This is the second blog in our series of posts about how the best sofas are constructed. (If you haven’t read our first post on frame material and construction, start there.) This one focuses on suspension systems–what prevents you from sinking down to the floor when you sit in a sofa or chair. There are many different types of suspensions a manufacturer may use, and not everyone agrees on what type is the highest quality and lasts the longest. We’re going to get to the bottom of it here (and check out our selection of high quality upholstery here).
First, let’s talk about the most common types of suspension.
Eight-way hand tied
Long considered the gold standard of sofa suspension, eight-way hand tied is the most labor-intensive and costly option. It’s the mark of a high quality piece of furniture (except for when it’s fake eight-way hand tied, as explained later). The springs are supported by webbing on the bottom of the sofa (steel webbing is best, but other materials may be used) and the top of the springs are secured by twine. That’s where the name comes in—the twine is tied by hand at eight different spots for each spring and then attached to the frame. This web of twine keeps the springs from shifting, providing years of unwavering support. The soft twine also ensures that the suspension won’t start to squeak with use (something that can happen in all-metal suspensions). An easy way to tell if a piece of furniture has true eight-way hand tied suspension is to pick up the cushion and push on the seat deck – you should be able to feel the individual springs through the fabric. Rest assured, all of the sofas we sell at The Stated Home are made with eight-way hand tied suspension (excluding our gliders, which just don’t have the space). If we have a chair that is not eight-way hand tied, we will make that very clear.
Drop-in Coil Springs
There is a less labor-intensive version of spring suspension that consists of coils mounted on a metal frame, which is then added to the furniture as a single piece. This can offer some of the support of true eight-way hand tied springs while cutting down on labor costs. But lower labor costs come with some sacrifices. The drop-in coil spring system isn’t supported on the bottom by anything (it is screwed into the sides of the frame) so it will start to sag before a true eight-way hand tied unit will. Secondly, there is a lot of metal to metal contact with this option, which can lead to squeaking down the road. A note of caution: Some manufacturers will take drop-in coil springs and add some strings to the system, calling them eight-way hand tied. Don’t be fooled! This is a drop-in unit that is only attached to the frame in the corners. Be wary of any inexpensive or imported piece of furniture that claims to be eight-way hand tied—it’s likely the manufacturer taking short cuts and trying to dupe the consumer.
A bit of a newcomer to the suspension scene, a pocket coil suspension is similar to what you find inside a mattress: a bunch of coils individually wrapped in fabric. Not too many manufacturers use this method (the main stateside manufacturer of this suspension system is Leggett & Platt) and the jury is still out on how well it works. In our opinion, it doesn’t seem as integrated as an eight-way hand tied system.
This is probably the most common type of sofa suspension in low- to mid-range priced sofas. Imagine many large zig-zagging pieces of metal set in rows several inches apart and running perpendicular to the front of the sofa. For every person who swears sinuous springs don’t last as long as eight-way hand tied, there’s someone who says they do. We believe that a properly made sinuous spring system will perform better than a poorly made drop-in spring system or the fake eight-way hand tied suspension. When looking at sofas with sinuous springs, make sure that the wire is at least 8-gauge and that there are at least two silent-tie wires running across and clipped to each spring. Sinuous springs with many smaller turns are more ideal than those with a larger “S” curve. Sinuous springs are much quicker to install than eight-way hand tied, so if you’re buying a piece of furniture with this system, make sure there is an appropriate drop in price.
This type of suspension is less common than coil or sinuous spring, but it’s available on some mid-priced pieces at popular retailers like Room & Board and Crate & Barrel. It is a wire grid that attaches to the frame with springs on the side (similar to how a trampoline is attached). We’d avoid this one if possible. The wires aren’t very thick and the reviews often complain about them breaking.
The last type of suspension you many find on a piece of upholstered furniture is made by weaving fabric or elastic straps in a grid-like pattern. Some pieces from good manufacturers use this mostly for styles with narrow seat decks that can’t accommodate other suspension methods. However, it is also commonly found on the lowest quality furniture so if your furniture has this suspension, make sure it’s from a reputable manufacturer with a good warranty. We would avoid it on a hard-working sofa from any manufacturer.
If you want to ensure you are getting the best quality piece of furniture possible, find one with true eight-way hand tied suspension. This is consistently found to be long-lasting, and any manufacturer that takes the time to hand-tie their suspension will carry this quality through to the other parts of their furniture: the frame, cushions, and upholstery. If you can’t afford eight-way hand tied, buy the best sinuous spring suspension you can find, but make sure there is an appropriate decrease in cost. Certain furniture pieces can only use sinuous springs, due to construction requirements. For example, our swivel gliders have to use sinuous springs to allow space for the swivel glider mechanism. Sofas with webbing or mesh instead of springs should be kept far away from your living room—they will end up uncomfortable and flimsy.
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