Why choose quality when selecting fine home furnishings?

Posted on Sep 8, 2015 in Blog
Why choose quality when selecting fine home furnishings? - McNabb & Risley

Dear Friends,

As the principle buyer and Creative Director of Design at McNabb & Risley I want to share my thoughts today on purchasing quality home furnishings. To say I have seen a lot of furniture over the last 35 years is an understatement. I travel to North Carolina twice a year to attend the International Home Furnishings Market and too many regional markets to count, including New York and Atlanta. I cover a lot of ground in a year tracking trends and searching for superior product to bring home to the Milwaukee market place. When I attend markets I have limited time to shop and I must be able to make good decisions for our store and for you, our valued customer. I choose all our home collections with great care and the number one criteria I search for is quality. Now it may surprise you to learn that not all furniture is created equal. I can’t tell you how many sofas I have sat on that looked beautiful but once inspected fell short on my quality check points. It still disappointments me today and I’m a professional buyer! But I am going to share with you how to identify quality so you won’t be fooled in the future.

Within the quality standards there are all levels of value, but remember it is always wise in the long run to invest in quality.

Today I will focus on upholstery and next the month I’ll teach you what to look for when investing in case goods.

10 tips for spotting quality upholstery

  1. Stand back and take a good look at the upholstery tailoring. Does the pattern match throughout the piece? The pattern should flow from top to bottom including the arms, toss pillows and side panels.


    Are the skirts hanging straight and not hitting the floor? Are the welts smooth and sewn straight? There should be no rippled welts or any puckering around the welts. Good tailoring is a sure sign of quality.


  2. Now it’s time to take a seat and relax. Spend some time reclining in various positions, even stretching out if you like to nap on the sofa at home. The upholstery should be comfortable and supportive. Is the depth of the sofa right for you? Are your knees supported and do your feet touch the floor? Is the pitch of the back of the upholstery comfortable for you? Are your shoulders supported? Poor quality upholstery will not be as comfortable and will have a stiff “board-like” seat cushion.

  3. Next have a friend watch you try out the upholstery. Do you sink into the frame or in the corners? Does the cushion spring up on the corners? Does the frame creak or make noise when you sit down? These are all red-flags and signs that the upholstery is inferior. It’s time to move on and make a better choice. Studies show that most consumers keep their upholstery for at least ten years or more. Always buy the very best quality you can afford, you will never regret it.

  4. Now stand up and pick up a seat cushion. Is it heavy? High-quality cushions always are weighty because of the higher quality of cushion cores. You want to select upholstery with a high-density cushion that is at least 1.8 pounds or more.

    Unzip the cushion cover and inspect the core. A good cushion will have a high density reinforced urethane core covered with a 2 ounce polyester fiber fused to it. High-quality upholstery also features channeled down on top of cushion cores and are encased in a muslin cover.


    The top custom upholstery companies always offer many cushion choices such as spring down, comfort down, and comfort fiber. Avoid any upholstery cushions that are not encased in a muslin cover. The friction of the raw foam against the upholstered fabric will cause premature wear.

    This is a good time to check if the seat cushions are loose. If they are then you are able to reverse them and rotate the cushions—doubling the wear!

  5. Next inspect the skirt on the sofa. Is it weighted and lined with a high quality fabric? Low end upholstery does not offer weighted skirts and often line the skirts with a paper-like lining. It’s important to weight skirts and line properly so that the corners of the skirts hang straight.


  6. Now press down firmly on the top of the arms. Do you feel any sharp edges of the wood frame underneath the padding? You should never feel any frame support ever.

    Now touch the outside of the sofa, are the sides padded? Or does it feel hollow? If the fabric is stretched over a wood frame with no padding it will eventually wear out because of fabric abrasion against the wood frame.

    High-quality upholstery will have generous layers of polyester batting and foam throughout the piece. Modern styles will use cotton batting and urethane foam to create a sleek style!


  7. Let’s check out the legs, is the finish clear or muddy? Can you see a defined wood grain or are the manufacturers using plastic with wood grain? Be sure to touch the legs to see if the finish is smooth.


    The legs should always be part of the wood frame. Long lasting joints are double doweled (dowels shown above right), glued, and screwed into place to add support to the frame and strength to the legs.

    Bun feet and chunky tapered legs may be screwed into the wood frame, but make make sure they feel secure and solid to the touch. Now is the time to ask your salesperson how the upholstery is manufactured and they should share that important information easily.

  8. This next tip may sound weird but just do it anyway! Lift the sofa from underneath the frame to check the weight. Is it heavy? If so, that’s a good indication it is a quality hardwood frame. Poor quality upholstery is lightweight because it is lacking solid wood frames, steel coils, and heavy high-density seat cushions.

  9. Lift up a seat cushion and press down firmly on the sofa deck. You should be able to feel padding and then the outline of the coil system below. Press on the front edge of the upholstery frame. Quality sofas will have a little give if it’s eight-way hand-tied.

    Eight-way hand-tied upholstery is the “gold standard” when it comes to shopping for quality furniture.


    The individual steel coils are tied eight-ways to the frame and to the web deck in the base of the sofa. This construction technique ensures long lasting comfort and durability.

    Please note that skirtless sofas and modern styles may have a sinuous spring construction and the quality of this type of foundation can vary in quality. This spring unit requires less space in the upholstery deck and that is why they are used. These units are not as labor intensive as the eight-way hand-tied coils and usually sits firmer.

  10. Clients spend a great deal of time shopping for quality upholstery. While it’s important to find a style you love it’s more important that the piece performs well over a period of time. Always select a trusted resource like McNabb & Risley to assist you when it comes time to make those important decisions.

    Companies like McNabb & Risley have been in business for a long time for a reason. We believe it’s because we focus on providing quality on all levels and provide amazing handcrafted upholstery manufactured in the USA.

    I hope you all found this blog post helpful. Now you can spot quality like a pro and never be fooled again!

Tara Wilke

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