boucle upholstered chair

The History of Upholstery

Upholstery is an essential part of furniture design that has been used for centuries to provide comfort and style. The history of upholstery is fascinating, with its roots stretching back to ancient civilisations.

Read on to explore the captivating history of upholstery and find out how the artisan techniques used have evolved over the years.

upholstered rocking chair history

Art Deco rocking chair upholstered in kilim fabric | Bouncing Hare

What does ‘upholstery’ mean?

Upholstery refers to the art of covering furniture with fabric or leather, alongside webbing, springs or padding, to make it more comfortable and aesthetically pleasing. The term “upholstery” comes from the Middle English word “upholder,” which referred to a tradesman who held up his goods for sale. Upholstery not only provides comfort but also adds character to furniture by showcasing the texture, colour, and pattern of the chosen fabric or leather.

What are the earliest examples of upholstery?

The history of upholstery can be traced back to ancient civilisations such as Egypt, Greece, and Rome. The ancient Egyptians used woven rush mats to provide cushioning for their chairs and sofas, while the Greeks and Romans used animal skins, such as goat and sheepskins, to provide padding for their seating.

In the Middle Ages, upholstery became more prevalent in Europe, and tapestries were used to cover chairs and benches. The tapestries not only provided a touch of luxury but also added a decorative element to the furniture. 

During the Renaissance, the use of leather became more widespread, and it was used to cover seating and create panels on walls.

boucle upholstered chair

Boucle upholstered bentwood armchair | Antyki Koneser

Upholstery techniques throughout history

As the use of upholstery became more widespread, new techniques for upholstery emerged. During the 17th century, the use of springs in furniture became more popular, and upholstery techniques such as stuffing and tufting were developed to make seating more comfortable. 

These techniques involved stuffing materials such as horsehair, straw, and feathers between the fabric and the frame of the furniture, and then pulling the fabric tightly over the stuffing and securing it with tufting.

In the 18th century, upholstery techniques became more refined, and the use of coil springs, and linen webbing became standard in furniture construction. 

The Industrial Revolution brought new materials such as cotton, which replaced horsehair as a stuffing material, and machine-made nails, which replaced hand-forged nails. This made the chair-making process more streamlined and efficient.

When was the first upholstered chair designed?

The first upholstered chair was made in the 17th century, and it was a significant departure from the hard, uncomfortable seating of previous eras. This new “sleeping chayre” was designed to be comfortable and luxurious, with thick padding and ornate decorative elements. The frame of the chair was typically made from wood, while the upholstery was made from thick, heavily embroidered fabric.

Signature upholstered pieces throughout history

Upholstery has been an integral part of furniture design for centuries, and there have been many signature upholstered pieces throughout history. Some of the most iconic pieces include:

History of upholstery green leather chesterfield

Green leather Chesterfield sofa | Old Goods

  • Chesterfield Sofa – The Chesterfield sofa is a classic British design that dates back to the 18th century. The sofa is known for its deep button tufting and rolled arms, and it has become a symbol of sophistication and elegance.

Louis XV armchair

Louis XV armchair | Saxongate

  • Louis XV Armchair – The Louis XV armchair is a classic French design that dates back to the 18th century. The chair is known for its ornate carved wood frame and curved legs and arms, and it has become a stalwart of regality and opulence.

Eames lounge chair

Eames lounge chair | Pool Bank Vintage Interiors

  • Eames Lounge Chair – The Eames Lounge Chair is a mid-century modern classic that was designed by Charles and Ray Eames in 1956. The chair features a moulded plywood frame and leather upholstery and has become a staple in modern design.

Whether you’re on the hunt for a statement upholstered chair for your home or you’re keen to give upholstery a go yourself, Vinterior’s got you covered. Explore our upholstered furniture collection and share your upholstery experiences in the comments section below.

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