Design For Upholstered Furniture

Some of my best friends are furniture makers. And while they always seem happy to talk to me when they find themselves confronting a mysterious upholstery problem, it’s a real challenge to get them to talk to me before or during the process of actually designing a piece of seating furniture. It’s not that upholstery is that complicated, but small changes to a design at the outset can result in huge changes in the complexity of the final upholstery treatment. I am fond of saying that if you hold something still long enough, I can upholster it. But it’s a whole lot easier if the planning has been done well at the beginning.


(Fig. 1) Although vastly different in design and style, these two chairs both are examples of upholstered furniture.

My simple definition of “upholstered” furniture is a piece to which some soft goods have been permanently attached. That encompasses a deliberately broad range of items, including those that have soft goods for padding, ones that have something added for purely decorative reasons and also those which have removable upholstered elements which are integral to the function of the piece. The Baroque back stool with its simple covering of leather secured with large brass nails, and the reproduction Chippendale chair with the drop in or slip seat both qualify (Fig. 1).

And while these basic forms present challenges for both the designer and the upholsterer, the heavy lifting occurs when the entire chair (or couch) is fully upholstered, often in such a way that the supporting frame is almost completely unseen.

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