The first thing to say about upholstery is that it is a skilled craft performed by skilled craftspeople. It is also a profession that has a long and distinguished history, with its roots right back in the Middle Ages, although the recognisable skill of upholstery became more known and popular in the 18th century. Prior to that, upholsterers were largely employed to provide the furnishings and fittings for funerals.
A new craft is born
It was around the 18th century, as furniture-making began to develop into a highly respected profession, that upholsterers began to specialise. At the beginning of the century, upholsterers were involved in all aspects of interior decoration, but as furniture became more intricately designed, so too upholstery became a skilled profession in its own right.
Perhaps the best demonstration of the importance of upholstery at this time was the emergence of some renowned furniture-making partnerships between cabinet makers and upholsterers: the most famous cabinet maker of all, Thomas Chippendale, teamed up with the upholsterers Rannie and Haig; furniture maker William Ince and his partner, the upholsterer John Mayhew, produced an engraved book, The Universal System of Household Furniture; William Vile and John Cobb held the royal warrant and supplied furniture for George III and Queen Charlotte.
Moving with the times
These days upholstery remains a skilled craft and, although the materials and techniques have developed, many of the skills involved are not so far removed from those employed by the luminaries of the 18th century.
As with all skilled professions, the cost of upholstery reflects the time, dedication and skill that goes into the finished product and this cost can sometimes come as a surprise to customers. The comment: “I can buy a new chair cheaper than the cost of re-upholstering it,” is one that is often repeated in upholstery work spaces across the country, but it is a fair point.
The cost of quality
In today’s world where cheap materials are readily available and technology allows products to be mass-produced at an eye-watering speed, then yes, you can get cheap furniture. Our argument is that “you get what you pay for.” If you have a beautiful piece of furniture that needs repair and restoration then it pays to have the work done professionally. The furniture item will look great, its value will be retained or enhanced and you will know that you have got a good service.
Whether a piece of furniture is antique, vintage or just a lovely modern piece of work, it will have a relevance and a history for you. It might be the chair that you bought while trawling around the sea-side town on holiday; it might be the sofa that has been passed from one generation to the next’ or it might be an old writing bureau that has been a family heirloom for years.
Passing on knowledge
When it comes to making furniture, today’s upholsterers are in the fortunate position of being able to employ all the knowledge and techniques passed down from our ancestors and combining that with the modern techniques and wide-range of fantastic materials that are available today.
Learn more about these materials and techniques in subsequent blogs.