Style Files: The History of Upholstery

Have you ever sat down on a cool, silk cushioned chair on a hot summer day or snuggled up on a wool loveseat in the middle of the winter and said, “thank goodness for upholstery?” Ok, maybe not. But it is pretty fantastic that we no longer have to sit down on stone slab benches when we want to take a seat. Perhaps you’ve never actively thought about upholstery but think about it for a moment. Think about the intricate details of your favorite armchair or your family’s sofa. Have you ever wondered what it would look like underneath the fabric? There are layers of framework, webbing, springs, and hours of labor that went into providing you with that piece of furniture. The history of upholstery is as intricate as the process of upholstering.

The term upholstery comes from the archaic term ‘upholder’ which has a connotation of repairing furniture rather than creating it. In 18th-century London, upholders served as interior decorators and were members of the Worshipful Company of Upholders. Originally, the Worshipful Company of Upholders provided upholstery and textiles for funerals, but that changed in the 1700’s.

Upholstery became popular in the Middle Ages as domestic interiors became more comfortable. The upper class were interested in luxury and softness and traditional wooden furniture was now being covered in luxurious fabrics and stuffed for comfort. By the beginning of the 17th century chairs were being stuffed or padded and rudimentary fabric was being upholstered over the padding. At the time, the stuffing was made from sawdust, grass, horsehair, feathers, deer hair, and goat hair. Eventually deer hair and goat hair was forbidden in the use of upholstery and using it would bring about a large fine. Towards the end of the 17th century upholsterers discovered that saddler techniques worked well on furniture and they began to hone their craft. Classic upholstery (what we have now) flourished in the 18th century and upholsters now had technical knowledge about how to control the stuffing and create smooth and clean lines.

If you’re looking for a comfortable piece of history then visit Antiquities to see our upholstered pieces in person:


A pair of George Nelson polished steel and leather Catenary medium brown chairs for Herman Miller, circa 1962.



A pair of George Nelson polished steel and leather Catenary medium brown chairs for Herman Miller, circa 1962.


Coconut chair and ottoman, George Nelson & Associates for Herman Miller, USA, 1956. wool fabric, chrome plated steel, enameled metal.


Lounge chair and ottoman, aluminum, rubber and upholstery by Warren McArthur. Circa 1930.

If you’re looking for a piece of gorgeous, vintage upholstery then contact AntiquitiesWeb. Our selection of top quality antique upholstered sofas and chairs are unique, original, and timelessly beautiful. No matter what kind of antique you’re looking for, AntiquitiesWeb has the piece for you. To see these pieces and more call us at 212-644-4236, contact us, or visit our New York gallery.



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