Comparing Consumer to Custom Sofa Fill

As an Interior Designer sometimes you have a client that is familiar with consumer quality upholstery and needs a good explanation of why custom upholstery costs so much more. Sure, there is a much higher labor cost for US-based skilled craftspeople. But another big reason is a good custom upholstery shop uses almost none of the same materials as what is being made overseas.

In this article I’m going to put together some comparison tables that hopefully you can use as a cheat sheet when discussing the decision to go custom with your clients.

Seat Cushion Core

A seat cushion core consists of either foam or coil springs (with some foam support). The later is often accomplished with premade ‘Marshall units’. Adding coil springs to the seat core results in a pretty bouncy sit if you ask me. But a lot of traditional trade only manufacturers like Lee use coil springs in their higher priced seating options.

For foam you have polyurethane and latex. Polyurethane includes high density, high resilience, outdoor (DryFast), and memory. The primary benefit of latex is that it is eco-friendly and chemical-free. But latex is also the most expensive cushion core.

Here is a helpful comparison table for cushion cores.

High Density$Low Quality Furniture
High Resilience$$$Mid / High Quality Furniture
Outdoor (DryFast)$$$$$Outdoor Cushions
Memory$$$$$$Bedding / Thin Layer on Upholstery
Latex$$$$$$$$$$Eco-Friendly / Organic

Most consumer brands use high density foam for their furniture. Most custom upholstery shops use high resilience. When sitting on high density versus high resilience the difference is slight; the later will feel more substantial. The biggest difference is longevity where high density just isn’t made to last.

Outdoor foam is obviously used in outdoor applications. Every other foam on the list will collect moisture and grow mold if left outdoors.

We’re all familiar with memory foam. Its traditional function is for mattresses or pillows. But in certain tight-seat designs we’ll add a 1″ layer to make a seat extra comfortable. Memory foam isn’t really a good fit for a lose seat cushion core though.

Latex is strictly used when there are concerns about the environment or chemicals. It comes in different densities similar to polyurethane so you can have it firm or soft. But normally I would say it sits a bit softer than polyurethane cushions. We do have a handful of “green” interior designers that require us to build using only eco-friendly materials and this means latex. But as you can see from the table above, it isn’t cheap.

Seat Cushion Wrap / Back Cushion Fill

The wrap that goes around the seat cushion core is almost always filled with the same material that the entire back cushion is filed with. Except with some mid-century modern styles or very cheap sofas the back cushions do not have a foam core.

The fill is either fiber, microfiber, or feathers and down. Here in Los Angeles we use a microfiber called Trillium, which is made from recycled polyester.

The trickiest part of this whole thing might be the different names brands use for the synthetic fills. In the industry “fiber” is the typical name given to the cheap fill. But some brands really like to make fiber sound like the most luxurious thing you can put under your butt. Here is a quick comparison table:

Feather / Down$$$-$$$$$$

However, most fills are a combination of fiber, microfiber, and feathers/down. Most consumer brands will try and use as much fiber in their formula as possible, while most custom workshops don’t use fiber at all.

Well actually, we use fiber quite often – for outdoor pillows. Both feathers/down and microfiber tend to have issues with mold so fiber’s thin composition is perfect for outdoor.

Here is a more complete comparison table of all the different combinations you’ll see in fill options:

All Fiber$Discount Quality Furniture
Consumer 50/50
(50% fiber, 45% feathers, 5% down)
$$Low Quality Furniture
Standard F&D
(90% feathers, 10% down)
$$$$High Quality Furniture
(Here in LA 100% Trillium)
$$$$High Quality Furniture
Luxury F&D
(75% feathers, 25% down)
$$$$$$High Quality Furniture
Super Soft F&D
(50% feathers, 50% down)
$$$$$$$$High Quality Furniture

If you search most consumer furniture brands you’ll see some kind of language dancing around that “50/50”. Custom workshops really don’t ever use that mixture. And it can get confusing as we often just refer to the make up of feathers and down, so to a high quality workroom the phrase “50/50” refers to the last row in that table.

For some real world examples most Room & Board upholstery uses Consumer 50/50, most RH upholstery uses Standard F&D, whereas A Rudin uses Luxury F&D. Both are high quality fills and often when designers come to one of our workrooms they don’t just prefer the more expensive options. They all sit a little different.

For more reading here is another article I wrote about fills back in August of last year:

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