Upholstery, a Timeless Skill that Influences Functionality and Decor

Written by Kristen Cathell


əpˈhōlst(ə)rē/     noun: upholstery

  • soft, padded textile covering that is fixed to furniture such as armchairs and sofas.
  • the art or practice of fitting padded coverings to chairs or sofas.

We simply cannot imagine our home, office, or public places without upholstered furniture.  Upholstery is a functional and fundamental part of our everyday life.  Building furniture and using the craft to provide padding, seating and bedding have been around for centuries. From rocks covered with animal skins or a leather hide tacked to a frame, this art has a long history; one that has become refined in passing years. Below is a brief timeline, highlighting recent century's contribution to the upholstered world.


18th century London is when the upholstery trade started to flourish.  An upholsterer was known as an Upholder - a tradesman who upheld his goods.  Upholders typically served as interior decorators and were in charge of an entire room's decor.  As time progressed so did the craft of upholstery, from scraps, sawdust, grass, and horsehair stuffing.  Furniture evolved becoming not only more functional but also more comfortable and decorative.  Chairs with drop-in upholstered seat bottoms were very common in this day, found around dining room tables or in living rooms.


The 19th century brought the industrial revolution, with steam power.  This reformed many trades and techniques; the upholstery trade was no exception.  Steam provided the power to machine looms for mass fabric production.  Also, in 1857 the steel coil springs were invented for chair seats.  Soon an immense variety of styles and comfort in upholstered pieces became available to both the upper and middle class.


The 20th century welcomed more style, design and foam inserts along with many synthetics.  Daily life, on average, was more casual and furniture was for function and relaxation.   Throughout the 20th century, we saw the upholstered three-piece suite comprised of one sofa and two arm chairs in everyone's home.  During this period we saw color and pattern combinations flourish.

Today the upholstery trade is a skilled craft.  There are no boundaries when it comes to unique furniture design, creativity, and details.  Greenhouse Fabrics is honored to work with so many skilled craftsmen.  Let us know how we can help you find the right fabric for your next upholstery project.