When Long Island business owners and homeowners think of upholstery, they generally think of sofas, furniture and other furnishings that are covered with fabric to create a certain style and comfort level in their homes or offices. People also think about reupholstery in relation to their favorite chair or furniture find and how it can give new life to a beloved piece of furniture.
However, Long Islanders might not think of how modern-day custom upholstery came to be. The experts at Brass Tacks Upholstery – which provides premier upholstery and reupholstery services to all of Long Island, Brooklyn, Queens and Westchester – have put together a brief look at the origins and history of upholstery.
What Is Upholstery?
First, let’s define what upholstery is. Upholstery is the craft of applying padding, springs, webbing and fabric to all types of furniture, particularly chairs or other types of seating. The word is actually derived from the Middle English word “upholder,” which actually referred to a tradesman who upheld his goods.
The term upholstery can be applied to interior furnishings, outdoor furniture and office furniture, as well as automobile, airplane and boat furniture. It can also be applied to mattresses, especially if you consider how the upper layers are constructed with padding, fabric and springs. However, beyond that, there are significant differences in the way mattresses are made.
Today, upholsterers use more synthetic materials, such as Dacron, vinyl and serpentine springs, but some of the traditional materials that have been used – and in some cases continue to be used – include linen, leather and coil springs. Other traditional materials that have been used in the past include animal hair such as horse, hog and cow, as well as straw and hay. Traditional upholstery is also mainly done by hand, building up each layer. Today, certain aspects are still done by hand, but modern technology has sped up the process and helped refine the craft, bringing it into the 21st century.
How Upholstery Evolved
While traditional furniture and commercial upholstery as we know it – the textiles, padding and style that cover, enhance and bring life and comfort to sofas, chairs, loveseats and other furniture pieces – really took off in the late 19th century during the Victorian era, the roots of upholstery date all the way back to ancient Egypt when pharaohs’ tombs were appointed with comfortable and opulent furnishings and fabrics that were designed to last millennia.
For centuries after that weavers produced fabrics that were used as tapestries to both add style and prevent heat from escaping the largely uninsulated walls of homes and buildings of that era. These tapestries were also used to add comfort and design to the backs of chairs while cushions were the only way to add comfort and style to a chair. In fact, prior to the 17th century and well before what we’ve now come to know as upholstery surged in popularity, upholstery mainly consisted of fabric stretched across a seat, sans any additional cushioning material.
However, as domestic interiors evolved to become more comfortable and chic, upholstery played an increasingly important role in interior design. It started in the Middle Ages during the Elizabethan era with what were called “bedsteads.” These were wood-paneled headboards and footboards connected by four posts that were draped with fabric to prevent drafts. Settees followed, setting the stage for modern-day sofas.
Upholstery Becomes Popular
As the idea of upholstered chairs and settees took hold, the first upholstery guild was established in 1626. Advancements in the field during that time period made it easier to control the shape and distribution of the stuffing. The drop-in seat, which enabled it to be upholstered in any fabric, also came into existence.
The 18th century saw upholstery gain popularity. The influential designs of Thomas Chippendale and Robert Adams were also introduced to the world. In the 19th century Victorian-era opulence was on the rise, and innovations such as machine-woven fabrics, chemical dyes, printed cotton and steel coil springs inside seat cushions pushed the upholstery industry forward. These advancements not only accommodated the demand for bigger, more elaborate stuffing and tufting, but also gave way to the incorporation of more printed fabrics.
The 20th century saw a new wave of styles such as mission, Art Deco and mid-century modern. These joined the now more historic upholstered furniture styles of the Victorian and Elizabethan eras. The invention of Nylon by DuPont in the mid-1930s made upholstery more durable and resilient. Other 20th-century developments such as molded foam cores and bent steel helped designers push upholstery forward.
Today’s interior design styles feature clean sleek lines and much less fabric and draperies than in the past, but upholstery is still a key part of interior design and the single most important way to transform or set the tone in a home or office.
How Brass Tacks Upholstery Can Help Revive Your Furniture
If it’s time to update the look of your furnishings or repair furniture that’s torn, ripped, damaged or stained, then contact Brass Tacks Upholstery today. With more than three decades of experience in the industry, Brass Tacks can handle residential and commercial projects of any size.
Whether it’s a prized family heirloom or furniture for your waiting room or corporate office, the company approaches each project with an unmatched attention to detail. Plus, the friendly, knowledgeable and certified upholsterers at Brass Tacks can help you choose the best material that matches the tone of your upholstery or reupholstery project. They can also provide you with custom-designed solutions.