Let’s talk about quality in furniture: what it is and how to identify it. We’ve compiled a succinct list of 3 clues that you are purchasing a quality piece followed by 3 example rooms with investment overviews. While this topic can be rather meaty, we obsess over every detail and shop all of the furniture markets so you don’t have to. We feel it is of immense value to know this information surrounding quality goods, particularly as it relates to our homes and the spaces we live in every day. Of course – if you’re working with us, we vet everything for you!
How furniture is constructed is a big deal. Quality (read durable and strong) pieces will have more than just screws, glue and nails keeping them together. Look for names like dovetail, finger and mortise and tenon joints. These joints have significant tensile strength – something you want if it’s a piece that will be sat on or laden with family dinner dishes.
2. Support + Fill
Upholstered furniture is filled with material to give it support and comfort – and that something matters a great deal for a piece’s longevity. There are 3 main types of support for an upholstered piece: coil (spring), down and foam. Most quality upholstery pieces are constructed with a combination of 2 or more of these fills. For a piece supported by coils, 8-way hand tied has long been the gold standard mark of a quality piece of furniture, often followed by drop-in coil springs and pocket coils (which are also good).
For upholstery where foam is the primary seat support, high-density foam of 1.8 or greater is ideal- this means that a 12” cube of foam weighs 1.8 lbs. It is important to note firmness doesn’t equate to density and low-density foams can still be quite firm. A low-density foam upholstered piece is going to be lower quality and can start breaking down in as little as 2 years.
Down-fill in upholstery generally gives the pieces a looser feel and is often paired with one of the previous forms of upholstery support. Down-fill upholstery either in the back or seat cushions can be exceptionally comfortable, depending on your preferences, but does require periodic fluffing.
The materials with which furniture is constructed – both within and on the surface – make a significant difference around the comfort and durability of a piece. An upholstered piece of furniture does well with a hardwood frame, like maple or oak, and the upholstery material could vary from linen, to velvet, or a performance fabric based on your aesthetic and lifestyle. We are big fans of velvet at Michelle Gage Interiors and it’s worth noting that the higher the cotton content of a velvet, the better the quality. For casegoods – like credenzas, tables and bookcases – it can be quite fun to bring in interesting finishes like burlwood, brass and lacquered linen. For a casegood piece that has a veneered finish, a quality hardwood frame with solid joinery makes a BIG impact on the durability of the furniture and can differentiate between a piece that lasts about 10 years looking good and one that lasts longer than a lifetime.
Not only does the what the material is made of matter, but where it’s located does as well. Humidity, sun, pets and traffic levels all impact decisions around what material and finish ends up on which piece of furniture. When we purchase furniture we’d like it to stay looking beautiful for quite some time – material selections and putting the right finish in the right spot are highly valuable elements of the design!
As designers, we inspect and review all the product, materials and vendors we use in our projects. To better help our clients understand the various levels of pricing and quality, we utilize a curated good, better, best system. Most of our projects consist of a blend of each of these categories depending on the client, their preferences and our advice on where to conserve vs. splurge. We’ve included some collaged perspective images of an imagined sitting room along with a more thorough breakdown of each category to help you better visualize the differences.
Our definition of good quality is a big step up from the big box stores and typical furniture retailers. Trade exclusive items are available at this price point; pieces that are very difficult or impossible to find at all in retail are available in our curated selection of good products. The furnishings will not be super custom – bespoke = $ – but we can still bring our clients great design at this price point with pieces that will typically last around 10 years.
We’ve included an inky velvet channeled sofa, leather side chairs, a sculptural coffee table, an inlay end table and a brass and stone petite side table in this vignette. Additionally, there are some fun lamps, several toss pillows, a cheap and cheerful rug and a large printed photography artwork over the sofa.
Better quality is another step up from good. Now we’re getting to bespoke pieces – custom upholstery with artisanal prints, casegoods with some really special materials (lacquered banana leaf!) and hand sculpted side tables. Upholstery pieces from our better category vendors will typically last at least 15 years (or longer) before needing to be reupholstered and casegoods will last from 30 years onward.
This perspective collage depicts an aubergine velvet sofa with a high-fashion photograph in custom frame above, a sculptured concrete coffee table and a cut-out burlwood side table with interior gold leaf detailing. A beautiful hand-knotted wool rug is on the floor, with a funky table lamp and rattan-wrapped curved floor lamp illuminating the space. The toss pillows and swivel chairs are in artisan fabrics, accented with a cool spindly resin table between them. The walls have been painted a fresh color chosen based on the other materials in this space, and an artisan wallpaper treatment has been applied to the ceiling. A sustainably made, lacquered banana leaf credenza is to the right in the vignette.
Best quality furnishings are heirloom pieces: high-end design and timeless. Artisanal touches are present in the form and material of all pieces – from the upholstery details to the textiles to the lighting to the casegoods. Unique fine art can be curated for the space, as can made-to-measure large upholstery pieces – like the sofa. Beautiful surface treatments can be applied to the walls and ceiling, such as full-room wallpaper and a high-gloss painted ceiling
We’ve included a made-to-measure sculptural sofa upholstered in super plush apricot cotton velvet with a fine art oil canvas above, a walnut burl end table accented with a plaster and brass lamp and a textured hand-formed brass coffee table. Two turquoise eclectic European side chairs are divided by a funky bronze side table and accented with cut velvet and embroidered toss pillows with a fun brass and black floor lamp. The very large, hand-tufted wool area rug is in an artisanal pattern. A spiky brass semi-flush light fixture has been added to the painted ceiling, and the walls have been treated in a gorgeous floral-patterned wallpaper.
We know you see a bunch of pretty rooms in magazines and on Pinterest without a lot of context as to who the room belongs to (spoiler alert: most of them belong to celebrities), the architectural detailing and furnishings investments or even how many people it took to get that finished view. The investment provided for our best category is often the starting point for the rooms you see in magazines, with the final tally well exceeding this opening number. Most consumers are often not used to purchasing the entirety of a room in one fell swoop as they would do with a designer.
Each of our clients – their lifestyle, needs and preferences – are unique and that makes for beautifully individual projects. We are experts in design and furnishings, giving great advice on how to allocate resources, offering well-practiced knowledge on where to conserve or splurge. The ultimate goal is for our clients to live in very beautiful, highly functional spaces tailored to them through a process that remains fun every step of the way.