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The best seat in the house

This autumn, our interiors anthology, Stories, turned ten-issues-old. So, to mark our entry into double digits, we’ve dug into our archives to bring you nine articles from the nine previous volumes. This is the fifth, taken from our summer 2017 issue. And you’ll find the rest right here on our journal now and in the weeks to come.

Before we started creating our own sofas and armchairs, John (one of our founders) went on an upholstery course so that he could begin to learn, first-hand, what good craftsmanship really looks like. He bought an antique, drop-arm sofa that was, in his words, “completely worn-out”, but he loved  its bone structure and its innate sense of style. On Tuesday and Thursday evenings he would attend his upholstery course in Badminton, where he was taught how to restore and renew his veteran sofa, from the springs to the roping to the fillings. It was a course that proved to be invaluable.

In everything we do, we like to have a clear point (or two) of differentiation. We’re not trying to be different for the sake of saying so, but we like to make our own footprints in the sand rather than treading in those of others. That’s why you’ll read more and more about the ‘why?’ behind our designs. Why exactly is it different? Special? Why exactly will it make a difference to your life?

Back to sofas.

The reason behind John’s upholstery classes  was because the first sofa he ever bought for his family’s home was good, but not great. It looked nice. It was quite comfy. But he wanted to understand the steps that would lead him to ‘special’. The difference between that first shop-bought sofa and his old-becomes-new, hand-made sofa was enormous. John came to realise and appreciate the skill behind a properly-made piece of upholstery, and what truly makes a sofa tick.

It all comes back to the adage ‘it’s what’s on the inside that counts’. Style matters, but it’s the internal construction that makes an upholstered item really sing. We found that the ‘sofa situation’ was much  the same as the one with kitchens – people were being shown a perfectly pretty picture on the outside, but the inside was a different story. We wanted to change that.

Two years of research showed us just how bad things on the inside could be. Sometimes frames would be unfinished, or they’d be a mixture of cardboard, staples and MDF. But our background was in garden furniture – and in garden furniture every joint is visible because the wood is entirely exposed. It meant that our approach to sofa-making was always going to be different. The state of how many sofas were currently being built made us even more certain of that. This is how the little piggy who used twigs should have done things…

We always start with the frame. We believe that just because something isn’t visible, it doesn’t mean it should be any less attractive to look at. We opted for tulipwood – it’s incredibly strong and reliable, but less expensive than oak, which was an important consideration as we didn’t want our seating to cost an arm and a leg. The frame is a quality piece of furniture in its own right. We even have exposed armchair frames in most of our stores so that you can see for yourself the proper jointing and construction, and hopefully feel the care that goes into each and every one.

Then we move onto the design details. There’s an awful lot to consider: the style, the shape, the rake, the pitch, and so forth. Our collection has a number of different characters so there’s a spectrum in terms of style, from the clean and contemporary Shoreditch to the more classic, Chesterfield-inspired Lottie; and a span in sizes too to accommodate spaces little and large. But perhaps the most complex aspect of the design is the ergonomics. Most sofas have flat bases, but they don’t necessarily spell out comfort. You need to have just the right amount of support under the knee, the right amount of depth to curl up on,  the right knee to floor height and just the right degree of recline. These functional areas then affect proportions. Trying to balance function, form, fit and feel really isn’t easy. 

When the frame is beautifully built and the design carefully considered and constructed, we move onto cushion fillings and springs. The cushion density has to suit the character of that particular chair. We use a combination of foam, fibre, duck feathers and down (for extra loftiness), because none of them are quite sufficient on their own. You want to sink into your sofa, but you don’t want to feel like you need to be constantly plumping. Sofa cushions need to bring together comfort, shape and rebound. Each chair is designed with a different filling ratio. Consider George, a sleek, architectural sofa whose cushions need to be less-domed, unlike Eva whose classic shape very much requires a pillowy silhouette. As for the springs, we favour the more modern alternative to the coil spring: serpentine springs. They’re wonderful because they don’t sag, but most manufacturers avoid them as they can damage the frame. Our solid timber frames mean that we’re able to use the best possible springs for the job. Some sofas use pocket springs (most commonly used for mattresses because of their ability to evenly distribute weight) but we find serpentine to be far comfier,  far more practical and they can play the long game. And we should know – we test every one of our armchairs and sofas in our own homes. We give them all that we’ve got, to see just how much they can take. John has had the Eva sofa in his family home from the moment it was first made. We let our product testing span years, so we can watch how our designs mature, and how we can help them to be at their best for as long as possible.

We’ve designed upholstery with frames that will endure. So even when the fabric begins to tire, and eventually, when the fillings need a bit of a pick-me-up, you can take your piece – be it a sofa, an armchair or footstool – to a  re-upholsterer and they can do just as John did – re-fill the cushions and re-cover the body with a new choice of textile. And when you do, we’d love to think that the upholsterer will tell you that the investment you made was a wise one.

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