Cushions, feather, foam or sprung ? This is a blog about the upholstery options you have and how the choice affects comfort as well as the aesthetics of a piece.
Many of the vintage sofas and chairs we sell have fixed upholstery, so your choice is to buy or not to buy and then decide on fabrics. We also sell a lot of pieces with teak or rosewood frames with loose cushions it is here your options grow.
Usually any fully upholstered sofa or chair that was made prior to c 1950 will have been made with old-fashioned proper springs and traditional fillings which is why the UK fire regulations only apply to post 1950 furniture piece. Over the years different materials were used with these springs, originally horsehair but over time various other fillings, foams and waddings would be used. In the 1950’s upholstery, traditional springs and fillings were gradually superseded by less heavy springs, foams and other materials. Some manufacturers would carry on using traditional methods for longer than others and some top end makers still do. If you want a new sofa or chair made to 19th or pre-1940 standards today you can go to companies like George Smith but you will have to pay a lot for this, just as you will for an old fashioned traditional sprung bed. Such techniques are very time consuming and can only be done after long training so are naturally expensive.
If you had bought a Scandinavian teak framed sofa or chair back in the late 1950’s and into the 1960’s the cushion interiors on offer would have been either sprung cushions or foam ones, whereas on British ones the only option seemed to have been foam. By around 1970 fewer people were buying the Danish furniture with sprung cushions, probably due to cost. The sprung cushions from the late 1950’s and 60’s are heavier than foam but nowhere near as heavy as earlier springing would have been.
After 50 years of use all foam cushions need replacing mainly for UK Fire Regulations but also because often the foam has deteriorated anyway. After 50 years of use some of the sprung cushions will need re-building but most have plenty of life still in them. There is more give with a sprung cushion than with a foam one and definitely some buyers prefer them. Sprung and foam cushions will look very much the same when you see them with maybe a bit more curve and structure to the sprung ones.
People are often asking us about comfort and it is very personal, some people like a firmer seat than others. If a sofa or chair still has its original sprung cushion then we will usually re-use it if it is structurally still good, as they are always a better shape than replacing them. We would add new padding where needed and a fireproof barrier liner ready for the new top covers. If the piece to be restored and upholstered hasn’t original sprung cushions we now have several options. We can now offer 2 types of foam, a dense, high quality blue foam which feels quite firm and stable or the newer grey reflex foam which is slightly more expensive but has a softer feel and a little more give in it.
For those who like a softer seat there is the more expensive option of feather cushions. Feather box cushions give a very soft relaxed look on a chair but they need plumping and turning on a regular basis. We also recommend a feather foam mix, these have a block foam core with a feather outer layer, so they feel firmer to sit on than feather but with the softer outer, we have them made to order by a specialist company. They cost a little over twice as much as foam cushions but we think they’re ideal for those who want a softer more comfortable seat. We also like the softer line that they give visually, but at the end of the day it’s all very personal!