The Four C’s of Upholstery: Part I

by Shannon Pennell, designer          

      I’m sure most of us have heard those commercials for jewelry stores where the enthusiastic announcer is educating you on the 4 C’s of diamonds.  After all, we all want to be well informed about a product in which we are making an investment.  Not many of us can tell the difference between a perfect diamond and a flawed one without a jeweler’s loupe and the 4 C’s to inform us what we should be looking for. 

       Well, did you know that there are 4 C’s in upholstered furniture as well?  When buying upholstered furniture, there are four very important factors that you should consider before you make a purchase.  I hope that this information will help you make an educated decision.   Use the 4 C’s of upholstery as your “jeweler’s loupe” and take a closer look at what you are purchasing.

1.   CONSTRUCTION:  There are many different aspects to construction, but we are going to look at the three most important factors, which are frame, coils, and cushions.

      a.       FRAMEThe frame is what gives your furniture its support and shape.  A 5/4” hardwood frame is ideal.  Many frames are made of engineered wood so look for veneered woods (plywood) as opposed to chipboards.  The wood grain is layered in opposite directions on plywood, which gives it increased strength.  Additionally, frames should be corner blocked for maximum stability.

      b.      COILS:  Eight-way hand tied coils have long been considered the best option.  This means each individual coil is hand-tied in eight different directions to the coils surrounding it.  This allows the coils to move together for a more even feel. “Drop-In” or “Marshall” coils are a machine made version of the eight-way coil.

Sinuous coils are flat, zigzagged wires that run front to back.  This is adequate for most upholstery, but will be more susceptible to sagging and breakage over time.

      c.       CUSHIONS:  Many manufacturers will offer options that give you different firmness levels.  Consider the overall thickness of a cushion, the content, and the manufacturer’s warranty.

Your “basic” cushion will be a high density foam core wrapped in a synthetic fiber.  An upgraded cushion would be a down blend wrapped around a high density foam core.  A “spring-down” cushion consists of coils encased in high density foam, wrapped in a down blend.  The coils inside the cushion add extra support to your cushion.  The down, blended with synthetic fibers, gives you softness and loft.

2.   COMFORT:  Sit on it!  If you are custom ordering, ask to sit in something else made by that company.  If you cannot sit in a piece by that company, ask to sit in something with the same seat height and depth.  An inch can make a big difference in the comfort level of your furniture.


Stay tuned for the next post to learn about the final two C’s when shopping for upholstery!