Buying a Quality Sofa: What You Need to Know about Cushions

I am often asked how you know if you are buying a quality sofa.  The two elements you need to evaluate are how the frame and the cushions are made.

In our last blog, we shared tips on the construction of a sofa; what makes one better quality and thus more expensive. Read the blog here. 

In this blog, we are going to educate you about cushions and padding.

The right padding under the fabric is essential to extending the life of a great sofa.


Less-expensive sofas will wear out more quickly because of less padding between the fabric cover and the frame. The padding protects the fabric from the sharp edges of the wood frame.

When you touch the back and sides of an expensive sofa,
it should feel well-padded and not hollow.

Less expensive sofas will often have a piece of cardboard under a thin layer of foam rubber, they reduce the padding and will even eliminate it in areas like the back and sides which are often fabric stretched on an unpadded frame, the arms will have fewer layers as well.

The sofa looks great in the store but when you take the sofa home, the first time someone sits on the arm, the cardboard breaks down and the arm begins to go flat. This trick is not only limited to the cheapest brands, so again, it is important to ask for that cut-away drawing before you buy.


While manufacturers may use their own unique terminology there are basically four choices in cushions that you need to know when buying a quality sofa.

Down Plush, or Blendown Cushions

Down is the most expensive and most luxurious but it also requires the most maintenance.

How they are made:  It is constructed with a thin foam core bound in a thick layer of polyester fiber, and then covered in an abundant layer of a down and poly-fiber blend. Because of its thin foam core and a greater percentage of down, it truly feels and acts like a pillow.

How well do they maintain their shape: It will flatten and change shape a bit whenever you sit on it, so it requires fluffing every time you to return the loft and proper dimension.

Best For: It’s unquestionably not for the person who can’t be bothered with all that maintenance. But if softness is the most important thing to you – it may be worth the trouble.

High-Density Foam Core Cushions

How they are made: All-foam cushions are usually made of a high-density foam core, which is covered by a softer layer of convoluted (“egg crate”) foam, and then a polyester fiber wrap. It is then enveloped in down-proof ticking which helps to prevent feathers from poking through.

How they sit: This is the cushion for you if you like a very firm seat and want the fewest wrinkles in the fabric.

How well do they maintain their shape:  This is a good choice for a bachelor or someone who is a little ADD and always wants the sofa to look pristine.  It is pretty much maintenance-free so you won’t need to do any fluffing or plumping  … it will look just as good as it did before you sat down.

Note: High-resilient foam is more expensive and more durable than low-density foam.


Spring Down Cushions

How they are made: Spring-down cushions are made much like a mattress. A core of coiled springs is encircled by foam and then covered with a thick layer of polyester fiber. Then it is all fitted into a down-proof cover filled with a blend of down and polyester fiber.

How they sit: It is the second-softest cushion available.  The coiled springs deliver a resilient feel, and the down adds softness and loft that only down can give.

How well do they maintain their shape: It has good shape-holding properties but is not totally maintenance free as it will probably require fluffing and rotation to retain its plump, softly tailored appearance.

Best for: This is the cushion for you if you don’t mind a little fussing, like a moderate amount of down softness or have trouble getting up and don’t want to sink too low.

Note:  The typical American now weighs 20-25% more; it is important to take this into account when selecting a cushion.  It needs to be able to sustain this additional weight as it will lose firmness over time. We typically recommend starting with a cushion that is a little firmer (it will soften with use), or you will be replacing that cushion sooner than planned.


Foam and Down Cushions

How they are made: These are a firm foam cushion surrounded by an envelope of down and feathers.

How they sit: They give nicely when you sit, but not too much, and the down envelope gives the cushion a nice soft curve across the top, called the “crown”.

How well do they maintain their shape: They maintain their shape better than their cheaper cousins, the foam and Dacron cushions.

For many people, the best choice is high-resilient foam in a layer of down and conventional foam, all wrapped in polyester batting.


Foam and Dacron Cushions

Low and medium-priced sofas typically have foam and Dacron and may offer a down cushion upgrade.

Low-density foam is the least expensive but also deflates relatively quickly and its comfort level may diminish.

How they are made:  is spun polyester (like quilt batting) that wraps the foam to give it a soft edge and a crowned top.

How well do they maintain their shape: Dacron does lose its loft more quickly than down and feather, so these cushions may lose their crowned top and look flat and bedraggled in only a year. It is important to flip them frequently to allow the loft a chance to recover.

Every cushion has a break-in period of at least a couple of weeks use.

Buying a Quality Sofa:
A Few More Great Tips

Quality Sofa
The sofa is available through your designer at Chuck Wells and Associates.

We asked Chuck Wells and Associates, one of our preferred showrooms, what tips they had on buying a quality sofa.

Paul Wells agreed with the tips we shared in this article and added a few other points to consider. “Keep in mind all sofas look pretty good on the outside, but it is what’s on the inside that counts.  Cheap price = cheap frame, fabric, or raw materials.  It is simply impossible to get top quality at the lowest price.  It is true in cars, clothes, houses, food, or electronics and it is certainly true in furniture. Buy quality and you only cry once!”

Paul also shared that the most important element is to do business with a factory and showroom that you know and trust.  Someone who truly stands behind their products. 

What about companies like Pottery Barn, Restoration Hardware and Crate and Barrel?

All of these stores are trendy, well-marketed, and stylish, but Quality is not in their portfolio. They have to buy cheap to get the kind of margins they need to make and support their nice catalog as well as pay mall rates for real estate.

Smart Money Magazine did an article titled Pottery Barn, Unstuffed where they purchased several thousand dollars work of Pottery Barn pieces (and other trendy makers like Restoration Hardware & Crate and Barrel) and then took them apart. What they found was amazing.  Check it out here.

Additional sites

Click here to learn what you need to know about sofa frames.

Need new furniture or want to refresh or remodel your home but have no idea where to start?

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