Slip Seats Don’t Have to be Uncomfortable

We have all sat upon those metal folding chairs with the a plywood insert covered with a thin piece of cheap foam and vinyl (Fig. 1). Most times we’ve gotten up wishing we hadn’t because those seats are so uncomfortable. It isn’t so bad if it is just a short visit.

(Fig. 1) Metal folding chairs define the word uncomfortable.

Unfortunately, there are a great many uncomfortable dining, side and occasional chairs out there that leave us with a similar feeling. It does not have to be that way.

There are a number of options for upholstering a simple slip seat. Each of them depend on the basic principle that you put something firm as the bottom layer, then something softer on top of it. Adjusting the layers of the upholstery treatment vastly changes both the “sit” of the cushion, and the “loft” or the shape of the seat.

A Traditional Approach

(Fig. 2) Slip seat frames, as shown in this example (courtesy of the Chipstone Furniture Collection) sometimes have a bit of “loft” built into the frame.

I am happy to report that there is a growing interest in recreating period furniture styles using the basic hand tools of our forefathers, and the many scholars who have studied and written about this early furniture concur that the upholstery treatments of the period can be summed up in two words: flat and hard.

Primary emphasis of many period furniture styles was on the shape of the legs, the decorative crest rails and back splats. Upholstered seats were an added decorative element that brought a bit of color and slight comfort to the otherwise hard, wooden seats. Using a four-part, open frame, a new innovation at the time, instead of a solid wooden seat brought about the use of new materials and techniques to both support the sitter and to provide the look required by the designer.

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