Buying furniture does not have to be a stressful or painful activity. In fact, it can actually be a bit fun when you know how to distinguish the quality pieces from those destined for the dumpster. The following guide will hopefully demystify the inner workings and construction of furniture so you can focus on picking out the perfect color, print, and texture for your home.
Your furniture sets the mood, tone, and overall feel of your home just as your wardrobe conveys these same exercises about you. Upholstered furniture is perhaps the most telling sign of these characteristics as the use of color, design, and texture come into play more here than with any other type of furniture. Pieces that generally fall into the 'upholstered' category include chairs, sofas, love seats, sectionals, and sofa beds. This guide is designed to make your decision less daunting by eliminating some technical terms and giving you some insight into what lies benefit the cloths and cushions.
Woven Fabric Covers
Woven fabric means simply that the fabric is woven by a machine that interlaces two yarns running at right angles to each other. The most widely used group of decorative upholsteries sold in the United States consist of woven fabrics. These woven fabrics can be natural, such as linen and cotton, or man-made fibers like polyester and olefin. In most cases, fabrics are blends of various fibers like the popular cotton-polyester blend. The most popular types of weaves are as follows:
O Jacquard weaves are fabrics with differently colored yarns or fibers woven into highly decorative designs. These weaves are most often found in traditional furniture styles.
O Pile fabrics have loops or cut fibers standing up densely from the surface to form a three-dimensional texture. Depending on color and design, pile fabrics can be suitable for traditional or contemporary furniture.
O Textured fabrics are woven from yarns that have been processed to give them more bulk, crimp, stretch, or otherwise altered. Chenille is an example of a very popular textured weave. Textured fabrics are often woven to resembble antique, homespun cloth.
O Plain-woven fabrics consist of one color with their character resulting from the type of yarn or fiber used. Depending on the texture, plain weaves can be used on formal or informal furniture and with a variety of styles.
O Printed fabrics are first woven and then printed with a decorative design. Chintz and polished cotton are examples of fabrics that are often used for prints, although textured fabrics with blends of nylon, rayon, cotton, and polyester fibers are also often printed.
Non-Woven Fabric Covers
Non-woven fabrics are produced by the bonding and or interlocking of fibers. These fabrics can be made by mechanical, chemical, thermal, or solvent means, or with an adhesive, or any combination of these. Examples of non-woven fabrics include:
O Vinyl , which may or may not be laminated to a fabric backing. Vinyls are preferred on furniture that is subject to hard usage. Also called Naugahyde®, vinyl is often thought of as a substitute for leather, and can be printed in a variety of patterns.
O Flocked fabrics are made by gluing pieces of cut fibers onto a flat woven cloth base. These fibers form a three-dimensional surface much like pile. Flocked velvet is an example of this kind of fabric.
O Knitted fabrics are made by interlooping one or more sets of yarns. This is a reliably inexpensive way of manufacturing fabric.
O Suede-like fabrics , such as Ultrasuede® are often used in decorative upholstered furniture covers to give the look and feel of genuine suede, without using animal hides and usually at less cost.
The construction and inner workings of an upholstered piece of furniture can be as mysterious as an episode of Murder, She Wrote (ask your Grandma). But hidden under the decorative fabric or cover lies the secret to the piece's overall function, comfort, and longevity. No need to call Angela Lansbury in order to solve this case, read on as we forget what makes your chair or sofa tick.
The frame is the single most important component in determining whether or not a piece of furniture is going to stand the test of time. You probably figured wood as being the most commonly used frame material, and this, of course, is true. But any old hunk of tree will not due if you plan on passing this wonderful chair, sofa, love seat, or whatever on to your children or grandchildren (they'll probably just put it in storage or sell it at a yard sale anyway ). Hardwoods, such as oak, alder, ash, beech and birch are what you're looking for in a frame. These hardwoods have a tighter grain and allow for screws, pegs, and nails to be set securely. Also, the best-made frames use wood that has been kiln-dried . This process consist of heating the wood in an industrial oven to remove excess sap and moisture. The process also makes the wood resistant to absorbing any outside moisture. If you're wondering what the problem is with moisture, I'll tell you. If you already know the answer to this, then skip to the next paragraph Mr. Egypt Smarty-Pants. Moisture can cause warping and swelling, can lead to loose joints and fastenings, and in severe cases can cause mildew or rotting, other than that, it's great.
The quality of the frame depends not only on the materials used, but how they're joined and held together. To create a strong, rigid frame, a variety of woods and laminates can be used in joints and for blocking and doweling.
O Joints are places where one piece of the frame meets another. These points of intersection need to be secured and reinforced with blocks and dowels to allow the frame to hold up over time.
O Blocking reiter to placing additional 'blocks' of wood behind or diagonal to joints and corners to help relieve the stress these areas encounter. Blocks also provide lateral support and create a larger area for screws and fasteners to set wood elements securely.
O Doweling is the process of drilling into both pieces of the joint and then placing a pin, or dowel into the hole, so further connecting the two pieces and adding extra support.
A quality chair or sofa will employ some type of inner spring system, usually in the back as well as the seat area. These systems add comfort, as you might expect, but they also work to take some of the stress off the joints of the frame. Here are some of the spring systems being used:
O The coil or cone spring system uses eight-way, hand-tied double cone springs to provide extra comfort and support. This technique involves fastening the cone springs tightly to the base and expertly tying their tops together with a strong cord. This is the only system that allows for side-to-side movement in addition to up and down movement. Hand-crafted quality comes at a price, though, and while this is widely considered the best spring system, it is also the most expensive.
O The sinuous wire spring is made in a continuous zigzag or "S" shape. These wires run parallel to each other and are quickly directly to the frame and to each other. Similar to this system is the formed wire spring, where the continuous wire is formed into rectangular bends and angles instead of the zigzag pattern.
O The grid suspension system is composed of a wire grid, sometimes covered with paper or plastic-coated wire, which has one side fastened directly to the frame. The other side is connected to the frame by helical springs.
O Some manufacturers use elastic webbing instead of wire springs. The strips of elastic usually intersect and weave together and are fastened directly to the frame. It is best to avoid furniture that uses this technique.
Arm yourself with this knowledge and make a more informed choice the next time you purchase furniture.