Upholstered Futniture In Your Living Room

It’s easy to be taken in by appearances when buying upholstered furniture; our first impressions are usually based on the fabric covering the furniture, so we often forget that what really matters is, in fact, the shape, the comfort and the engineering or structure of the seat.

Contemporary pieces tend to have clean lines, and are usually made with modern materials such as MDF, board and foam. While this may sound uninspiring, choose wisely and you can expect a hard-wearing piece of furniture. If you prefer a more traditional look, there is an equally wide range on offer but, with the traditional materials and technical skills needed to achieve these styles, you should expect to pay a little bit more.

Before you commit to buying chairs or sofas, there are a few things to keep in mind. Always consider the proportions of a chair or sofa; a large piece may dwarf other furniture in the room, whilst something too small will look odd and feel uncomfortable. To avoid this, take full measurements home and check the available space or, alternatively, use the dimensions to make a template so you can see exactly how much room it will take up. Finally, before you buy, you should always check that the piece will fit through your doors, especially if your home has a narrow hall or angled corridor.

Traditional Upholstery


Traditionally constructed sofas are made from a hardwood frame, (usually beech), held together with dowels, screws and glue, which results in a completely solid, stable structure. Layers of natural padding, like horsehair or wool, are built up around the frame to create shape. Traditionally, seat springs are hand-tied to a webbing base but, some sofas will have coiled springs attached to metal strips stretching from front to back of the frame. In a sprung-back design, S-shaped springs or serpentine springs are used.

Back Construction

Not all backs are sprung, but top-end sofas will have coiled springs in the backs and arms to create shape and comfort. It is worth remembering that the heavier a sofa is, the better quality it’s likely to be.

Testing Your Sofa

The more hardwood a sofa contains, the sturdier it will be; less expensive pieces tend to be more lightweight as, rather than hardwood, they use hardboard. Whilst in the showroom, nudge the sofa with your knee. If it moves easily, review its quality, looks and construction.

Classic Good Looks

Traditionally constructed formal sofas tend to have a “tight back” with no loose cushions. Tight backs may also be sprung and buttoned. Some sofas have cushioned backs, using two or three separate cushions to help create the shape. It may be useful to note that foam-filled cushions will keep their shape better than those filled with feathers or fibre. If a tight fixed -covered sofa is too formal, try loose covers instead. They have a more casual appearance, and have the added benefit of being removable for cleaning, or replaced to bring a piece up-to-date

Contemporary Upholstery


Modern upholstered furniture can be made in a variety of ways, but are usually structured using combinations of foam, board and fibre. Dense foam is mostly combined with a concealed metal frame, but styles with exposed timber frames are also popular. High-density foam is a common component of contemporary sofas as it holds its shape well and can be sculpted to create flowing curves or angular shapes. Although modern sofas are all structured similarly, it is still worth asking how heavy it is, in order to judge its sturdiness and longevity.

Types of Springs

If the seat section is sprung, it is likely that serpentine, rather than coiled, springs will be used. However, some modern pieces will still be constructed using traditional hardwood frames and coiled springs.

Before You Buy

With any sofa, try before you buy. Low or slimline models aren’t always the most comfortable for reclining, and the height of the backs may not suit you either. Consider the depth of the seat, as tall or small people will find different depths offer varying degrees of comfort.

Modern Lines

Modern sofas tend to be simpler than traditional ones, with fewer, larger-scale cushions. Modular pieces that bolt or click together to create either L-shaped or curved sofas are currently popular, often also with a “chaise” or recliner section. Modular sofas can also solve the “two small sofas or one large sofa?” dilemma that confronts many of us, and provide ample room for two people to recline in comfort.

Buying a Sofa

Choosing Fabric

When supplying your own fabric, it is important to ensure it is rated for upholstery use and is fire-retardant. Textured and patterned fabrics are more forgiving than plain, light colours and smooth finishes, and you should avoid loosely woven fabrics that can “give” too much and quickly look shabby. Large patterns will invariably create a lot of waste as the pattern will have to be centred or matched on all sides, of the back, seat and cushions. Order a large swatch of potential fabrics and view them in situ in both natural daylight and artificial light.

Added Protection

It is always worth spending a bit extra on stain retardant, and if you choose not to, do keep a stain removal kit handy for speedy removal of food, oil or ink stains. Always blot with white cloths, to avoid colour transference, and mop up as much of the stain as possible before using any upholstery cleaning products. By law, all upholstered furniture must be fire-retardant; a square swing ticket with a green edge indicates that it is resistant to a smouldering cigarette and a lit match; a triangular swing ticket with a red edge shows that the cover is not match-resistant, but that it has a suitably fire-resistant interlining beneath.

Other Options

Reviving Old Sofas

If your seating is well made and structurally sound but looks a little tired, think about reupholstering. Replacement cushion fillings can also help restore the original crispness. Contact The Association of Master Upholsterers & Soft Furnishers, 01633 215454, upholsterers.co.uk.

Loose Covers

These are practical for families but getting cushions in and out is a chore. Buy a spare set with the sofa and dry-clean if possible, cleaning all covers to avoid uneven fading.