How to Find High-Quality Furniture for Your Home

What to look for in furniture descriptions and the questions to ask when talking with a salesperson or customer service rep

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Whether you’re on the hunt for a comfy new sofa or you’re looking for a sturdy dining table, it can be difficult to tell which pieces are really made to last. Scanning online furniture descriptions closely for some key words that indicate quality can help. Here’s what to look for in upholstered and wood furniture. If you shop in store, ask whether the furniture you’re interested in has these features.

Upholstered Furniture

Sofas, armchairs, etc.

Construction: A kiln-dried hardwood frame with eight-way hand-tied springs is tops in quality. Less expensive webbing support can be comfortable but tends to stretch over time. Plywood platform support is the least expensive—and the least comfortable.

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Cushions: The best are filled entirely with down (real or synthetic) or, for more support, have a foam core wrapped with down or synthetic down. Less expensive seating will have all-foam cushions, which may look very square and blocky.

Fabric: “If a fabric starts to pill or stains easily, you’ll hate the sofa or chair long before it wears out,” says Juliana Oliveira, an interior designer in Dallas. The most durable fabrics are “commercial grade,” “performance,” or “indoor/outdoor,” she adds. Blends made with polyester are usually more durable, easier to clean, and less expensive than all-cotton or all-linen upholstery.

Leather: Extremely soft top-grain leather can stain easily and may not be the best choice for dining chairs or in households with young children. For the look of leather without the high price and upkeep, manufactured versions like “bonded” leather or leather “gel” (essentially leather scraps held together with glue or polyurethane) may be easier to maintain.

Wood Furniture

Tables, bookcases, desks, etc.

Construction: Many people think solid wood is best, but wood veneer can be more affordable and work well for bookshelves and other large, solid pieces.

Joints: Dovetail joints are strongest, but furniture with “butt” joints (which are glued) can stand up well and cost less.

Finish: Surfaces should be smooth and finishes even. For dining-room tables and other heavily used pieces, a catalyzed conversion varnish will be more resistant to wear than a lacquer top coat.

Editor’s Note: This article also appeared in the February 2021 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

Headshot of freelance writer Daniel Bortz

Daniel Bortz

Daniel Bortz is a freelance writer in Arlington, Va. His work has been published by the New York Times, the Washington Post, Newsweek, Money magazine, and Kiplinger's, among others.