As a Winnipeg interior decorator, I have done numerous presentations at different venues, but the one I found most rewarding was the one I did last March at the Home Expressions show on Furniture buying 101.  I enjoyed this presentation the most, because I felt there was a need to educate the public on how to tell the difference between poor and good quality furniture.  I am not suggesting that everything in your home should be high quality, all I am concerned about is that you know what your buying, so you can make an informed decision and pay a fair price for what you are getting. So below, please find a check list to follow when you go out to purchase furnishings for your home:

  • good quality wood furniture will be constructed out of either solid hard wood or a plywood that has at least 8 layers to it.
  • Good quality pieces will have very few knots even on areas that are not exposed.  Knots are susceptible to cracking.  For this reason woods such as pine are less desirable.
  • Poor quality furniture is often constructed from thin plywood, fiberboard, particle board, and press board.
  • On wood furniture a good place to tell the quality of construction would be the joints.
  • Good quality furniture will have joints that are screwed, or doweled.  The very best joints are dovetailed, mortise-and tenon.  Re-enforcing block attached at an angle should be used on corners.
  • Indications of poor quality would be joints that are nailed, stapled, or will have visible glue.
  • Good quality furniture frames will sit even level with the floor.  Bad quality furniture will wobble, twist, or creak.
  • Wood on a good quality furniture piece should be reasonably scratch resistant, if it dents easily the furniture will not stand up to much use.  To test this you can try drawing a line on an unexposed area with your fingernail to see if it leaves a visible dent.
  • When it comes to veneers, the construction under the veneer should be either solid wood or a good plywood.  But veneers are limited to the number of times they can be refinished.
  • When it comes to wood furniture such as a chest of drawers or a desk, very good quality pieces will have thin sheets of wood (often known as dust panels) between drawers.  These panels not only act to protect contents, but they also improve upon the structures strength.
  • Good quality pieces will have drawers that open and close easily on metal glide rails and have stops to prevent them from being pulled out too far.  The very best drawers will have bottoms that float in a groove and will not be affixed to the sides.  This allows for expansion and contraction due to changes in humidity.  It also provides extra strength.
  • Wood on wood sliding drawers are usually an indication of poor quality
  • It can be more difficult to tell quality upholstered furniture, because its frame is often concealed by fabric.  But here is what you can do, when you go to a retail location the sales person should be able to tell you all the information about the product right away.  If they can not easily provide this information, or they hesitate do not buy from them, move on to another location.  The sales person should have good product knowledge. They should be able to provide some sort of a spec sheet.  Personally, if any client asks the quality of any of my furnishings I am able to tell them immediately about the construction.
  • Be careful with names.  There is a trend right now in the furniture industry to name poor quality products with similar names to high end names.  So watch out for this.
  • Find out what the density of the foam is. Upholstered furniture should have a seat foam density rating of at least 1.8 pounds or higher.  If the chair or sofa has removable seat cushions, unzip them and take a look inside.  The foam block should be wrapped in fiber.  Very high end ones will probably have a protective inner cover.  Removable back cushions could be made of foam, but will probably be loose fill.  Loose fill cushions should have multiple internal compartments.  These internal compartments stop the fill from settling.
  • Eight way hand tied coil springs indicate very high quality, but are rarely found now a days.  Coil, cone, sinuous, and grid springs can all work well.  The best thing to do is to sit in various spots to see whether you sink or tip.  In cases where the seat cushions are removable press down on the deck underneath.  There should be even spacing and resistance to pressure.  Any spring system that is more than a few inches apart indicates a poorly constructed piece.
  • Very high end manufactures will self deck their upholstered furniture. Self decking occurs when the same fabric is used through out.  For example the same fabric used on the top of the seat cushion will be on underneath the part of the chair where the cushion sits. If the pieces are not self decked the fabric used under the cushion should be of the same color family as the furniture piece.  Leather typically will not be self decked to prevent the seat cushions from moving around.

I have included some pictures of the build of one the chairs from the Inclusive Design House signature line to illustrate a quality furniture construction.

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This is a corner block from one of my chairs. Note it is screwed, glued, and stapled with 2″ staples. It is constructed of solid birch with virtually no knots.

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The back of one of my chairs. Notice the even distribution of springs. How the springs are covered in duon to prevent the foam from pushing through.

I hope this check list helps you the next time you go out to purchase furnishings for your home to make an informed buying decision.

Sherri Cowlthorp

Your Winnipeg Interior Decorator, Inclusive Design Group, providing professional interior design and decorating solutions.



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"Dear Sherri, Thank you so much for all your hard work. We were thrilled with the results and now hope to sit down with the architect to finalize the house plans."

- Irene and Dan Tapley

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