One of the most important jobs of an interior designer is educating our clients on the value of buying good quality furnishings. Just like anything else in this world—“you get what you pay for.” Some close analogies would be buying a good mattress or a good pair of shoes. Both of these will affect your long-term well-being and your wallet, just as buying well-made furniture will… but more on that later.
To digress a bit, we recently attended an informational seminar at one of our leading manufactures, Chaddock Home. We have attended other factory tours and plants in the past, but this experience summed up and confirmed everything we have always believed since entering the design world in the 80’s. There is a lot of value added in the manufacturing process when buying well-made (bench-made) furniture. What sets Chaddock apart from other high-end manufactures starts at the top with their executive team. While their new CEO is younger than my youngest child, (gulp) he is energized, fresh, and genuinely devoted to making his company an absolute icon in the furniture industry
Chaddock Home has implemented new branding comprised of the 3 “C”s:
They have also incorporated a “value added” system similar to what the Japanese created for Toyoto, “The 5 “S”s:
SORT = remove clutter
STRAIGHTEN = organize the workspace
SHINE = keep the work environment clean
STANDARD = set a high level work standard and maintain it
SUSTAIN = continually monitor the system to ensure the highest level of efficiency is maintained
In putting these philosophies into action, Chaddock is able to make their processes leaner—which in turn passes on savings to the end user. Most furniture manufactures try to “forecast” what products will be in the highest demand and then they create an inventory of those items. The problem with this method is with all the options for finishes and fabrics in the furniture world, trying to guess what the general public will want is like shooting at a target blindfolded. Thus they end up with items that don’t get purchased and lose money on these products when they have to discount them to remove from their inventory. This inefficient process also takes up space and has a negative impact on the company’s bottom line—a cost that is then passed along to the end user.
Chaddock, on the other hand, makes their furniture “to order.” They are able to do this because they have implemented the “5-S’s”—creating efficiency! Ok, at this point you’re wondering what this all has to do with buying quality furniture? Well it has everything to do with it! If we understand the process, we realize high-end furniture companies aren’t assembly line factories. Each piece ordered is hand crafted, often by one person or a team of two to three craftspeople. These crafts people take ownership and pride themselves on producing exceptional quality.
So back to the mattress and shoe analogies... We spend one third of our life in bed, the other two thirds are either spent on our feet or on our bums. We have heard repeatedly the importance of a good mattress and good shoes, not only for our comfort, but for our physical well-being. The same can be said for fine quality furniture, especially upholstery! And upholstery is the one category that can be easily disguised by an attractive fabric. With upholstery, what matters MOST is what is under the cover, THAT is what will determine the life of the sofa or chair and also your comfort during its lifespan.
To thoroughly understand the differences in furniture construction, you would actually need to take a course, but let’s focus on the key factors.
Frames & Wood Types: High-end manufactures use kiln dried 1” hardwoods. Cheaper furniture can be built with thinner plywood with voids and holes, MDF, scrap lumber and yes, I’ve even seen dense cardboard frames!
Joints: High-end companies use various joints for different applications. Those include mortise and tenon or other interlocking joints for crucial areas, corner blocks that are doweled and then screwed and glued. Big box stores might have corner blocks at their joints, but often they are just glued, stapled or maybe screwed, but never doweled, or interlocked. Over time these joints will become loose and the frame will start to squeak and eventually wobble.
Spring Systems & Cushion Cores: Another huge factor! High-end manufactures either use 8-way handtied spring coils of a high gage steel for most products or a tightly gaged sinuous spring for upholstery with low profiles (as there isn’t room for the coils used in 8-way hand tied.) The key here is the gage of the sinuous spring! A sinuous spring resembles a snake or a winding road. The closer and tighter the curves, the stronger the spring and therefore, the better the support. Low-end manufactures exclusively use sinuous springs, but the difference is the gage and tension! Their springs have wide, spread out turns, so fewer turns, and are a thinner gage. They might feel decent at first, but over time, they do not possess the strength to last and begin to sag. It’s simple physics.
Cushions: A sofa can be built to last, but when lousy cushions are put on it, it won’t feel comfortable. Predominately low-end furniture companies use a poly-dacron and foam core cushion. These are ok, but generally feel hard at first, and then breakdown/shift over time. High-end manufactures use cushions that are comprised of several layers and offer options for different comfort levels. The central core is a coil spring unit, sometimes referred to as a Marshall coil system.
The difference between a standard Marshall coil system and the coil unit used by Chaddock Home is how it’s held together. In a Marshall coil unit, the springs are glued together. This is a good unit, but over time, the coils will break apart. Chaddock uses a core made up of coils that are hooked together and will not separate over time. Optional outer layers are memory foam, down wraps, fiber wraps or a combination, and the outer layers are channeled to prevent shifting. Low-end manufactures do not give you any of these options. Middle grade furniture lines often give you an option between poly-dacron and down, but if you ever wonder why their down cushions make a crackling sound when you sit, it’s because they use cheaper feathers with larger spines which crack/break when you sit on them. Chaddock uses only smaller feathers for a quieter and softer feel.
Now, if you are still with me, some insight on case goods!
Case goods consist of tables, cabinets, chests and dining chairs. When considering the quality of joint construction, basically the same principles for upholstery apply to case goods as well. The main addition is drawer joints. High-end manufactures will use the dove tail joint while cheaper companies just glue or staple theirs.
Again, in a high-end manufacturing facility such as Chaddock Home, the individual case piece is bench-made by one crafts person, up to a team of three. This ensures each step is done meticulously with attention to detail and consistency. These artisans have been well trained and most are longtime, happy employees. There are zero assembly lines in a high-end furniture factory.
Quality manufacturers like Chaddock also offer an abundance of finish options for wood tone, sheen level, gold or silver leaf pin striping, and distressing levels, all to make the piece as custom and to your preference as possible. The finishing process can be anywhere from 12-27 steps, depending on the desired end effect.
By contrast, assembly line furniture has one coat of stain “sprayed” on by machines and one coat of clear coat. With bench-made furniture, the distressing levels are all done by skilled crafts people to emulate the character and patina that furniture acquires as it ages. The bulk of cheaper case goods are made in China in factories with assembly lines, low paid and under trained workers who lack pride in their work. If distressing is required, a machine will slap a few chain marks across the surface leaving a very definite, repetitive pattern which looks contrived and unnatural. This is largely what fills our big box stores, but it does serve a purpose for some.
If you are just starting out in your first home or on a low budget, these can be great options, but just know, they will not last and will need to be replaced with quality furniture down the road. We like to refer to these as “disposable furniture.” You will not be passing any of this big box stuff down to your children or grandchildren. You will also be filling our landfills (guilt trip intended.)
Just remember, you may save a lot of money now by going with cheaper options, but over time you will be spending much more if you don’t INVEST in quality furniture that will last for generations. To summarize, you do in fact “get what you pay for!”