Insider’s Guide to How Quality Furniture is Made and What to Look for

Reading nook, interior design Chicago and North shore
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For this week’s blog post I want to share with you some highlights from my guided tour of a high end custom furniture maker in Chicago.  As a designer I am always interested to know how furniture is made to determine its quality.  It is hard to know what quality of construction lies underneath the fabric of a sofa or chair and stores rarely give out much information about how they are made.  Even if they do, the average person does not know the significance of some terms.  What does “Eight way hand tied springing” mean for example? The answer is at the end of this blog post.

The benefits of custom made furniture are many.  I often want  to make a chair smaller or change its styling to suit my design or the space of the home. You can play around with fabrics and trims, combining them or laying out a pattern in a certain way.  In the featured image above, I designed a chair for a client’s home office using a fabric showing  scenes of London. Each of the scenes in this striking, modern toile were carefully selected and placed to highlight certain details.

I like the fact that the whole process is kept local and not just in terms of benefits to the environment.  I can check in on each stage of the building process and send photos to my client as they see their unique piece come to life.

Having a piece of furniture made specially for you is a luxury, often without the luxury price tag.

It is really heartening to know that right here in Chicago there is a company called Interior Crafts who is still making hand crafted, beautiful furniture after 65 years in business.  Follow along with me as I give you an insight into their process of creating designer quality, bench made furniture.

 

Factory Tour – Step one in making custom furniture: the frame

 

Custom furniture, furniture factory,

Jigs or molds for numerous chair leg and furniture components

 

A prototype is often  made of the new design to ensure that the scale and design is perfect before production begins.  The factory will interpret the design to ensure that it is structurally sound and will be comfortable.  They may go back and forth with the designer tweaking the design. Below is the frame of a prototype.

 

 

Chair frame in custom Chicago furniture manufacturer

Unique design for a wing chair by well known designer Victoria Hagan

 

Factory Tour – Signs of quality

The joints in any piece of furniture are very important to provide strength and longevity.  A well made sofa should have a frame of seasoned hard wood and the joints should be secured with corner blocks and double dowels.  We were shown how the dowels they use have spiral ridges in them which hold the glue and ensure the dowels hold fast.

Curved parts of the frame are bent slowly in a press and no steam or water is applied.  This ensures that the veneers do not open up or crack over time.  Here is the bent shape of a chair back.

 

Bent wood chair frame

The back of this chair, made using multiple layers of wood, is bent slowly in a press

 

Unique details can be added which set these pieces apart.  See the carving on this chair’s legs.

 

custom chair carving detail in custom furniture factory

Chair carving detail

 

Factory Tour – the upholstery

Different densities of polyurethane foam are used for the back and seats of sofas and chairs.  For example to maintain the stability and durability of the corners of seat cushions, a denser foam is added just in the corners.  The foam is then wrapped in down and dacron to make it soft and springy.  Fabric and leather is scrutinized for any flaws before it is applied to the frame.  Great attention is given by the craftsmen and women to the best way a pattern or weave should appear.  Patterns are “flow matched” where the pattern transitions between seat, back and arm.  Natural markings on leather are aligned so that they look balanced on the piece.  There is artistry in this step.

 

custom chair half built

This chair frame is being carefully upholstered.  The welt is always placed on the bias to make a perfectly smooth line.

 

Factory Tour – Finishing Process

This is where quality really shows.  The wood is hand finished in a 12 or 13 step process to create a deeply lustrous look.  Glaze is applied to stop the stain being sucked into the wood and a wire brush may be used to bring up the wood grain.

 

Wood finishing a bed frame for custom furniture

This bed frame is being finished with a high gloss lacquer finish

 

Custom chairs in a custom furniture factory Chicago

Chairs are completed and waiting for the final packaging process

 

Even the final stage of packaging these beautiful pieces is given special attention so that they arrive in perfect condition.

Answer to question: What is 8 way hand tied springing?  This type of spring construction is far superior to sinuous springs for deep seating such as sofas.  The springs go in the “deck” under the seat cushions.  The coils are hand tied together in 8 different directions so that they support a person’s weight evenly without dipping or rolling.