Components of Fine Upholstery Detailing
Home is where the upholstery is. Okay, so upholstery might not be able to replace heart, but it can be said that no home is truly complete without some quality upholstered furniture. We all have that favorite chair or sofa that feels more like a hug than just a place to sit. For that warm comfort, we have upholstery to thank.
Upholstery comprises the soft coverings of chairs, sofas, and other furniture – which includes fabric, padding, webbing, and springs. The process began in the Middle Ages and grew in popularity during the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries – during which, a wide variety of materials have been used such as hay, horsehair and wool.
These days, we can give the horses a break and use metal springs and foam for greater durability and comfort. While these inner materials may not be visible, they make all the difference in how furniture feels when we sit in them. And though fabric can always be changed—and may need to be, depending on wear and tear—choosing high-quality inner layers will help make sure the piece will last for years to come.
So let’s take a moment to deconstruct the components of upholstery so you can gain a deeper appreciation for the technical artistry at work in your favorite chairs and sofas…
The frame gives structural support and determines the basic shape of any piece of upholstered furniture. If a frame is unstable, an upholstered piece will not be durable, no matter how fine or costly its design, padding, cushioning, or cover. Quality frames are generally made of solid wood, but plywood, engineered wood products, a variety of polymers and metals are also used.
Springs / Webbing
Springs or webbing are attached to the frame to give the seat a desired amount of elasticity or “give.” The most commonly used springs for furniture are coil springs, sinuous (sag-less) springs, and the Flexsteel ribcage spring system.
The bottoms of coil springs are normally clipped to the webbing base on which they sit. These springs are then compressed and tied with twine to the frame and each other. “Eight-way hand tie” (ties with eight knots) has been the industry standard among retailers and consumers alike for many years.
With this technique, the springs are tied to give them an initial tension, and are then subsequently tied to hold them in the perpendicular position, which is essential for proper spring action. This position prevents shifting of the top of one spring in relation to the others. Tied springs also help to distribute the weight evenly, and it bridges the open spaces inside of and around the top coils.
Padding / Decking
In conventional (coil spring) constructions, layers of padding are added on top of the springs or webbing to complete the deck (the area under the seat cushions). The cushions are normally wrapped or capped (“crowned”) with polyester, low-density foam or other soft material for added surface plushness, which should give the cushion a softly rounded look. It also helps prevent the fabric from rubbing against the dense foam core and fills cushion corners so they are nice and snug.
Fills: Cushioning & Padding
The majority of the loose or attached cushions that sit on top of the deck are made up of polyurethane foam, but additional materials that are popular among retailers and consumers alike include down and synthetic polyester thermal wraps. With so many different fill options to choose from, you may wonder which is best to use – but it all depends on personal comfort and needs.
Foam – A less costly, and more firm, seat filler can be achieved using layers of polyurethane foam and polyester fibers. Foam seat cushions which contain high-density foam (2.0 pounds per cubic foot polymer density or greater) are the most desirable, because they offer better support and durability than lower density foams. There are four grades of high-resilience density foam cores to choose from, each crowned with super soft high-resiliency foam that provides initial softness and deep seating support. Foam cushions require minimum maintenance and provides a neat appearance (no lumps or creases), though with age and use the foam will soften and lose some of its structure.
Down – A sofa or chair that has been filled with down feathers is ideal for a person that wants the softest seat possible. A channeled down-proof ticking is sewn then completely filled with high quality down and feathers, which are taken from the underbellies of geese and costs slightly more than other common filler options. Very few manmade fibers can match down’s warmth-to-weight ratio, and it retains its shape and loft well. This down/feather combination is often wrapped over a foam core to get the best of both worlds for comfort and structure. With proper care, it can last for decades.
Synthetic polyester thermal wrap – Polyester provides high resistance to heat and excellent resistance to mildew, and aging. Historically made of wool because of the fiber’s ability to absorb and retain moisture and to provide thermal insulation, most wrap today is made of synthetic materials such as polypropylene and polyester. These synthetics offer another advantage to consider in that they are hypoallergenic.
The Eric Brand line offers a variety of high quality foam cores, ranging from 10-90 to 25-75. Additionally, we have high-resiliency reticulated foam core with polyester thermal wraps to choose from.
No matter which type of material you decide on, for the best quality the chair or sofa should have the right amount of padding. You shouldn’t be able to feel hard frame edges with your hand, which would indicate lack of padding. Any unpadded areas will wear out quickly. Which brings us to…
The outer component of your upholstery. Options for the color, pattern and texture of your covers are virtually unlimited, but they fall into two basic categories: natural and synthetic. Natural components include cotton, linen, silk, wool and, of course, leather – while synthetics include acetate, acrylic, nylon, rayon and polypropylene. Many fabrics are woven with a combination of natural and synthetic fibers. Fabrics combining a tight weave and durable fibers like nylon or polypropylene are a good choice for active use. Leather is also a popular choice for its durability, look and feel.
Stitching, Seaming & Corner Details
Last but not least, we have various forms of upholstery detailing which include stitching, seaming and corner details. These methods create the specific style a client/designer wants to capture for that final, luxurious touch. The various details Eric Brand offers include:
It’s safe to say that making upholstered furniture is an art, craft and science. Quality materials and precise construction must compliment each other for perfect balance – both structurally and aesthetically. Now that we have a basic understanding of what upholstered furniture is made of, in Part 2 of this blog – “Fine Upholstery Execution” – we’ll explore some of the additional executions and compositions of fine upholstery detailing that makes upholstery among some of the most attractive furniture you can put in your home.
Founded in 1996 and based in San Francisco, Eric Brand offers custom-styled furniture and worldwide sourcing along with exquisite materials and finishes, specifically for the high-end residential design market and hospitality industry.
Named after the fog-licked Juniper trees on the hills of San Francisco, Juniper is an in-stock furniture collection by Eric Brand that pays homage to timeless materials, techniques and silhouettes – brought to life through expert craftsmanship.