Designing an Upholstered Dining Chair, Part One

The last addition to our catalog of dining furniture was the Heflin Barstool.  We developed it in response to requests for a barstool with a back — designed and built to our standards of comfort, style, and durability.  It has been proven.  On the website, there is a page describing its genesis:

The way we do it, the design and development of a chair require a very large investment of heart and mind, time and money.  To make that investment, we must perceive a need and receive an inspiration.  It’s not all toil; it’s some fun.

We are now responding to a new category of comments and requests, for example:  “Do you have an upholstered seat dining chair?”  “We need color in our dining room.”  “Wooden chairs are kitchen chairs and upholstered chairs are dining room chairs.”

We have an idea, and we are designing an upholstered dining chair.

We have studied upholstered chairs, researched the literature, queried others in the trade, and experimented with materials and arrangements.

First, we had to choose the category of seat to develop.

Will the upholstery be on a panel that sits on the finished wood chair frame, will it be on a panel that drops into the chair frame, or will it be directly attached to the finished chair?  We chose to design a chair with a drop-in, upholstered seat, where the upholstery is an integral part of the sculpture.

Knowing the category of seat, we were ready to test.  We built a “fitting booth.”  The fitting booth has adjustments for the pitch of the elements and for the relationship of the upholstered seat to the lumbar support.  Since we are using our proven lumbar and upper back support, we have not had to develop those curves and surfaces, a big plus.

Chair Fitting Booth

Upholstery being a new medium for us, the fitting booth has been in the shop for months. Many friends and visitors have helped us find the way.

A fitting booth trial

Another fitting trial

Another fitting trial

How do we keep flesh from being compressed between bone and the wood of the upholstery frame without using so much cushioning that you feel “perched on top, rather than settled into?”  (This is a quote from a perceptive client helping us test.)

Concurrent with testing webbing and foam, we developed the upholstery frame shown below.  Note the sculpted relief and imagine the “settling into.”  There is relief at the front for your thighs.  There is relief at the back to locate your hipbones so that your lumbar is supported by the chair splats and to make room between bone and wood.

Upholstered Seat Frame

For the webbing over the frame and under the cushioning, what is the best material?  What is the best spacing and tension for it?

We ordered samples of webbing with different widths and flexibility and tried different spacing and tension.  In the photo on the left below, I am applying some webbing.  In the photo on the right, I am tearing out some webbing.  We could have taken many such photos.

Experiments With Webbing

What is the best density and thickness of foam for the cushion?

Again, we ordered samples.  We ordered various densities and thicknesses and tested them with different webbings.

Fitting Booth

I rigged up a way to test the difference in compression of latex and polyurethane foam with wood scrap and a bucket of bolts.

Testing Foam Seat Padding

Here is the booth with some of the materials we used for testing and some failed upholstered seats.

Fitting Booth

The typical upholstered frame used today is a piece of plywood with a hole cut in it and webbing over it.  We tried one of those early on, knowing it was not going to work, for when sitting back in such chairs, your tailbone is right over wood at the edge of the hole cut for the webbing.  In the top photo below, you can see the point of contact at the tip of Austin’s finger.  In the lower photo below, you can see the relief for tailbones that we have formed on our seat frame.  Sitting back in our chairs is essential to experience the comfort of the lumbar support, and they are designed to locate your hips and tailbone deep in the chair seat.

Unrelieved Seat Frame

Relieved Seat Frame

This entry was posted in Dining Chairs, Jigs and Fixtures and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Designing an Upholstered Dining Chair, Part One

  1. Jeremy says:

    Thanks for the detail you’ve put in this article – I’m looking forward to part 2. I’m always impressed by the dedication you put into producing the highest quality (i.e. “fit for purpose”) product.


  2. Steve Johnson says:

    I can’t wait to see how it turns out! It’s fun to see all the
    details in the designs that you work out.My Wife just loves her Heflin barstool you made her.It’s the perfect fit for her,and it’s just such a beautiful piece of furniture,a real work of art!


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