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How to Choose Upholstered Seating

By The Editors at HomePortfolio

When choosing upholstered seating, the three most important things to consider are the fabric and materials, the construction techniques used to make the piece, and the details that set it apart.

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Beth Dotolo & Carolina Gentry

Fabric & Materials

Choosing the right fabric or leather for a piece of furniture is an important decision. Whether dark or light, striped or flowered, fabrics offer a seemingly infinite range of choices. To help you select the right material, remember a few simple things: All fabrics are not suitable for upholstery; only those with tight weaves will be deemed by the manufacturer as appropriate for upholstery. If you're considering a light-colored fabric, make sure it is treated with a stain-repellent process. Slipcovers provide versatility and allow rooms to adapt to changing needs or even the seasons. The most practical slipcovers are made of washable fabrics, but avoid cottons that could shrink, and make sure the slipcovers can be easily removed for laundering.

Like fabrics, all leathers are not the same. Quality may vary widely, and some manufacturers may tend to stitch together smaller pieces of leather to make the upholstery less expensive. Uniform color and surface are often signs that the leather had to be corrected and heavily pigmented because its natural qualities were deficient. The finest leathers are pure anilines. Full-grain or top-grain leathers are dyed with transparent, nontoxic aniline that penetrates the hide with colors and allows the natural grain to show through. They are then treated with wax and oils to make it soft to the touch.

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Cushions can be made of pure white down, down and feather combinations, or a foam core. Pure white down is the most costly, while the other types of cushions offer a firmer seat and cost less. Foam core cushions require less maintenance, as down tends to shift, requiring frequent fluffing and shaping. When considering cushions made of foam, note the foam's density, as there is a direct correlation with foam density, comfort, and wear.

Construction Techniques

High-quality pieces have a frame of kiln-dried wood that is free of knots. Maple is the wood most commonly used in the United States, while beechwood is popular in Europe. Joints that are double-doweled with screwed corner blocks contribute to a stable frame. Legs should be an integral part of the frame rather than added on later. Center support legs on larger pieces provide better weight distribution. Inner spring construction should be considered when buying a piece of furniture. Eight-way, hand-tied coils provide an even foundation and result in no single spring bearing a disproportionate amount of weight. Although not as desirable, other systems such as drop-in, pre-assembled coil units and sinuous wire fastened from front to back help provide a soft seat.


Details such as welting, fringe, and pleats help define a piece and set a tone. Bullion fringe adds drama. Self-welting contributes to a tailored and refined look, while the use of pleats creates a light, airy feel. Keep the look you are trying to create in mind when you compare different pieces.

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