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Will a Pirelli Webbing Foundation make my sofa sag over time?

By Jeff Frank


I have been looking at expensive sofas.

The one I like best has a foundation made with Pirelli webbing.

An interior designer I spoke with told me that webbing is terrible and will sag over time.

She insisted that 8 way hand tied is the only type of foundation used in top quality furniture.

Is she correct?


Your interior designer is incorrect, but it is an understandable mistake.

Cheap “stretchable” Pirelli webbing, found in mass produced couches, can break or sag within a few years.

High quality, non-stretchable Pirelli webbing, when properly installed by a skilled craftsperson, should last 20 years and more.

Webbing used on lower priced seating (and on some not-so-cheap mass produced leather sofas) “stretches.”

This makes it far quicker and easier to install than stronger non-stretch webbing.

The problem is that stretchable webbing will eventually sag. (It will sag sooner when frequently used by larger than average people or jumping kids.)

Webbing found on high-quality seating does not stretch.

It is wider and thicker.

When properly installed, it should last just as long or longer than 8 way hand tied foundations that cost hundreds of dollars more.

The advantage of 8 way hand tied foundations is increased comfort, especially when used with thin cushions or soft non-resilient fillings such as down/feathers.

The difference in comfort is far less noticeable when used with thick high-density foam or coil spring cushion construction.

Until the past decade, top-quality traditional style furniture was often defined by the use of 8 way hand tied foundations.

Expensive modern style furniture has rarely used 8 way hand tied springs.

Streamlined modern frame styles usually do not have enough space below the seat to accomodate bulky 8 way spring units.

Over the past decade, consumer preferences have shifted dramatically from traditional to modern styling for upholstered furniture.

High-quality webbing is often found in high end modern style sofas.

High-quality webbing is superior to sinuous springs for furniture styles that require a flat seat support foundation.

The most commonly used foundation is sinuous wire.

Sinuous wire is far less expensive than high quality Pirelli webbing.

Also, sinuous wire seat supports have an arc, which is not suitable for many streamlined modern style sofas.

Lower quality webbing looks very similar to the high quality version.

The difference is in both the physical properties of the webbing and the method of installation.

Lower quality webbing stretches.

You can pull on it and it gets longer.

This makes it far easier to install (requiring far less physical strength) than the stronger, more expensive non-stretch webbing.

Lower quality furniture is more likely to use engineered wood products for their frames.

Staples loosen and pull out of engineered wood much more easily than from solid hardwoods or furniture grade plywood.

Manufacturers that use lower-quality webbing also tend to use less of it.

There are usually fewer strands running front to back and side to side.

Lower quality stretchable webbing is far more likely to fray at the edges and eventually break, especially when there are there is too much space between the individual strands.

High-quality webbing may look similar in a photo.

But it does not stretch, is far stronger and built to hold up for 20+ years without sagging.

High-quality webbing requires far more strength and skill to install than the cheaper stuff.

8 way hand-tied foundations are by far the most expensive type of foundation used in upholstered furniture.

8-way hand-tied is, by far, the most comfortable foundation when used in combination with low-resiliency cushions.

These are most often found on traditional style sofas that have thin cushions or low resiliency materials such as down and feathers.

An 8-way hand-tied foundation loses much of its comfort advantage when paired with thick high-density foam or spring down cushions.

Installation of a genuine 8 way hand-tied foundation requires a highly skilled and experienced craftsperson.

Many of the skilled craftspeople who build custom sofas using 8 way hand tied foundations are getting close to retirement age.

New apprentice upholsterers are extremely reluctant to take the time and effort needed to master this difficult and dying art.

High-quality drop-in coil springs will outlast 8-way hand-tied.

The twine that holds the springs together tends to rot after about 20 years.

“Drop-in” coil spring units are currently mass produced at far less cost and last even longer.

Few consumers can tell the difference in comfort between 8 way hand tied and high quality drop-in coil springs.

8 way hand tied foundations were first developed in the 1850s.

They were essential for thin cushions filled with non-resilient materials such as horse hair cotton or down and feathers.

Since the 1950s, most seat cushions have been fabricated with thick, high resilience polyurethane foams or heavy-duty foam-encased coil spring systems.

The result is that most people no longer “sink” into their cushions all the way down to the decking, where the seat support foundation underneath can actually be felt.

When combined with a thick, high-resiliency cushion, it is difficult for most people to feel much difference in comfort between different foundation types.

A $500 genuine 8-way hand-tied unit, $150 “drop-in” coil foundation, $60 elasticized webbing, or $20 no-sag sinuous wire springs do not feel much different under thick high resiliency cushions

Interior designers and executives of high end sofa manufacturers will swear there is a huge difference in comfort between 8-way hand-tied and cheaper foundations.

Many years ago, at the furniture market, I participated in a test in which furniture industry retailers were asked to sit on two identical looking sofas.

These professional retail buyers and interior designers were asked to state which was the 8-way hand-tied and which had a sinuous wire foundation.

Both sofas had identical high quality, high-density foam cushions.

After several hours and dozens of testers, the results were announced.

Slightly more than 50% guessed correctly.

Slightly less than 50% guessed incorrectly.

(My guess was incorrect.)

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