Loose or unattached cushions are less susceptible to torn seams.

How to Choose a Sturdy Sofa

by Lorna Hordos

Its seat will double as a trampoline, its back and arms, hills to climb, and any removable cushions, a makeshift tent, so your new sofa should be all-around sturdy. Owning a durable sofa or couch that can withstand your kids' bursts of energy saves you money on costly repairs or replacements. Choose one by looking to the upholstery, stitching, foam and frame, which hold signs of structural durability.

1. Upholstery

Feel it, sit on it, push at it, pull on it and then, if it feels too precious or delicate, walk away from it in search of a sofa with hardier upholstery. Leather is ultra durable, becomes more rustic, comfy and supple with wear, and can be wiped clean as needed -- inquire about or barter for a leather-conditioner. Hard-wearing upholstery fabrics include heavyweight or commercial-grade, tightly woven linen, acrylic, olefin, polyester or nylon. Choose upholstery that goes with your decor and lifestyle -- a dark-colored and visually busy woven pattern, such as paisley, plaid or ikat hides dirt, spills and grime, and resists fading better than a light-colored solid or printed fabric. Ask the retailer if the fabric-covered couch that you want has had a stain-resistant treatment applied.

2. Stitching

Straight stitching or piping is a sign of quality workmanship; if a sofa’s seams wander like a snake, it's likely an overall poor-quality piece. Pull at the seams along the back of the seat and sides of the arms -- where kids often climb. If the stitching stays taut, that is a sign of quality upholstering, but if they spread apart, they may break with boisterous or family-style use. Inquire about sofas with reinforced seams.

3. Foam Seat Cushions

Zippered cushions allow you to remove the covers easily for cleaning, replacing foam when needed, and to have a peek inside before you buy. If there are no zippers, it’s possible the manufacturer does not want you to see what’s in there. Unzip sofa cushions to look for foam wrapped in muslin or down, and then in cotton batting as a sign of superior quality. Ask the retailer if it offers free foam replacement within a specified timeframe.

4. Frame

Short, stocky sofa legs that are part of the frame hold up better than longer, thinner legs attached with bolts. A no-legs sofa may be the best choice, especially if your kids are naturally energetic or rambunctious. Pass up couches with bare-wood or metal arms in favor of padded arms to avoid bonked heads. Look for a frame held together with corner blocks, unbroken beads of glue and nails or screws, not flimsy staples. Corner blocking secures a sofa’s frame and keeps it from twisting or cracking with movement. Test for this feature by lifting one end of the sofa several inches off the floor; if the other end stays planted on the floor, the frame likely is not held firm with corner blocks. The more directions that the webbing, which holds the springs in place, branches out in, the stronger and more flexible it is. Before you settle on a sofa, ask about an extended warranty.

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