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Furniture and Upholstery

The desire to create attractive and comfortable surroundings in which we live and play is a natural characteristic of human nature. It probably all started with cave dwellers hanging an animal skin over a doorway. This would have provided privacy and some warmth and the wish for more creature comforts such as a bed or sofa. Little did they know these desires would lead to the invent of multinational chain stores specialising in furniture and home ware!! – if only they knew.

In the middle ages furnishings became a bit more comfortable. The rudimentary beginnings of soft furnishings and furniture had begun. Furniture was simple platforms covered by webbing, canvas or leather and by the beginning of the seventeenth century chair seats were being padded. The stuffing was heaped on the wooden frames and fixed in place by way of a decorative top fabric and nails. By the end of the century upholsterers started to develop techniques to distribute and shape the stuffing into more controlled shapes. All sorts of stuffing were used from sawdust, grass, feathers to goat, deer and horse hair.

By the twentieth century the focal point of the average living room was a 3 piece suite centered around the television. These day’s suites are a thing of the past, it’s much more favorable to see a mixture of furniture used together rather than a matching suite. Towards the end of the century furniture started to become more fluid in shape, this was due to new materials such as fiberglass and molded plywood. Tubular steel and aluminum frames allowed for new and robust frames. With further development, lengthy upholstery techniques were limited and manufacturing times slashed, costs reduced and furniture became looked upon as much more disposable.

The price of an upholstered piece of furniture comes down to the construction and upholstery fabric. A well constructed and upholstered piece of furniture will last a great deal of time and just need re-covering as the fabric wears out or your tastes change. Middle to up market mass produced furniture is glued, screwed and stapled with the frames constructed from laminated ply and pine and some manufacturers reinforce the frames with construction steel. Although this furniture is not made with the same love and attention of yesteryears craftsman it is common for these modern sofa’s and chairs to carry a ten to fifteen year construction guarantee. At the top end of the market bespoke furniture which is custom made by the likes of Soane’s of London can produce furniture by craftsmen still practicing traditional skills. Soane’s produce exceptional copies of 18, 19th and 20th century originals and their furniture can be made to your exacting requirements. The renowned top end furniture company B&B Italia, represent designers whose sofa’s and chair’s are a statements in themselves. These pieces not only double as furniture but also act as sculptural objects which reflect the interior architecture.

The comfort of a sofa will more often than not come down to the fill in the seat and back cushions. Seat cushions which use the highest density foams with different layering grades form the ultimate comfort. Back cushions use entirely different systems. Some have horizontal pockets and are filled with a feather and fibre mix. The pockets stop the fill from dropping to the bottom of the cushion. Others have a foam core to hold their shape and are wrapped with fibre for added comfort.

When considering “loose furniture” for boats, space is of real concern as domestic sofa’s are deeper and take up more space, this said they have higher comfort levels and a better “slouch” factor as opposed to “built in” furniture. Domestic sofas and chair’s often have high or wide arms and if used onboard a boat, access in and out of them can be limiting depending on where the furniture is placed. Loose furniture such as dining chairs which can be stacked or folded are appealing to the passage making vessel as they can be stowed with ease.

A piece of furniture is only worth recovering if it’s an antique or it simply has “good bones” and you still get enjoyment from it. As a guide contemporary furniture merits reupholstering if restoration and renovation costs less than 50 per cent of the price for a replacement.

Choosing upholstery is a task in its self – where do you start? Consider where the furniture is going to be placed, who is likely to use it and how often. The composition of a fabric plays a huge part in the life of a piece of furniture. A light weight drapery fabric upholstered on a delicate occasional chair may be perfect if it’s looked at more than it’s sat on. Upholstery fabric is labeled to show its suitability. A fabric labeled domestic and general use is exactly that, it is more suited to the home whereas a fabric rated for heavy commercial use will stand up to the punishing wear and tear of an office, health care, hospitality or what’s referred to as the contract market. These fabrics can also work well in a marine setting.

The best upholstery to use on boats has a high synthetic fibre content. Synthetic fabric generally has better colour fastness especially if the fibre is solution dyed as the dye goes right through the fibre. Apart from the dyeing component, these fabrics have been engineered to be “tough.” But forget about the notion of synthetic fabrics feeling and appearing man-made. Agua Fabrics has developed their range over many years and their fabrics have the look and feel of regular fabrics but are fire retardant, anti-microbial, waterproof, breathable, hardwearing and extremely stain resistant to the likes of sun tan oil, wine, coffee, fruit juice, coke and ketchup etc. Leather has always been a popular choice for boats as it provides high UV, wear and soil resistance. Pigmented leather is recommended in a marine setting as it’s dyed all the way through and has a clear top coat applied which provides a hardwearing soil and damage barrier. Although leather is referred to as easy care it still requires maintaining. Dust, grime, and body oils cause deterioration. Regular wiping with a clean damp cloth will effectively remove day to day grime and by applying a restorer and conditioning treatment, the leather will remain strong and supple increasing its lifespan.

As discovered there’s more to just picking a pretty fabric for a lovely sofa. Upholstery needs to be matched to the furniture and the furniture matched to the situation. Get the combination right and you will have years of comfort and enjoyment from your furnishings.