Secrets of the Sofa: What Makes a $10k Sofa Worth the Splurge

By: Sarah Beaumont

June 14, 2016

It’s the laborer of your living room, exposed to everything from snack spills to weekend guests. You (hopefully) sit on it every day. It anchors one of the most important rooms of the house. But if a sofa by Poltrona Frau and a knock-off from CB2 were placed beside one another, most wouldn’t recognize a visual difference. So why invest in a pricey one?

We decided to get the inside scoop. From frame construction to upholstery, foam to feathers, we’re breaking down why a 10k couch costs 10k.  And why you may or may not want to invest in one.


 

Iconic furniture designer George Smith has been making sofas for kings and queens, celebrities and socialites for more than two centuries. Their sofas start at $10,000 and can range up to what some people spend on a down payment for their first house. Regional Sales Manager Greg Upson explains why.

First off, you’re paying for craftsmanship. About six expert artisans—woodworkers, upholsters, tailors—each with decades of experience, will work on your sofa from start to finish, compared with big box sofas, which are made by machine or assembly line in a factory.

Second, you’re paying for durability. That starts with the sofa’s frame. Instead of gluing or stapling a plywood frame together (ahem, Ikea), two George Smith craftsmen hand-joint seasoned beech or birch wood, building the legs directly into the frame instead of screwing them in. “That gives them longevity whereas other sofa legs can just eventually break off,” Upson says.

Secrets of the Sofa: What Makes a $10k Sofa Worth the Splurge, Laurel & Wolf, via One King's Lane

Alison Cayne’s spacious West Village apartment features two velvet upholstered George Smith sofas — the standout pieces of the living room. via One King’s Lane.

Ever get poked in the behind by a lose sofa spring? That won’t happen, even after a century, with a higher end model because the steel springs are sturdily hand-tied into bands of interwoven jute webbing. The quality of the springs and their construction also ensures maximum comfort and balanced weight distribution. You’ll comfortably sink into the cushions without feeling them sag.

The other major factor in both comfort and durability: stuffing. In the case of a lower end sofa, you’ll have foam or feather-wrapped foam. For a luxury sofa? Well, it’s a layered process.

“We use boar bristle, which envelops and cushions the coil springs, and then we follow with a cotton-feather mix for thick, padded comfort,” Upson says. Next, a hand sewn muslin pad is put in place to provide a smooth base for upholstery. The seat cushions are always hand stuffed with a blend of duck down and duck feathers, which, from our sit-test, basically feels like sitting on a cloud.

So that means four handmade layers go into the padding of a pricier sofa versus a single machine-cut piece of foam in most big box models. Why should that matter? Foam breaks down and starts to sag over time while the layered approach maintains its shape.

Secrets of the Sofa: What Makes a $10k Sofa Worth the Splurge, Laurel & Wolf, George Smith sofa in Soho House Miami

This unusually shaped sofa at Soho Beach House Miami was inspired by a vintage design and acts as a centerpiece for the bar area. via George Smith.

The final touch? Upholstery.

In the case of a sofa like the ones on offer at George Smith, they’re cut and fitted by a professional tailor. “If you buy a slipcover from us, it’s kind of like getting a couture dress,” Upson says.

The entire process, start to finish, can take more than ten weeks compared with a matter of hours for mass produced pieces.

So why should the average couch consumer care? It comes down to durability and value for your money. Take two practically identical sofas: a chesterfield by George Smith and one from Restoration Hardware. The George Smith one is twice the price, but is built to last a century whereas you should expect to replace the Restoration Hardware sofa at least every ten years. So, factoring in that replacement cost, the Restoration Hardware sofa actually costs $30,000 over the course of 50 years versus $10,000 for the George Smith.

There are a lot of sofa options between Ikea and George Smith. Why go all the way up the luxury ladder? Why not something in between?

“Well that’s like asking a woman why she wants Prada shoes as opposed to Payless,” Upson says. A $10,000 sofa may not make sense to everyone, it may not make sense to most people, but if you’re looking to buy a piece that you plan to have around for the long haul, you want to invest in quality with craftsmanship behind it.

“We have everyone from celebrities and royalty to couples that are just getting married and as a gift, someone will buy them a George Smith sofa. I even have people come in to buy chairs for their newborn son that they’ll have for life.”

Design trends may come and go, but quality never goes out of style.

Secrets of the Sofa: What Makes a $10k Sofa Worth the Splurge, Laurel & Wolf, George Smith Tiplady Sofas at Soho House. Via George Smith.

George Smith Tiplady Sofas at Soho House. via George Smith.

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