Everybody pretty much knows that “they don’t make furniture like they used to” – but how can you tell the difference between good and bad? To make a confusing topic relatively straightforward, here’s a secret…weight.
Let’s start with upholstered pieces…good frames are made from a hardwood (deciduous trees like teak, oak, walnut, maple) which are much stronger and heavier than softwoods. Softwoods, like pine, are not as strong or heavy. They are quick growing compared to hardwoods, which make them quite common in today’s manufactured furniture. Furniture made pre-1970 is more likely made from hardwood.
Better upholstered furniture also has denser cushions, which wear longer. Because the cushions are denser, they weigh more. Combine dense cushions and a hardwood frame and you have a heavy quality upholstered piece that will last.
But there is a twist! For casegoods, heavier does NOT mean it is better quality. Beginning in the 1980’s and especially since the early 2000’s, there has been an explosion of cheap mass-produced furniture made from MDF (medium density fiberboard) covered with a wood veneer. MDF is heavier than wood – even hardwoods. So all those modern casegoods that weigh a ton? Yep, you guessed it. It’s a pretty good clue that they are made from MDF, not wood. Because MDF is easier to damage, it just won’t last like real wood does.