The furniture industry says 7-15 years is the average lifespan of a sofa. Superior quality upholstery will last 25-35 years. What’s the difference? Why would you spend up to $20,000 for a sofa or couch?
This questioning started with a casual discussion with a client about price. Why did the sofa he liked cost almost $10,000. He sat in all the sofas he liked and it took hours to determine the final one he loved. We started talking about materials and design and construction. After we were done, he understood the cost involved and the value. He then shared his story about buying saddles. Mark volunteered that you can’t buy a saddle of any worth for under $5500 and it only seats one person. We all laughed. But it got me to thinking that people don’t know about the why of furniture value and the costs involved.
Very few people ask about the quality, performance or design of a sofa. The big question asked every day is why is it so expensive. It starts with the quality of materials and craftsmanship, quality is something that endures. The ‘test of time’ is something that is important that I can speak to. I have been collecting data from our clients by way of anecdotal and repairs needed over the past three decades. What works, what doesn’t. Long after you have purchased a sofa, how does it perform, that is the question.
Materials are better quality starting with the wood frame. The better the wood the longer it lasts. Woods are graded according to density of grain: you have softwoods and hardwoods. Hardwoods are best for furniture frames. High-end furniture uses kiln-dried oak, ash and maple woods. An added cost to these hardwoods would be that they are sustainably sourced from managed forests.
What is a managed forest? It is a sustainable forest in which at least one tree is planted for every tree felled. Which is a huge commitment to the world because millions of trees are planted in this program.
Quality of Construction
Construction of superior quality furniture entails highest level of craftsmanship working with the highest caliber of materials: thicker wood, mortise and tenon joinery, dowels, and screws and blocks and glue along with a highly skilled craftsman to pull it all together. High-end furniture makers will have a lifetime warranty on the frames, they are built to last.
True 8-way Hand Tied Foundation
Each individual coiled steel spring is tied 8 ways to the wood frame upon which the cushion is then placed. The craftsmanship is essential to the longevity of the piece of furniture, yet you cannot see it. This is how fine furniture was made for royalty for centuries: documentation suggests since the 1700s. The repair and maintenance is minimal.
Like anything skill in life, the longer you do it, the better you get. The upholstery craftspeople are highly sought after due to their individual expert skills and what they bring to the product. As this is the case, many have 15-25 years in the industry and they are highly compensated. A single piece of furniture can take up to 80 hours of one person’s time due to the exactness, and skill required to finish their part of the sofa.
Upholstery and sewing skill is another cost in building a sofa. Smooth seams, impeccably straight welting, snug fit all require a high skill level of craftsmanship. High-end, custom sofas may involve highly skilled intricate sewing techniques that take far longer to complete.
Hailing from France dating to 1500s the French country look made the use of nail heads as a decorative element very fashionable and a must have! With a nod to history, the appeal of nail heads in English furnishings as well as French has been in use for centuries. Some folks mistakenly think its “western furniture” that put the nail heads on the map, but it was the French. Studded lines of nail heads has never failed in the world of interior design, they are the darling of design. The person who applies the nail heads is precision driven and each nail is applied by hand and then hammered in place. It’s a laborious and painstaking task of skill.
Covers refers to the material used in the covering of the sofa. Just as in bespoke fashion, suits can be made of materials that cost upwards of $500 – $1500 a yard. I refer to these fabrics as “spun gold” and will cost more than most leathers. These fabrics are beautiful and offer a softer look than leathers.
Leather is the workhorse of the longevity of any sofa. The exclusive, high-end top grain, aniline dyed leathers account for 5% of the world leather usage. Handmade shoes and handbags are the primary users, as well as, a small elite higher-end consumer of furnishings.
The density rating of the foam is very important to the longevity of “seat” of the sofa. Custom sofas have higher density as well as blend/down sewn to the top of the foam with a special “ticking” fabric to prevent the feathers from escaping. Another longevity but additional cost is inserting coil springs into the foam which provides longer support and prevent the wear and tear from happening for many many years: spring/down coil innerspring cushions. On high-end sofas, the down feathers will be “channel” sewn to ensure even wearability and won’t sag into one location.
The finest furniture uses Marshall springs in the seat or the back of the sofa where the cushion sits. These are carefully engineered, high carbon wire springs tensioned for years of use. They prevent the sagging and wear and tear of the cushions.
Why go to a store vs online furniture purchasing. For high-end furniture buyers, the experience and guidance of designers helps to eliminate making a costly mistake that will last for years. Seeing, touching and sitting on furniture is essential to making a correct fit that will last for decades. The process of purchasing should be educational and emotional. Chills should run down your spine.
The reputation of the store is very important to the purchase of any quality piece of furniture. It takes years and years of training to be qualified in the furnishings industry. High-end stores have vetted, talented, experienced designers to help guide you, and they will help shape a plan for a vision of your future interiors. You have a design guide to help navigate and assist you in correctly purchasing the right sofa for you. The length of time the store has been in business say a lot about their reputation.
When you walk into a store, how do you feel? Does it smell good, are people smiling, Are they enjoying what they are doing? Have you been greeted? Do you allow them to put you at ease? Do you like what you see? Did you check them out on line before going in? Is it all about pricing for you? Check out the reviews.
Have you purchased exclusive high-end brands: Rolex, BMW, Lexus, Range Rover…..not a lot of furniture on the list is there? Maybe you’ve heard of Brabbu, Roche Bobois, Cantoni or more exclusive designer-oriented brands like Fendi, Armani or Boca do Lobo. Each one has their own brand look and are style makers. You shop them because of their status, uniqueness and ability to have a style brand you align with. It’s very appealing to know if it is a limited series of watches or cars or furnishings. You have one of a very exclusive brand items. It’s not just a purchase, it’s a statement of who you are.
To sum up how a sofa can cost $25,000, it’s not just the price but the statement, the design, the performance and the value of it years down the line. Quality designed and superior crafted pieces are timeless in design and used actively for decades+. If you do the math, it’s $1000 a year for amazing, limited edition and bragging rights. AND you do sit on this longer and keep it longer than most car purchases. High-end custom furniture is a great investment.