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RISMEDIA, November 2, 2010—(MCT)—When men buy “guy stuff”—cars, lawn mowers, electronics—they’re on their home turf. For those purchases, “Men can rely on familiar brand names and test drives to guide their decision-making,” says Jackie Hirschhaut, spokesperson for the American Home Furnishings Alliance. But even though men are becoming more involved in decorating their homes, according to research by the American Furniture Manufacturers Association, “For most men, furniture stores are unfamiliar territory,” says Hirschhaut.

Sofas and chairs top the list of furniture men are most likely to purchase, she says. And the qualities men want in those pieces are comfort, durability and attractive styling.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, of course. But once a guy has settled on a style of sofa or armchair—traditional, contemporary or something in-between—he’ll need to check for comfort and durability.

For men—or women—shopping for upholstered furniture, Hirschhaut offers the following tips:

-Kick the tires. Not literally, of course. But do put likely pieces through your version of a quality test. Lift one corner of a sofa to see if the frame feels sturdy. Press gently outward on the arms to make sure there is no “give.” Ask what materials are used and how joints and stress points, such as arms, are reinforced. Frames made of link-dried hardwood and hardwood plywood hold pegs, screws, staples and nails more firmly in place than do softwood plywood and strand board.

-If the sales associate cannot answer your questions, find another associate—or a store with a better-informed staff.

-Look under the hood. Some stores have handy “cut-aways,” which show how upholstered pieces are assembled. But you will probably have to rely on the know-how of a well-trained sales associate to explain the hidden benefits of a piece. A variety of construction techniques offer comfort and durability, but in general, the number of springs in a foundation and the way they are reinforced determines the cost and quality level.

-Take a test drive. Don’t buy a sofa, chair or recliner without sitting, slouching or reclining in it for at least a few minutes. Put your feet up. Put your head back—settle into the piece the way you would at home. Furniture cushions may be constructed using springs, cotton or polyester fiber or down, but most are made from some type of polyurethane foam. Generally, the higher the density the foam, the more durable (and expensive) the cushion. But the only way to tell if the piece is going to feel comfortable to you is to sit in it yourself.

-Think safety. Make sure the piece carries a gold UFAC tag, which indicates it was manufactured according to fire-safety standards developed by the Upholstered Furniture Action Council. Those standards reduce the likelihood of the furniture catching fire from a smoldering cigarette, which is the leading cause of upholstery fires in the home.

(c) 2010, The Orlando Sentinel (Fla.).

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.