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How To Specify A Chair From The Ground Up

chairs from the bottom up

There are many different approaches to interior design, but we believe that when it comes to specifying a chair you should always start from the bottom up. That way, you'll get exactly the right chair for the setting, from glide type to crumb gap and beyond.

Design & Use

Use and design will dictate frame style. To begin specifying a chair you need to first consider the following requirements:

  • Indoor or outdoor?
  • Dining or lounge ?
  • Stackable?
  • Required dimensions

chair base types

Different materials have different pros and cons. Here's an outline of the big three.

What Material? Wood

  • Most European chair frames are FSC-sourced beech though oak and ash are also popular.
  • Wooden chairs flex, so should have screwed and glued joints
  • Square leg profiles are simpler & cheaper than round legs, particularly ones that taper.
  • Wood can be light and elegant at the expense of strength.
  • Stackable wooden chairs tend to only stack 3-4 high.
  • Bentwood chairs are ideal for tight spaces due to their small footprint.

What Material? Metal

  • Metal is the strongest material
  • A welded joint is as strong as the metal itself and will not snap.
  • Simple metal work cheaper than wooden equivalents.
  • Metal chairs with bases stack highest - frame is thin & strong.
  • Painted metal chips less than painted wood.
  • Not all metal chairs are treated for outdoors.
  • Metal legs often have plywood or plastic moulded shells screwed to them as a cost-effective solution.

What Material? Plastic

  • Either polypropylene (Monobloc) or polycarbonate (Ghost)
  • Usually available in many colours.
  • Easy to maintain
  • Value for money
  • Stackable 6-8 high or more
  • Light, so can blow away outside
  • Can be scratched easily
  • Can’t be altered (for 300+ pieces, bespoke colours are possible)
  • One piece moulded or combined with metal legs

Now you know the essential requirements for your space you can begin specifying chairs from the ground up.

1. What floor will the chair be used on?

Different floors require different glides. Will your space have a stone, parquet, wood floor or lino? Consult the table below to find the appropriate glide. You may also want practical or decorative additions like castors (for furniture that needs to be multi-purpose and moveable), metal capping or painted socks.

table showing which glides are appropriate for which floor surface

2. Frame finish

Having previously picked your chair material you can consider what finish to apply to the frame. Here are a few pointers to consider.

  • Wood stains often mimic other more expensive wood.
  • Stained wood needs lacquer protection to reduce fading & protect the surface.
  • A stained surface can be sanded away & restained if needed.
  • TIP: Never stain a wood lighter, the grain won’t be convincing

3. Seat Type

Based on the level of comfort required, seat types contain the following parts. 

  • Sprung
  • Foam on board
  • CMHR foam is required for UK hospitality furniture but not in all other European countries.
  • Fully, part or non-upholstered
  • Studding & decorative detail

If you are constrained by price you can select the seat type accordingly. A budget product will simply have foam on board covered by fabric, a mid-range chair will have webbing while a premium product will have springs and potentially memory foam and even some intricate decorative detail.

diagram showing most comfortable seat types

4. Upholstery

There are endless fabric options when it comes to upholstery, but a few serious points to consider relevant to the specifying contract furniture for the hospitality industry. Consider the following requirements?

  • Will the  fabric be split on different sides? Many orders we place now have different fabrics on the seat pad to the back to provide contrast.
  • Is the fabric inherently fire retardant to Crib 5 standard or already fire-backed or will it need to be treated? (Read our blog on UK hospitality furniture & furnishings fire regulations here.)
  • Consider repeat - A repeat is the term used to describe how often a pattern repeats itself. Usually the bigger the pattern, the longer the repeat. A longer repeat will normally mean more fabric is needed.
  • Show wood - If chairs have to be regularly moved, consider wood strips on the top of the backs, which protect fabric from dirty hands.
  • What is the Martindale rub count of the fabric? The Martindale test simulates natural wear of a seat cover, where the textile sample is rubbed against a standard abrasive surface with a specified force. We recommend a rub count of at least 40,000 for contract use, though 50,000 is preferable if possible.

TIP: 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

Read more tips on contract upholstery here

Seat back

The backs of chairs are the most visible part so ensure they look good. You may want the following features:

  • Open back
  • Closed back
  • Crumb gap - the gap below a backrest that prevents food and debris from getting stuck in a hard to clean place.

Wear points

diagram showing wear points on a chair

What to watch out for

To ensure the best possible lifespan for your furniture and to keep it looking great for longer it's advisable that the end user understands how to care for their furniture and how to avoid damage. These are the biggest causes of damage to furniture in hospitality settings.

Indoor Damage

  • Chairs falling off tables usually during floor cleaning
  • Screws coming loose
  • Abrasive cleaning cloths or compounds scratching surfaces
  • Furniture dragged across an uneven floor
  • Chairs stacked when not designed to be stacked
  • Furniture cleaned with aggressive sanitiser sprays (we recommend Relay Spray)
  • Wooden furniture subjected to abrupt fluctuations in temperature or excess humidity

Outdoor Damage

  • Indoor furniture used outdoors
  • Furniture rapidly ageing by being left unprotected for too long
  • Salt in the air corroding metal items (coast & ships)
  • Sunlight causing colour bleaching
  • Furniture being blown over
  • Water left to sit on furniture causing a stain
  • Footrests on stools used as ladders, causing them to bend or snap.

Furniture Tests

FIRA is the UK's Furniture Industry Research Association. CATAS is the Italian equivalent. Both have similar tests to certify products are safe and robust. Chairs that have been formally tested can be supplied with certification on request. 

Read more about chair robustness and furniture testing here.


By Paula Stanbridge-Faircloth Paula Stanbridge-Faircloth on 25/06/18 11:40
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Hospitality Furniture Knowledge book

Searching for table sizes, wood finishes, researching chair materials or simply wondering what furniture will work best in a restaurant or hotel space? This book is packed with over 10 years of knowledge from the contract furniture industry.

What you'll learn:

  • Furniture specification tips
  • Space planning
  • Materials & considerations
  • Table top finishes & edge profiles
  • Chair robustness, testing & more

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