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Contract Upholstery, Sofas & Soft Seating: 25 Points to Consider


Contract sofas and soft seating are made to order. Factories will not start manufacture until the fabric has been received by them. Lead times can vary dramatically according to the size of an order book.

Tips to shorten lead times

  • Choose a fabric that is in stock – and reserve it
  • Choose a fabric that is already fire-backed
  • Get it dispatched immediately
  • Pay deposit

Fabric qualities and quantities

  • Fire resistance is crucial (see our Furniture Fire Regulations blog). Some fabrics are pre-treated which saves time.
  • Some fabric stretches, this is better for upholstery and easier to work with. Some fabrics tear when stitched and some prove difficult on certain frames eg. those that are particularly curvy.
  • A Martindale rub test will show you how robust a fabric is (see our blog on furniture robustness to learn why this is important).
  • Repeats need more fabric – factories may not know exactly how much they need until they start.

Leather and hides

  • Leather come in hides, not on a roll in a standard width (fabric width is usually 1400mm). Hides vary in shape, size, colour and characteristics.
  • Leather has imperfections.and will stretch and bag.
  • Leather is thick and more difficult to stitch.
  • It is not always easy to work out how many hides are needed.


  • Seat heights can be less easy to measure with soft seats – harder cushions appear to mean higher seats.
  • Soft cushions are more difficult to get out of as they sink lower.
  • Sofa widths include the width of arms. Ensure you leave a big enough seat.

Loose cushions or fixed cushions?

  • Loose cushions can be more easily cleaned
  • Fixed cushions tend to require less fabric and look neater

Tips for specifying upholstery sofas and soft seating

  • The backs of seating may be very visible so ensure they look good.
  • If chairs have to be regularly moved, consider wood strips on the top of the backs, which would protect fabric from dirty hands.
  • If your chair and sofa feet are integral with their frame, they won’t twist. Take care with screw-on square legs and feet, as they’ll gradually loosen.
  • If you have revolving bar stools with backs, opt for return springs so they spring back into a standard position. This’ll maintain a tidy looking bar - and save staff time.
  • For bedrooms, space is at a premium – ensure that the footprint is no more than necessary.
  • When specifying a chaise longue make sure you order the armrest on the correct side of the chair. Chaise longues are meant to be viewed from bottom to the top not side-on. See diagram here.

Seat softness

The structure of a soft seat is usually constructed in one of the following ways: board (images 1-2),  webbing (images 3-4) or springs (images 5-6).

(Thanks to Fenabel for the upholstery images.)


  • CMHR foam (Combustion Modified High Resilient) is required for UK hospitality furniture. It is not required in all other European countries. There is a limited choice of densities of this foam.
  • Foam can be layered within a cushion, usually with lower density layers above higher density layers.
  • Feathers are sometimes used, although they are an expensive choice and they do not revert to shape so can make cushions appear messy.

Topics: Contract upholstery, Sofas, Furniture knowledge

By Paula Stanbridge-Faircloth Paula Stanbridge-Faircloth on 27/11/17 11:06
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