In this report
Sizing up the stores
Size up furniture like an expert
Size up furniture like an expert Sub
January 2008
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You can size up upholstered furniture like an expert
Follow these steps with floor samples and again when the furniture is delivered, to be sure that the piece from the warehouse matches what you saw in the store. Start by sitting for 2 to 5 minutes on each side and the middle to gauge overall comfort. Then follow the steps below.

Cross-section of a couch and  inner-springs.
Illustrations by Trevor Johnston


  • Press down on the back rail and arms and try to wiggle them. You should not feel excessive movement.

  • Lift one front corner leg about 6 inches while a companion holds down the opposing arm. You should not feel the sofa twist.

  • Ask the salesperson to remove the bottom dust cover near one leg so that you can see the frame. (Not all stores will do this.) Look for corner blocks to add strength and neat, tight joints that appear to be glued and stapled or screwed together. If legs are screwed into the frame, that’s OK. Legs that are part of the frame may be stronger but hard to repair.

  • The terms kiln-dried hardwood and furniture-grade plywood can denote high-quality materials. But the frame can still be poorly assembled.


  • Knead the frame along the front and back rails, corners, and arms. If you feel hard or sharp edges, it means the padding is skimpy.

  • Check the back of the sofa. Padding should be smooth, not lumpy. The outer back should be padded to give a finished look, especially if the sofa won’t be up against a wall.


  • Unzip a seat cushion to see what’s inside. Better-quality cushions contain foam covered with polyester batting, enclosed in a muslin or nonwoven pillowcase.

  • Removable back cushions containing loose polyester filler should hold the filling in a pillowcase that’s stitched into multiple compartments to minimize settling.

  • Check the covering. Reversible cushions help the fabric and filling last longer.


  • Press down hard on the deck (the area under the seat cushion) to sense if seat springs are evenly spaced and equally resistant to pressure.

  • Sit down. You shouldn’t tip or sink in one direction. If you do, the springs probably aren’t centered or properly attached to the frame.

  • Listen. You don’t want to hear squeaks.

  • Disregard the term “eight-way hand-tied springs.” It’s no longer synonymous with comfort or high quality. Other types of springs--coil, cone, S-shaped, and grid--can be just fine; they mainly influence how comfortable the sofa feels to you. The illustrations above show two common spring designs.


  • Stripes and plaids should appear straight and aligned; floral or arabesque patterns should flow from one part of the sofa to the next.

  • Check the stitching. Welted seams should be straight, skirt pleats evenly spaced, zippers color matched to the upholstery.