How much does a sofa cost? What makes this sofa better than that one? Why does it cost more?
These are questions I hear from my clients all the time. It’s confusing for consumers when it’s time to purchase new furniture. Not only do they have to pick a frame style and size, but then the covering fabric options can be almost limitless. Add to that the seating options – firm, soft, polyester, latex, feathers, down. It can become really daunting.
Firstly the Frame:
It’s really important, when considering sustainability and health, to go with a solid kiln-dried hardwood frame. There are a lot of other choices out on the market today, including solid plastic frames, but none has stood the test of time like hardwood. Furniture in museums from hundreds of years ago was built with hardwood frames. A hardwood frame will allow you to have the piece re-upholstered when the fabric wears out. Plastic or MDF frames do not have this option.
For both health and sustainability, latex and feathers/down are the best options. Low quality polyester foam is extremely hazardous in terms of flammability and toxic fumes when in a fire. It also off-gasses toxic fumes for years when new. These fumes have been linked to various cancers, especially Breast cancer, and may also cause endocrine disruptions to you and future generations. Latex and high quality soy foam, feathers/down as well as wool, cotton and kapok are natural materials and are safer for you and your family.
A typical sofa requires 20 yards of covering fabric, 20 yards of lining, 15 yards of muslin and 10 yards of burlap. That’s over 65 yards of fabric! The lining, cushioning, muslin and burlap are normally natural fabrics but the covering fabric can be anything. The healthiest options are definitely the natural fabrics such as hemp, linen, wool, cotton and silk, listed in order of strength of the fabric fibre. All of these natural fibres also wick away moisture, regulate body heat, are durable and beautiful, and will decompose in the landfill, unlike synthetic fibres such as polyester and acrylic. Both polyester and acrylic fibres, while they may have a lot of strength, can off-gas for many years. Toxic monomer molecules may be trapped between the fibres that, even in very small quantities, are highly toxic when absorbed into the skin during contact.
Manufacture: Local vs. Big Brand name
Canadian custom-made sofa manufacturers produce limited amounts of furniture in a craftsman-like way, where every piece of wood in the frame, every piece of fabric which is cut to cover the sofa has YOUR name on it. It’s made for you, and customized for you, using top quality materials and employing people locally. Yes, it’s going to cost more money than furniture from a big-box store which often comes from the tropics where the wood, foam and fabrics may have questionable origins and where the labour force may not make a living wage.
Is it worth it? Well, that all depends on your budget and priorities. If your budget is very small, then often the cheap and cheerful Ikea piece may be your only option, and that is perfectly fine. We ALL started with Ikea, I’m sure. But if you are looking for excellent quality, investment pieces that will last you a lifetime, and last through many children and grand-children jumping all over it, custom-made is the way to go. A custom sofa can be nearly the same price as a production one because it all depends on the fabric, but you normally need to consider spending twice to three times as much and also whether you are at a stage in your life that you can afford and appreciate it. A warning though: ask lots of questions about where your sofa is coming from and what the frame actually is. In recent years, due to the tough economic climate, some Big Brand manufacturers have converted to offshore production and plastic frames, but have kept the high prices as if they were still custom manufacturing. In this case, you’re only paying for the big name. Remember, a plastic frame can never be re-upholstered. This is where a qualified professional – interior designer or decorator can prove invaluable – navigating you through your many choices so you end up with a quality piece of furniture that fits your space, your style and your budget and can be healthier too!