How Upholstered Furniture is Built


A beautiful fabric and stylish frame may be the reasons you fall in love with a sofa or chair, but if you ignore what's inside, your affections may fizzle over time.

To help you understand the variations in interior workmanship and materials that impact quality, durability and price, check out this checklist we’ve compiled!

The Frame

Frames are made of kiln-dried hardwood, hardwood plywood, softwood plywood, strand board or various combinations of these materials and others. Kiln-dried hardwood and hardwood plywood are noted for holding pegs, screws, staples and nails securely in place for a long time. For durability, look for reinforcements that are glued and screwed into place at critical joints and stress points. Less durable pieces may only staple support blocks in place or have none at all. Make sure the frame feels sturdy, sits squarely on the floor, and doesn't creak or wobble.

The Foundation

Style and support together determine the type of foundation used in sofa and chair construction. Eight-way, hand-tied, coil spring construction was once considered the hallmark of quality upholstery. In this type of foundation, each coil spring is placed in the seat by hand and tied into place with twine in a series of interlocking knots. Today, other construction techniques, including new steel spring configurations, offer equal comfort and durability. In general, the number of springs in the foundation and how they are reinforced determines cost and quality.


Furniture cushions may be constructed using springs, cotton fiber, polyester fiber, or even down, but most are made using some type of polyurethane foam. Density is used to gauge the durability of foam, and, generally, the higher the density the more durable (and more expensive) the cushion will be. Better quality upholstered furniture uses foam with a density rating of at least 1.8 to 2.5 pounds per cubic foot. Foam cushions should be wrapped or covered to protect the foam from direct contact with the upholstery fabric.


Options for the color, pattern and texture of your upholstery are virtually unlimited, but cover components fall into just two basic categories: natural and synthetic. Natural components include cotton, linen, silk, wool and, of course, leather. Among the synthetics are acetate, acrylic, nylon, rayon and polypropylene. Many fabrics are woven with a combination of natural and synthetic fibers. Fabrics combining a tight weave and durable fibers like nylon or polypropylene are a good choice for active use. Leather is also a popular choice for durability.

Fire Safety

For fire safety reasons, make sure new upholstery carries the gold UFAC tag. This tells you the piece was manufactured according to fire safety standards developed by the Upholstered Furniture Action Council. These standards reduce the likelihood of upholstered furniture catching fire from a smoldering cigarette, which is the leading cause of upholstery fires in the home.