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Why Are Antique Upholstered Sofas & Chairs So Far Superior to Those Made Today

Why Are Antique Upholstered Sofas & Chairs So Far Superior to Those Made Today

Have you ever wondered why it is an antique upholstered sofa or chair will last centuries and those made today are lucky to last 10 years? Read on & you'll get some truthful answers . . . 

  • Almost all antique furniture 100 years or older is made from solid wood - very rarely will you find plywood and 100% you won't find any particle board. When trees were harvested for lumber 100 - 400 years ago it was the old growth trees that were harvested. The older the tree, the tighter the grain & hence the stronger the wood. Today, new growth trees are harvested for furniture making and don't come close to having the same structural integrity
  • Of the different species of wood, some are "hardwoods" and some are "softwoods". How you tell is that hardwoods typically have tighter grain than softwoods. Common hardwoods used in antique furniture are walnut, oak, mahogany and poplar. Common softwood used in antique furniture are pine, spruce and fir. The antique sofa and chair frames are typically made of hardwood - hence the reason the frames remain in tact after hundreds of years of use.
  • Joints connecting the framing members are typically found to be pegged or mortise & tenon joints. The joints were often strengthened by using a Hyde glue to hold the joint together. 
  • The woods used in the exposed sections of the antique sofa or chair (i.e. the part not covered with upholstery) was most often a fine furniture grade wood such as mahogany, rosewood, walnut, oak or maple - all of which are hardwoods.
  • The seat and back upholstery foundations were most often 8 way hand tied coil springs . This is the creme de la creme of seat and back upholstery construction. In today's modern furniture you will find this in only the very best and most expensive furniture. Zigger Spring construction is typically used today which doesn't come close to providing the support one gets in an 8 way hand tied coil spring foundation.
  • Often times you will find mats of horse hair (yes - real horse hair) as the 1st layer of padding to cover the springs. If we're lucky enough to get a piece in that has the original horsehair padding we keep it, clean it and re-use. It is so far superior to the foam used today. Foam will break down after about 10 - 15 years - horsehair will last for centuries. Over the horsehair padding you will typically find cotton batting. New cotton batting can be purchased today & is much preferred over the dacron padding used in most cheap furniture.
  • Lastly comes the upholstery fabric. Antique sofas and chairs that have lasted several centuries have typically been recovered in new upholstery fabric over & over. That is how they get adapted to the modern design trends. This is where you get to add your own touch & tweak its appearance so it fits in your interior design. Unless you have a period piece that has the original upholstery, don't be afraid to change it. 
  • If you purchase an antique upholstered sofa or chair you will likely have to purchase fabric and have it reupholstered. Depending on the piece this could be a few hundred dollars or a few thousand dollars. The thing is, you will end up with a piece that will last your lifetime plus the lifetimes of generations to follow you. Better to make the investment than to keep buying new pieces that loose their pizzaz after only a few years . . . 
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