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A sofa is one of the biggest furniture investments you'll make — and one of the most permanent. Even if you're just buying one for a temporary fix, it'll eventually get demoted from the living room to the family room to the basement and, finally, the dorm. Before you know it, a decade or more has passed, and that impulse purchase has become part of your life. So give some thought to it before you buy.
Quality sofas should feel solid and heavy. Flop around on one to test its sturdiness, then lift it up by the corner and shake it a bit. If it feels light or wobbly, take a pass. Look for a frame made from a kiln-dried hardwood such as oak, alder, birch, maple or, alternatively, high-quality hardwood plywood or marine plywood. Eight-way, hand-tied springs are a hallmark of fine furniture, but sinuous S-shaped springs can provide nearly as much comfort. Drop-in coil springs are a less costly alternative.
Most cushions have a core of polyurethane foam; the denser the foam, the heavier it is and the longer it will last. In the cheapest furniture, the cushion is filled with just the polyurethane foam core. In better furniture the core is wrapped with Dacron batting. Higher-quality options include poly-down cushions, which have down mixed with the batting; spring-down cushions, which feature a core of springs surrounded by foam and feathers; and all down, which is all feathers (and all work, so avoid this unless you have servants).
The best sofas have joints that are double doweled and fitted with corner blocks that are both glued and screwed (not stapled) into place. Quality pieces have legs that are part of the frame, not just attached to it (although removable feet do make it easier to get items through doorways).
Buy the best-quality sofa that you can afford. Your purchase will be amortized over many years. Plus, it's usually cheaper to reupholster a good sofa than to buy a new one of comparable quality.
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