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What to look for in a quality Chesterfield sofa (and what to avoid)

 

A Chesterfield sofa has a very distinctive style that makes it stand out in any living room. With rolled arms, finely tacked studs, and deep-set buttoning, this classic British design has become a staple of tastefully decorated homes, hotels, offices, and country clubs the world over. Its reputation as an iconic piece is well-deserved, and a large part of the reason they are one of the most desirable items of furniture for interior designers.

Alongside their highly-regarded aesthetics, Chesterfield sofas have gained a reputation for their build quality. From the very early pieces, they were always handmade with the very best leather, fabric, and timber available — a hallmark that is still very much alive today. However, the rise of mass-produced furniture that has flooded the market with look-alike pieces that lack the rich pedigree of true Chesterfields.

Although an imitation and a quality Chesterfield may appear to be very similar at first glance, a closer inspection will reveal the small differences that mean so much more in the long run. As one of these cheap Chesterfields undergoes daily use, it will become more and more apparent that it is not built with the same care and attention as it quickly loses its looks and level of comfort.

This guide will take you through the characteristics of both a quality Chesterfield and a poor quality Chesterfield, so that you can order a sofa that you will be proud to own.

Why should I stay clear of cheap Chesterfield sofas?

In your search for a new Chesterfield sofa, you will probably notice some manufacturers offer inexplicably low-priced furniture. While it is easy to be distracted by a bargain price tag, it’s worth remembering that with a Chesterfield sofa you will get what you pay for.

In most cases, this type of manufacturer won’t even make the sofa themselves, instead importing a second-rate sofa from Eastern Europe or the Far East and selling it under their own brand. Even if the piece has been put together in the UK, it will still most likely be an inferior product at that price point. The sofa could well have been made with below-standard materials by inexperienced employees, resulting in something that you will find fault with sooner rather than later.

When furniture is mass-produced, the piece will be built by a team of unskilled or semi-skilled employees who are only responsible for one task as the product passes them by on the way to completion. These jobs can be quickly learnt in a few hours and repeated at an undesirable level of craftsmanship. Many shortcuts will be taken that will become evident on closer inspection of the Chesterfield sofa.

Though it may feel like you are getting a better deal, any money you’re saving will be at the cost of durability, comfort, and style of an original handcrafted sofa. Furthermore, the difference in price between a real Chesterfield and an imitation will probably be lost when you have to shop for a new sofa sooner than you would like — cheap Chesterfields are more likely to lose their looks and support through every day wear and tear.

How can I identify a low-quality Chesterfield sofa?

As we’ve mentioned, a cheap Chesterfield can afford its low price tag because of the poor-quality materials used in its construction. However, if you know what to look for, you can quickly spot one of these sofas and avoid the pitfall of buying one.

To help you to find a quality Chesterfield sofa that you will be proud to have in your home, we’ve put together this guide to the key features of the design, with advice about what to look for and what to avoid for each.

Frame

A sofa's frame is a key component, as it provides support when you sit down and a foundation for all of the other features which are attached to it. Therefore, it is vital that the frame is strong and durable so that your sofa can keep its shape while undergoing day-to-day use.

A good-quality Chesterfield sofa will have…

A frame that is made with a solid timber — seasoned beech hardwood is the ideal choice. With its straight grain, this type of wood is extra strong and will keep its integrity over time. The frame should have chunky rails that are robust enough to stand up to the rigours of daily wear and tear, and these should be paired with screw-fixed corner blocks for added support.

A poor-quality Chesterfield sofa will have…

A frame built with mixed timbers, cheap chipboard panels, and rails that are just 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 and robustness as a quality Chesterfield. Furthermore, shaping pieces will not be joined with dowelled joints, instead making use of staples and glue which also detract from solidity.

Cushion filling

Chesterfield sofas make use of a few different types of cushion filling, including foam, polyester fibres, and feathers. The choice of type and quality is important for the sofa, as it determines the level of comfort and support that is provided.

A good-quality Chesterfield sofa will have…

An ample amount of cushion filling to give a cosy yet supportive sitting experience. A popular choice of filling is foam, which is used to provide maximum comfort. The frame of the sofa should never be detectable under the foam, and different densities should be combined to create soft but deep cushioning. Each piece should be fixed to the frame by hand, as this will ensure it remains secure.

If a different filling, like polyester fibres or feathers, are favoured, a sufficient amount should be used to provide optimal comfort. Both feathers and fibres can be used together to create high-quality hybrid cushioning as well.

A poor-quality Chesterfield sofa will have…

Cushioning made with an inferior quality and quantity of stuffing material. As the cost of the furniture is lower, corners must be cut to stay under budget. This can lead to the use of less foam padding, which will most likely be of minimal density. Though this may feel acceptable for the first month or so, regular use will soon compact the foam and allow the uncomfortable frame to be felt through the cushions.

While less cushioning will be used, the filling itself will be cheaper and of poor quality. Considering foam again, inexpensive materials will not have many properties of their premium cousins. For example, budget foam will lose its ability to return to its shape more rapidly than high-end products, which will affect the comfort level and shape of the sofa over time.

Suspension

The suspension of your Chesterfield sofa works together with your cushion filling to provide a high level of comfort and support. With a successful combination, your sofa will give you many relaxing years of service without compromising on either quality. Suspension systems come in a variety of types, ranging from coiled spring units to Elastobelt webbing and serpentine springs.

A good-quality Chesterfield sofa will have…

A suspension system that is made with high-grade materials and has been chosen to be fit-for-purpose. There are different types of Chesterfield, and it requires an expert craftsperson to gauge what type of system will work best and how much resistance it should offer when sat upon. Additionally, a quality sofa will have the right amount of springs or webbing to stand up to regular use without collapsing.

A poor-quality Chesterfield sofa will have…

A sofa with a suspension system made with budget materials and installed with less expertise. The cost-cutting measures of mass-produced furniture are likely to see less springs or low-grade webbing used. These types of suspension systems are much more likely to fail under daily stress, leaving you with an uncomfortable sofa. You should be able to sit on a Chesterfield without the suspension feeling overly springy or without any resistance at all.

Upholstery

The appearance, feel, and durability of your Chesterfield sofa rely heavily on the quality of the material used to upholster it. While the aesthetics of your sofa are very important, it’s also vital that it feels just right to sit on too.

A good-quality Chesterfield sofa will have…

Premium materials used for its upholstery, ensuring the sofa looks and feels great while being durable enough for day to day use.

Leather is the classic choice for a Chesterfield sofa, and you should look for the use of premium full hide, and not split or imitation material. The leather should have been hand-tacked by a skilled craftsperson to ensure it is secure to the frame and that it has an even spread, without any baggy sections.  Take a look at our leather sofas buying guide for more advice on choosing a premium material for your sofa.

You could also opt for a Chesterfield that has been upholstered in a fabric like wool, tweed, or linen. A quality sofa will have a luxury material sourced from a highly respected mill, an important choice that will affect the look and feel of the piece. If you’re not sure, don’t hesitate to ask where a fabric is woven, as any respectable manufacturer will be able to tell you. 

Read our fabric sofas buying guide to get more advice on what works well on a Chesterfield.

A poor-quality Chesterfield sofa will have…

Imitation or offcut leather that is poorly stitched and more susceptible to daily wear and tear. A tell-tale sign of a poor-quality Chesterfield is the use of imitation leather instead of the genuine article — usually evident if there are no natural imperfections in the hide or if there is a repeated embossed pattern. In addition, any antiquing effects that are applied to the leather of mass-produced sofas are sprayed on and will rub off eventually when subjected to daily use.

There are also poor-quality Chesterfields that are listed as being upholstered with real leather but are not completely covered in it. Often, the material on the arms, back, and cushions will be real, while the less frequently seen parts, such as the outback and underarms, are covered in vinyl instead. Although cheap sofas can use upholstery sourced from genuine leather, it is sometimes the case that offcuts from different hides are stitched together — something known as ‘demic’. This type should be avoided as the stitching can come loose and leave holes in your sofa.

Detailing

The detailing on a Chesterfield sofa is what has given it such a distinctive style, and a huge part of the reason that it has become a world-famous icon of British design. Much care needs to be taken with the deep buttoning, rolled arms, and attractive studding if the classic look is to be captured, and that’s why you should be on the lookout for poorly detailed cheap Chesterfields.

A good-quality Chesterfield sofa will have…

Detailing that is produced to a high standard by an experienced craftsperson to provide attractive aesthetic flourishes. Deep-buttoning is one of the key features of a Chesterfield sofa — not only does it form an important part of its overall style, but it gives the sofa much of its shape too. Properly applying deep-buttoning is something of an art form, where each button must be positioned precisely while pressure is applied to hold the pleats in place. Afterwards, the buttons are affixed against the sofa’s frame to make sure they stay in place for many years to come.

The studding of a Chesterfield is used to add fine detail to the body of the sofa and its rolled arms. Hand-built pieces have studs tacked individually and painstakingly through the upholstery and into the frame. This way, the craftsperson can be absolutely positive that each and every stud will remain securely in place for the lifespan of the sofa. Choosing a Chesterfield with hand-studding also opens up the option of more intricate detailing patterns that can only be achieved with individually-hammered studs.

A poor-quality Chesterfield sofa will have…

Deep-buttoning that is not attached properly and studs that have not been individually hammered into the frame. Where buttons are individually secured in a handmade Chesterfield, a mass-produced piece will only have buttons that are sunk into the cushions and only stuck to the frame around the edges of the sofa. This type of buttoning is likely to come unfastened with general use, which often leaves creases and sags in the upholstery that look unsightly.

Because hand-tacking studs requires a professional hand and a lot of time, poor-quality Chesterfields will use strip studding, a technique that sees only one in every few studs on a strip of material hammered into the frame. The studs in-between are usually just imitation to complete the effect, and are completely loose and susceptible to wear and tear. Strip studs also offer less flexibility when patterns need to be detailed, narrowing your design options.

What to expect from a Timeless Chesterfields sofa

Timeless Chesterfields is a Chesterfield sofa specialist with over 35 years of experience crafting the very best bespoke furniture. Our team are highly skilled, with an unparalleled knowledge of the craft — you can see them at work on our meet the team page or even arrange to visit our workshop. This leaves us uniquely positioned to know exactly what goes into making a Chesterfield that stands apart from the rest of the market, as well as the shortcuts that are taken with mass-produced furniture.

No matter how hard you look, we are confident that you will struggle to find a range of Chesterfield sofas that are of a superior quality to the ones we hand-build in our Lancashire workshop. As well as our sofas, we also lovingly produce Chesterfield Chairs, sofa beds, corner sofas, and footstools, each of which carry all of the hallmarks of our exquisite Chesterfield range.

In addition, we use only premium leathers and fabrics to make our furniture, sourced from the best mills, tanneries, and manufacturers around the world. You can even order a free sample of our upholstery materials so that you can make an informed decision.

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