The Uphostery Blog: Craftsman’s Eye

I thought I’d share an interesting piece I just posted on The Upholstery Blog on how to work with a custom furniture builder to get that one of a kind look for you or your clients. While this is written with the professional designer in mind, the tips will work for anyone looking for something special.

Floor Plans, Sketches & Specifications


Architect sketch of location for custom banquette seat

When you visit your furniture designer, don’t forget to bring along a detailed floor plan that indicates where furniture will be located, as well as exact dimensions of the piece. Be sure to also include measurements for all doorways, halls, stairways and elevators through which the furniture will travel to reach its final resting place. Even the most experienced designers make fatal errors that are evident only upon delivery. Almost any space constrictions can be accommodated if they are known in advance. For instance, a sofa can be made to come apart and re-attach on site. Forethought is key.

What is the style you are looking for? Do your homework before you meet with a furniture maker. Take time to go through design magazines, trade journals and design books. Pull photographs of details such as tailoring, trims and the overall look you are hoping to achieve. Don’t be afraid to take an upholstered arm from one photo, a back from another and a skirt treatment from a third — good custom furniture makers are skilled in bringing the varying elements together. Pictures that show what you want will save a thousand words of explanation. If you are able to do a schematic sketch on your own – that’s great. But if you are not, your furniture maker can still create a design from your photos and conversation for your approval.

Above all else, be as specific in your instructions as possible. Once you have instructed the manufacturer, ask for written confirmation of your instructions that includes a drawing of how the piece will look. Take the time to read the manufacturer’s instructions and look the drawings over carefully. Design deadlines and budgets rarely permit costly errors.

Construction and Customization

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Let’s face it, custom furniture is expensive. Ask the manufacturer tough questions to ensure that you’re getting quality merchandise. Is kiln dried wood used for the frame? Are the frames dowelled, glued and screwed on corner blocks? Are stretchers used when required for added support?

Go over fine details of the design with your manufacturer. The thickness of the back, the seat and the seat cushions will affect the overall depth. The width of the arms can affect the seating space. Inside and outside pitch will determine the angle of the back. Discuss your client’s special requirements with the manufacturer. If your client is especially short or tall, large or slight, the manufacturer can make design changes for which your clients will be grateful. After all, comfort is the final determining factor in the overall success of your design.

Fabrics, Fillers and Flame-proofing

Example of a client’s purchase order for custom kitchen banquette

Don’t forget fabric samples. Your upholsterer will need to see what you have selected and can help you make your final choice. Will the fabric run horizontally or vertically? How wide is it? How often does the pattern repeat? Will seams show? Wait until you consult with the upholsterer before you order the fabric. Even the slightest style change can dramatically alter the amount of fabric you need. It is also a good idea to bring along samples for any welts, gimp, fringe or tassels you plan on using.

Next, take a moment to consider fillers. Once again, be specific. Will the furniture be used extensively or only occasionally? Standard cushions are generally made of a medium density urethane foam wrapped with a Dacron fiber. A more luxurious, comfortable cushion, however, is made of innerspring and cotton wrapped in foam. White goose down is also favored for comfort.
If flame proofing is required, be sure to let the upholsterer know at the beginning of the project. This is especially essential for commercial projects such as restaurants or salons.

Of course, organic and green materials are also available for any upholstery project.

Tailoring, Treatments and Toss Pillows

Custom upholstery adds a new dimension to your design talents. The final details — tailoring, treatments and toss pillows — are crucial in determining the end result.

Ask your upholsterer to show you samples of how the cushions can be tailored (knife edges, box welted and weltless, Turkish corners, waterfalls and hand-sewn are among the finishes available). Finalize treatments for the arms (round arm tuxedo, square arm tuxedo, roll arm, and flair arm, to name a few); the bases and legs (plinth; will they be upholstered, painted or laminated? Will the radius corner have a recessed bull nose base? Harem, upholstered bun feet?, parsons legs, or castors?) If there is to be a skirt, how will it be treated? (Kickpleat, dressmaker’s, pleated corners, ruffles?) What about the overall upholstering? Will it be tufted (diamond and biscuit), hand channeled, quilted, trapuntal? And, what form, if any, will the final topstitching take? (Double needle, french-style back, fox edge?)

When choosing toss pillows, talk with the upholsterer about how they will be used. Do they have to hold up for a family of five? Ask questions. A good upholsterer will cheerfully answer your questions and respond quickly to your special requirements. Your design reputation is on the line; never allow yourself to be intimidated or pushed into a hasty decision.

Details and Delivery

Prepare a checklist. Go over it twice. Make sure your order is confirmed in writing and is accompanied by a sketch. Don’t be afraid to ask for a specific delivery date, but make sure you do your part and get all fabrics and trims to the manufacturer as promised.

Don’t leave the final detail — delivery — to chance. If your manufacturer leaves delivery arrangements up to you, and many do, locate a reputable firm and take prompt possession of your merchandise.

Finished custom made kitchen banquette for This Old House, Newton project.

Visit The Upholstery Blog for more!
xoxo Linda Would you like my Favorite Tips for a Well-Decorated Home? Click here!

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