Whether a higher-end designer or not, it would surprise me if you haven’t heard a client or person ask the question “can’t we get exactly the same look with less expensive furniture?” It seems even the most discerning and sophisticated clients occasionally ask the question.
The answer is obviously, yes, you can get what seems to be a similar look. But in reality? The answer is no. You can’t get exactly the same look. Extraordinary quality furniture has an air about it. Like the well-appointed man or woman who walks into a room, and suddenly the room falls silent, when all eyes turn to look.
Beautifully appointed furniture has this same effect. It goes way beyond just seeing a majestic piece of furniture. It evokes a visceral experience that stays with you. It transcends costs, as does any artistic masterpiece.
To that point, I found two short entertaining video clips when Katharine Hepburn was on the Dick Cavett Show many years ago. It was originally posted on a blog tribute to the mid-century modern movement.
If you can’t watch, here’s a partial quote of what Katharine Hepburn said–“When you do thrilling material, it’s like buying a piece of furniture that’s really good. When you buy it and it’s great, you get enormous pleasure out of seeing it, and you never remember how much it costs. That’s the one thing you really forget.”
It’s true. After years of enjoyment, the cost is long forgotten. When buying great furniture, quality matters. Not only to assure it will hold up over time, but also because the way it is constructed is in part what creates its stunning beauty. Even the most fabulous designs can be diminished by poor quality construction and materials.
Here’s a list of 10 things to look for when assessing quality in high-end furniture:
- Handcraftsmanship— First, look to see if it is handcrafted. Most furniture is mass-produced in China or another foreign country using cheap labor and less expensive materials that won’t wear as well. On the contrary, the best quality furniture is handcrafted by artisans who are experts in their craft. They have both the eye and the hand to create exceptional quality and beauty. What’s handcrafted on the inside, shines through on the outside. Because it is handcrafted, it can also be customized so it’s a perfect fit for your needs. Plus, you know it’s been ethically produced.
- Frame construction—The framing construction methods and materials utilized in a handcrafted piece give it strength. Real wood or high quality steel and metal cut to perfection is best. The highest quality furniture lines will use five quarter Alder which is an inch and a quarter vs. one-inch wood cuts. It gives the frame 25% more strength. Avoid particle board.
- Joint construction—It’s the main determinant of quality furniture. Look for double-dowels (wooden pegs slotted into two opposing holes) for joint strength. Or, the old-world mortise & tenon technique (narrowed end of one piece inserted into a hole in the other). Some screws for extra strength are also good. Metal bracing will assure the arms are stable enough for normal wear, like sitting on them, or pushing up on them to stand.
- Lifetime warranty on the frame–The highest quality luxury brands will guarantee their frames for the life of the piece.
- Springing—There’s nothing like the performance of sinuous steel springs. They never break. They will never sag on seating. You’ll also come across “eight-way hand-tied coil springs” which are also highly regarded. Stay away from strapping for seats. They will naturally sag after a few years as fabric stretches with age.
- Foam—It plays a huge role in the quality and comfort of the upholstered piece. We use a super high quality density rated 2.5 lb. foam. That means every cubic foot weighs 2.5 pounds. The cell walls are thicker and it has a smooth rubbery feel to it, in contrast to lower quality 1.8 lb. foam that has a crunchier feel. The higher density foam will last 4 to 5 times longer than the lower quality 1.8 pound foam. It will hold its shape better and is infinitely more comfortable.
- Poly-wrap over the foam—Then there’s always a wrap that goes over the foam in quality furniture. We prefer Dacron poly or a proprietary material that maintains its loft better than down. This is what gives the piece its rounded alive look and adds to its proportion. We also pad the arms on the inside and the top so you don’t feel the wood underneath and so that the arms are surrounded with softness. We can’t emphasize enough how much the padding used on every part of the piece matters to quality design.
VIOSKI Palms Chair, although thin lines, has super dense 61 ILD or greater wrap for arms offering maximum comfort.
- Upholstery—High quality fabrics are a big factor in how a piece looks and wears. This is where individual taste comes into play. Make sure the fabric you select comes from a high-end resource. Pay attention to the way it feels, how it stretches, if you can easily snag it or if it is easy to clean. When fabric repeats, quality manufacturers spend an inordinate amount of time making sure it lines up correctly across the entire piece, around every corner and in every seam.
- Seams and top-stitching—High-end furniture makers will use top-stitching or French stitching for super strong seams. Bonded nylon thread is the strongest out there. We also sew seams twice if we can’t top stitch. Look closely to see if the piece has top stitching and if the seams and lines are perfectly aligned. This is a sign of high quality.
- Surface wood—we use solid wood whenever possible. We like the fact that wood is a renewable sustainably managed resource. Beyond that, it’s beautiful. Solid walnut is a favorite. We also use solid walnut in our legs. There are times when we must use a high-quality veneer to fulfill our designs, but our preference is definitely solid wood. Whether the piece is solid wood or high-quality veneer, how it is cut, shaped, fitted, matched for grain is something you may not see right away, but it gives the piece its integrity. This is where the talented hands of skilled artisans really show up.
When you look for these components in high-end furniture construction you won’t be disappointed. Even Katharine Hepburn would have approved.
VIOSKI is an experience of artistic expression brought to life in timeless modern furniture design. Each piece is masterfully created to be simple yet complex. Its workmanship is unsurpassed. With over 150 years of combined experience in handcraftsmanship in California, each piece is meticulously crafted by skilled and dedicated artisans.