and durability.

Shaping machines are commonly used for both artisan and mass-production to assure uniformity of legs, arms, spindles and splats. Top rails, aprons, stretchers and legs/feet are names of other common components.

If you understand differences in woods —
and basic artisan and mass-production techniques,
you can confidently choose wood furniture at prices you can afford.

3. Finally: 
evaluate each of the following :

Wood Species :
Require proof of the exact species of wood used to make the furniture you want to buy. You may also want to know if the wood is from a sustainable forest.

Is the wood solid or veneered?—and if veneered, is the substrate solid wood?
Wood veneer applied over a wood substrate is called solid wood veneered furniture. Learn the species and grade of the wood veneer: Grade A is preferred for surface coats. Know the composition of the substrate (which may be wood or man-made fiberboard). 

Furniture grade solid hard wood offers natural grain and resists marring. If scratches occur, the wood can be sanded and refinished although large flat surfaces of solid wood warp easier than veneer-covered solid wood.

Avoid wood products containing formaldehyde; it is TOXIC.
Question if plywood, 
fiberboard and MFB products contain formaldehyde.Its’ usage is probably not on the label.

The method of joining structural components of furniture determines its quality, strength and durability. The most secure joinery for tables, chair and sofa frames is mortise and tenon. 

A rectangular projection of wood (tenon) is glued inside a corresponding rectangular opening (mortise).  The straight sides of each interlocking part resists movement. Double doweling is also very good. (Single doweling easily separates.)

Look beneath tables and chairs to verify if corner blocks are adequately glued and screwed in place where the legs are joined to the frame. Don’t hesitate to pick up a corner of all furniture to be sure it remains stable and balanced.

Wood stains enhance grain but must be translucent to show the beauty of the grain–even if the stain is dark.  Opaque stains are often used to masque inferior grades of wood. Stain must be uniform and rubbed into the grain as opposed to sitting on the surface of the wood.

Whether matte or high gloss, use your eyes to verify if the finish is well-sanded and rubbed. There must be no excess of stains, varnishes or lacquer —and your fingertips must not feel variations in what should be a smooth, seamless surface.

Exceptions are heavily grained woods as oak, especially if the wood has an oiled or waxed finish.

In better quality furniture, drawer corners should be dovetailed.   Drawer interiors should be sanded and sealed.  Better quality furniture should have wood dust-panels between drawers.

Drawer glides:
Drawers should slide easily on wood glides attached to the side walls of the drawer —or slide on a centered rail directly beneath the drawer. Preferred glides for desks are heavy metal.

Quality wood shelving should be finished on top, bottom and sides. Shelves should be adjustable and held in place by rails or routing in the side walls. If shelves are held by clips inserted in the side walls, the clips must be firmly secured and preferably metal. 

Examine all metal hinges, locks, and drawer handles or pulls for quality. Metal castings should be solid metal—not plated. Preferred hardware is hand-cut from solid metal sheet stock as brass.  Piano hinges and recessed locks indicate excellent quality.

Follow care and maintenance directions from each manufacturer of new wood furniture. Your use of wax, cream, paste or oil depends upon how each wood is finished. If there are no care labels, contact the manufacturer.

Sunlight can bleach some woods and stains. Follow the manufacturer’s directions regarding placing furniture in front of a window.

Keeping wood furniture in an unheated summer home, attic or cellar—can loosen joinery and destroy finishes: temperature and humidity affect the contraction and expansion of wood.




[/audio]If you prefer to begin with THE STORY OF FURNITURE, click on:

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A home furnishings magazine pictured three all-wood chairs.
Their title: LOW–MEDIUM–HIGH–referred only to price.

The $149 chair was plain.
The $425 chair was a bit decorative.
The $755 chair was rather ornate.
The inference?  MISLEADING!

Style elicits our emotional response but has little or no impact on price or quality of furniture—nor any other home product. Identical styles can be made in broad price ranges depending upon raw materials, joinery, staining and finishing.

There’s a lot of tradition in furniture design
—and no rules—
so where do you begin?

Is your lifestyle formal or informal?
Is your design aesthetic traditional, country, modern, eclectic or other?
Do you like to combine vintage with modern?

 Rushing to fill our rooms,
they become locked in a ‘time-warp’ instead of becoming a chronicle of our lives.

Furniture satisfies our emotional and physical needs—and it takes a lifetime to furnish a home.  Knowing your personal preferences makes purchasing decisions easier. Then, bring fabrics, accessories, paintings and cultural interests into play.

Many of us experience the following:
STYLE—–paramount when we first buy furniture.
QUALITY—paramount when we grow in discernment.
COMFORT–paramount when we grow in wisdom.

But, you can choose new or old furniture having
style, quality and comfort
at prices you can afford—-all IN ONE PRODUCT! 

Quality is not about style—but style attracts us to furniture.
It’s a good idea to save interesting pages from furnishing magazines
—even if you have no immediate need for them.

Differentiate your WANTS from your NEEDS;
then PRIORITIZE your needs.

•  Do you need a bedroom dresser?
    or can you outfit your closet with shelving for folded clothing?

•  Do you need a dining table for four or twelve?
    and can the dining chairs double as pull-up seating in your living room?

•  When I needed a serving table for a dinner party when living in New York,
    my sturdy ironing board, covered with a colorful table cloth, was a perfect serving table.

Appreciate that good quality wood furniture is made in a broad price range
using different woods and production methods.

When I found a cherry wood desk that suited my needs,
I couldn’t use the color of real cherry wood.

I ordered the desk in OAK —stained espresso brown.
Oak is cheaper than cherry wood—but the production
quality was identical.

          I wrote this post at my espresso-brown oak computer desk!