The ridiculous number of options for a leather Chesterfield couch or a sofa (same thing) makes it hard to even start understanding the one of good quality from its look-alike copy. A good old leather Chesterfield sofa is like any classic beauty. If it is styled right it is charming and has tons of personality. It remains stubbornly attractive and even gets more beautiful with age.
First leather Chesterfield appeared in the 18th century in England and then shortly became associated with cigar clubs. Since that time it entered homes, numerous movie sets, famous commercials and finally – our homes. You can style it to look masculine or naughty, quirky, boho, mid-century modern, soft and feminine, vintage, industrial or anything in between.
Note: Make sure you don’t miss my next post How to Get Naughty or Nice with a Chesterfield Sofa. 15 Styling Ideas with Your Chesterfield
What if I don’t want to buy an expensive leather Chesterfield Sofa?
The quality of a visually similar leather Chesterfield couch can be different. The truth is that not everyone wants to break the bank to get the top quality piece. Some people prefer their furniture to last for generations. Others want to enjoy it for some time and then move to new environments. If you need it to last for a couple of years there is no reason to spend many thousands. You might go for a decent looking replica and not worry about the frame, springs, leather and detailing.
Because I strongly believe that you still need to have enough information so that you know where to compromise here comes this post. Even a couple of hundred bucks is hard worked money. On the other hand, if you want your Chesterfield to last, pay attention to make sure you understand all the components of a good quality couch.
Here below I spill all the beans to help you decide what is important to you when you choose your Chesterfield.
What defines a Leather Chesterfield Sofa?3 Main Features of any Chesterfield Sofa:
- Back and scrolled arms are the same height
- Rolled arms
- Deep-set buttoning
How to tell good quality Chesterfield from bad quality, Chesterfield?
For someone who doesn’t buy a Chesterfield every day a high-end Chesterfield couch looks very similar to an inexpensive copy. So, what’s the difference?
Apparently, many low price Chesterfields are imported from cheap second-rate overseas sources and then they are sold under another manufacturers’ brand. For example, a piece consisting of several parts has been put together in the UK but actually built in China. As a result, the look might be similar but it is made differently. The materials are cheaper, the workers are less experienced as they are trained within hours. They take shortcuts and don’t take ownership of the final product.
5 Main Components of a Leather Chesterfield Sofa
- Frame Construction
- Cushion Type
- Suspension System- Springs
- Leather Quality
- Detailing- Studs and Buttons
A sofa’s frame is a skeleton, bones that keep the piece and give you support you need. Therefore, it is crucial that the frame is strong so that your sofa can keep its shape.
A good frame is made with a solid timber — seasoned beech hardwood is the ideal choice for a Chesterfield because its straight grain contributes to the desired strength. A frame should have chunky rails that are robust enough to stand up years of use. Doweled joints are screw-fixed corner blocks for added support.
A bad frame is built with mixed timbers, cheap chipboard panels. Rails are not thick enough to keep the sofa together. With this inferior timber strength and skimping on thickness, the frame will not have the same overall strength.
Glue and dowelled, screwed joints
A good frame construction has a very strong glue that holds pieces together, combined with pegs (dowels) and then the corners are screwed to the frame.
A bad frame built with mixed timbers, cheap chipboard panels, rails that are barely keeping the sofa together. With this inferior timber strength and skimping on thickness, the frame will squeak, move and fail much sooner than a quality Chesterfield.
Tip: ask your store how the frame is made. Do they use pine timber for the frame? How do they go about corner joinery? Do they use dowels, glue, and screws?
2. Cushion Types
Cushion filling determines both the look and the comfort level. Obviously, comfort is a different thing for each person and only you can decide what feels good and comfy. There are many types of cushions and each manufacturer defines their own but I am focussing on the three main types that are commonly used.
- High resiliency foam cushion
- Spring down cushion
- Down plush or blend down cushion
Choose High Resiliency foam if you want a firmer cushion.
What is High-Resiliency foam?
A good cushion and filling always consist of high resiliency foam where the frame of the sofa should never be detectable under the foam. Your foam should be 1.8 pounds or higher. Don’t go for anything lower than that because then you will have a sagging cushion in no time. Its a common myth that the higher the density the firmer the cushion. This is not true. You can have high-density cushions of any firmness. Your foam cushion is constructed of a high-density foam core covered by a softer layer of convoluted foam, and then a polyester fiber wrap (DACRON) Choose this type of cushion if you want a very firm seat.
A bad cushioning is made with the bad quality of the material. For example, less foam padding or minimal density foam will compress with time losing its ability to return to its shape, which will affect the comfort level and alter the look of your couch.
Choose Spring Down cushions for a softer feel.
The second cushion choice is usually called spring down. It is the second-softest cushion and is made with a core of coiled springs, which is surrounded by a foam box. Then the cushion is fitted into a down-proof cover filled with a blend of down and polyester fiber. The springs provide a resilient feel, and the little bit of down adds a little softness. Some upholstery professionals don’t like this cushion type because they believe that putting metal springs directly in your cushion will result in poking through the cushion sooner or later. I personally did not have anyone who uses this type of cushions complain about the springs going loose.
Down Plush or Blend Down for the softest cushion
If you want that sink-in, soft seat, ask for down plush or blend down cushions. Of course, it’s the most expensive choice but hey, you don’t buy that sofa every day. It is constructed with a thinner foam core that’s wrapped in a thick layer of polyester fiber. Then it is wrapped in a much thicker layer of a down and poly-fiber blend. Because of its relatively thin foam core and a greater proportion of down, it feels very soft.
Tip: resilient foam can be hard or soft. Ask for at least 1.8 density foam for your cushions. If you choose down plush or blend make sure that the cushions are wrapped in special ticking fabric so that down and feathers don’t escape.
3. Suspension Systems- Springs
Does it have to be an 8-ways springs suspension on my Chesterfield sofa? No, not always. It depends on the style of your Chesterfield.
A good suspension system -regardless if it is a legendary 8-way or sinuous suspension system – is made with high-grade materials and it is chosen to be fit for a specific sofa style. There are different types of Chesterfield sofas, and it requires an expert craftsperson to figure out what type of system will work best. Additionally, a quality sofa will have the right amount of springs for support and longevity.
A bad suspension system is made with budget materials and installed with less expertise. A mass produced piece is likely to have fewer springs.
8-way-springs is a suspension system where the coils are first affixed to webbing that is attached to the frame and then they are hand tied to the frame and to each other. The springs are laid out in rows and then each side of the spring is tied in both the up and down and side to side directions. This gives 4 knots per spring. 8-way tying means hand tying all the springs again but on the diagonals this time so that each spring has 8 equidistant knots around its circumference. Utilizing this system gives each seat great strength as well as the fluidity of movement.
What is Drop-in Coil Springs?
Drop-in Coil Springs consists of coils mounted on a metal frame, which is then added to the furniture as a single piece. This can offer some of the support of true eight-way hand tied springs while cutting down on labor costs. Many drop-in coil springs are not supported on the bottom by anything but rather just screwed into the sides of the frame so it will start to sag before a true eight-way hand tied unit will. Secondly, there is a lot of metal to metal contact with this option, which can lead to squeaking at some point.
Tip: ask your salesperson if they are using a drop-in coil springs system. Ask them how the drop in springs unit is attached to the frame. If it is only in the corners – no good, the springs have to be attached to the frame completely.
Sinuous Springs Suspension
Sinuous springs with silent wire
Some styles of leather Chesterfield sofas require a sinuous springs suspension rather than an 8-way.
So, what is it? Large zig-zag metal pieces are set in rows several inches apart and running perpendicular to the front of the sofa. I know many people in the industry that say that sinuous springs don’t last as long as eight-way hand tied. This might or might not be true depending on the quality of workmanship and metal gauge. The wire should be at least 8-gauge and it should with silent-tie wires running across or at least properly knotted twine. Sinuous springs with many smaller turns are more ideal than those with a larger “S” curve. Because sinuous springs are much quicker to install than eight-way hand tied, your price should be lower.
Tip: ask if the metal used in sinuous springs is heavy gauge. It should be at least 8-gauge. How is it attached to the frame? How are the zig-zag sinuous springs connected? Is there a silent wire connecting them? If not, is there a twine connecting them?
4. Leather for your Chesterfield Sofa
For better quality leather choose premium full hide top grain, and not split or imitation leather.
What is top grain leather?
As you can see from the diagram above a cowhide goes through the separation process as it is cut into Top cut- top grain and Bottom cut-split. You are looking for Top grain for your Chesterfield as it is much stronger and looks and feels great.
Check out these leather samples and descriptions:
All of the above leather samples are good quality, aniline dyed top grain.
A bad imitation or offcut leather is usually evident if you see no natural imperfections in the hide or if there is a repeated embossed pattern. Unfortunately, some antiquing effects that are applied to the leather of mass-produced sofas are sprayed on and will rub off really quickly. There are also poor-quality Chesterfields that are listed as being upholstered with real leather but in fact, only certain parts of the sofa are covered in real leather. Very often, the leather on the arms, back, and cushions will be real, while the less obvious parts, such as the outback and underarms, are vinyl.
In addition, some cheap sofas can use offcuts from different hides stitched together — known as demic. Please avoid this type because the stitching can come loose and leave holes in your sofa.
Craftmanship and the process of applying leather will determine the look of your Chesterfield sofa. The leather should be hand-tacked by a skilled craftsperson so that it is secured to the frame evenly and looks smooth.
Tip: ask if the leather is top cut or split. Is it bonded leather or imitation? What is the dying process?
5. Detailing. It’s all in the details, baby!
Good detailing on a Chesterfield sofa is what makes it. It is like a real Chanel bag compared to a Canal Street version. A real one has deep buttoning, and hand hammered studs. The craft is passed from generation to generation while a mass produced imitation aims to cut corners wherever possible to achieve fast production.
Deep-buttoning is one of the key features of a Chesterfield sofa — not only does it define its style, but it gives the sofa much of its shape. It is sort of an art form because each button must be positioned precisely while pressure is applied to hold the pleats in place. Then the buttons are affixed against the sofa’s frame to make sure they stay in place for good.
Tip: avoid shallow buttoning and creases of leather. Demand deep buttoning where every button is attached to the frame. See image on the left above.
Putting studs in place
Good studding has a hand process where studs are tacked individually through the upholstery and into the frame. This way, the craftsperson can be absolutely positive that each stud will remain securely in place. Hand process also opens up an opportunity for more intricate patterns.
A bad detailing is when strip studding is used, that is when only one in every few studs on a strip of material is hammered into the frame. The studs in-between are completely loose and can easily fall out with time. Strip studs also offer less flexibility narrowing your design options.
Tip: ask if the studs are applied by hand or on a strip. Avoid the studding where not all the studs are secured to the frame.
If you are in the market for a leather Chesterfield, please tell me what features are the most important to you and I will try to help by recommending a manufacturer that matches your preferences. Please ask about a one-on-one consultation with me and I will be happy to help you. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org